‘Wild and Tough’ Hardrock 100 Endurance Run Unfolds This Weekend
by Samantha Wright
Jul 13, 2012 | 1296 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Field Includes Two From Telluride, One From Ridgway

OURAY - “It’s a pretty spectacular group of people, doing a pretty extraordinary thing.”

 That’s how Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run course director Dale Garland sums up the event he has helmed since its inception 21 years ago.

This year’s Hardrock drama unfolds from July 13-15, beginning at 6 a.m. on Friday morning and ending, for some runners, a full 48 hours later. Many will not finish at all. As always, the ordeal starts and ends in Silverton, a place which is the epitome of the race’s motto: “Wild and tough.”

Runners will follow the course in a clockwise direction (it flip-flops from year to year), tracing a big, beautiful 100-mile loop through the San Juan Mountains from Silverton to Telluride to Ouray and ... eventually ... back to Silverton again. The course includes 33,992 feet of climb and descent for a total elevation change of 67,984 feet (as Garland likes to point out, that’s like starting at sea level, and running to the top of Mt. Everest and back) with an average elevation of 11,186 feet.

Course conditions couldn’t be more different from a year ago. Gone are the high stream crossings and snowfields of 2011. This year, the route is dry, dry, dry. Which, as long as the weather holds up, could lead to some fast times, in spite of the fact that 2.5 miles have been added to the course due to a rerouting to avoid disputed property rights in Bear Creek near Telluride. (Runners will come down Bridal Veil Basin from Oscar’s Pass instead).

The field is full, as always. The number of runners is determined by Forest Service permit. This year, 720 people applied for 140 slots. Entrants were selected by lottery.

“We have people from all over the U.S., Singapore, Japan, Germany, Canada...” Garland rattled off. “It’s a great field, and we’re looking forward to a good run.”

Frontrunners should be showing up at the Telluride aid station by late morning or early afternoon on Friday, and blasting through Fellin Park in Ouray by around 4 p.m.

At 7,680 feet, Ouray is the low point of the race, both elevation-wise and (for many runners), physically and emotionally.

By the time they get there, they will have run 45 miles, topping six mountain passes over 12,000 feet – Putnam, Cataract Ridge (above Ice Lakes Basin), Porcupine Pass, Grant Swamp, Oscars Pass, and Virginius Pass. And they’ll still have a long, long way to go before they can kiss the Hardrock at the finish line in Silverton. The course ahead of them includes a seemingly endless climb up Ouray’s Bear Creek Trail to the top of Engineer Pass, and an additional eight more passes over 12,000 feet, including the summit of 14,048-foot Handies Peak in Hinsdale County, which runners at the front and back of the pack will tackle in the dark.

Two years ago, the lead runner to come through Ouray was Diana Finkel. She got in at 4:01 p.m., setting a blazing pace that almost led to her becoming the first woman to ever win the Hardrock.

Just who the frontrunners will be this year remains to be seen, but Garland does have a few predictions. 

“The men’s field is deep this year,” he noted.

Dakota Jones, who came in second last year, is back. The 21-year old Durango native is the youngest competitor in the race this year. Challenging Jones will be Joe Grant (a Canadian who took third place in 2011), Nick Pedatella (a fifth-place finisher the last time he ran the Hardrock), Harry Harcrow (who has won the Leadville 100), and Hardrock legend Karl Meltzer. 2010 Hardrock winner Jared Campbell from Salt Lake City is back as well, as is Scott Jaime of Highlands Ranch, who has a third-place finish to his name.

(The course's 23:23 clockwise record was set by Kyle Skaggs in 2008, who has since retired from running to become an organic farmer.)

In the women’s field, the ferocious Finkel returns to defend her title; she is going for a record five-year winning streak, and will be challenged by two-year runner-up Darcy Afrika from Boulder. Krissy Moehl, a former Hardrock winner who recently had a good run at Western States, and Rhonda Claridge round out Garland’s top picks in the women’s field.

Claridge, 44, is a long-time resident of the Telluride/Ophir area, and has finished the Hardrock just once before – in 2010 – with stomach flu.

“It was brutal,” she recalls. “But I told my husband and pacers they could not let me stop unless I was dead or going to the hospital. I got better and it went away; I felt really good for the last 40 miles.”

She didn’t even find out she’d be running the race this year until earlier this week. In fact, when The Watch spoke with her on Tuesday morning, she was still #1 on the wait list. But, by that afternoon, someone else had dropped out, and Claridge was in. Luckily, she’s been training as if she knew this would happen all along.

“I did some hundreds (100-mile races) last fall and a marathon in January,” she said, “and I didn’t stop running much this winter. With the snow disappearing so quickly, it was pretty ideal for getting up high a lot; I am pretty far ahead of my fitness level two years ago. I’m ready. I’m rested. I’ve got pacers. I have a plan.”

In all, four locals are running the Hardrock this year: Claridge, fellow Telluridian Ricky Denisek, Rick Hodges of Ridgway/Loghill, and Rodger Wrublik of Silverton.

Denisek is a local legend among runners. “I have a lot of accomplishments throughout my career,” he admitted. He’s mostly known for his many Imogene Pass Run wins.

But he also has four Hardrock 100 finishes, and one Hardrock win, to his name. He’s been around the race since its inception, and has paced the race’s founder, Rick Trujillo, several times.

The Hardrock 100 has a special place in Denisek’s uber-fit heart. “It’s very challenging,” he said. “It’s one of the harder endurance runs in the world. And, it’s in my back yard. It’s just a beautiful course.”

Over the years of being around the race, Denisek has become more and more self-reliant when he runs it. This year, he allowed as how his old friend Trujillo might be crewing for him. And, he added, “There are people who have asked to pace me on the later stages. It’s okay for them to come by, but whatever.”

Hodges, of Ridgway, is more attached to his crew. They are, after all, his wife, daughter, and grandchildren. This will be his eleventh running of the Hardrock 100. “I’m one of the fortunate ones,” he said, apparently without irony.

Last year, although he finished, Hodges’ time did not qualify, as it was a bit over the 48-hour limit. “I spent too much time in aid stations,” he admitted. This year he’s got a different strategy: ‘Hi’ and ‘bye’.

“I won’t carry on a conversation,” he said. “I will keep on trucking.”

Hodges, 63, said he feels well-trained this year. About two months ago, he did a 100-miler in Santa Barbara county, California. And, he’s been putting in plenty of trail-time locally since then. “I’ve been out of most of the course doing elevation training, getting a lot of miles in,” he said.

In all, there are 10 Hardrock runners this year over the age of 60 – “which is huge,” Garland said. “That’s a lot more than we usually have.” The oldest among them, Hans Dieter Weisshaar, is 72.

Why run the Hardrock? It’s a question whose answer varies from runner to runner, and from year to year. But one thing seems to emerge as a constant theme – the transformative beauty of the course.

“For me, it’s not really about the race,” reflected Claridge. “It’s really about all the training and all the days in the high country. You see mountain goats, sunrises, moonrises, bears, wildflowers, waterfalls.... It gives you a reason to spend time up high. It’s very peaceful and a great antidote to the human world.”

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