Among the battered, hardened runners that accomplished this more than 100-mile feat were two Telluride ultra-running stalwarts: the ever-formidable Ricky Denesik, and first-time Hardrock 100 runner Rhonda Claridge.
After six months of hardcore training for the event, which included running up to 60 miles a week, Claridge had hoped to enter the battle in her fittest fighting form. The Hardrock 100 is, after all, quite possibly the grittiest, most grueling strain of ultra running’s already gritty and grueling breed. Starting and finishing in Silverton and passing through Ouray and Telluride, the route boasts 34,000 vertical feet of climbing as it crests 11 mountain passes (all of which are more than 13,000 feet in elevation) as well as Handies Peak, one of Colorado’s 14’ers.
So a Hardrock 100 runner would, presumably, be in his or her fittest fighting form at the start line.
But Claridge wasn’t in tip-top shape last Friday; a stomach bug had, in fact, made this normally stoic ultra runner more than a little bit queasy. And yet she ran one of the sport’s hardest races anyway, finishing eight hours before the cutoff in just over 39 hours – symbolizing in action what runners of this torturous race represent in spirit: Incredibly fit people, who accomplish implausible physical feats thanks to wills of steel powered by a little bit of masochistic quirkiness.
“It didn’t turn out exactly how I had hoped,” Claridge reiterated this week, recapping her misadventures which began first with contracting the stomach flu, and next by “blowing up” at mile 30 and wanting to quit – but being unable to since she was too far removed from civilization at that point to be rescued by any vehicle. But as the night went on, and thanks to buoys from her pace runners Heidi Attenberger, Karen Kingsly, Carrie Koenig, and Karen Brown, and words of encouragement from hubby Sean McNamera, Claridge soldiered on to finish the race with eight hours to spare.
Why race when battling the stomach flu? Why run a hundred miles at high altitude, on trails not exactly designed for hiking much less running, at all?
For Claridge, and presumably all contestants in this battle against extreme alpine elements and human boundaries, the answer lies somewhere… on Handies Peak? On a high mountain pass in the middle of the night? In the sunrise over the San Juans?
“I’d like to try it again next year, when I’m feeling well,” Claridge said, explaining that by finishing the race this year she’ll have an easier time making it onto the hard-to-get-onto start list next year.
She also plans to run another 100-mile endurance race, in Utah in September. She’s hoping she’ll be able to tackle that one without battling other challenges, like, say, the stomach flu. “But, you never know,” she said. “That’s life.”
Denesik, a seasoned Hardrock racer, didn’t land in the top five as he’s done in the past, but did however creep into the top ten among the 105 finishers by crossing the finish line in just over 30 hours, taking ninth overall.
Diana Finkel of South Fork, Colorado broke the women's course record and also took third overall with her time of 27:18, while five-time Hardrock winner Karl Meltzer of Sandy, Utah posted the second fastest time ever with his 24:38 finish.