OURAY COUNTY – You might say Charles Johnston is off to a running start since moving to Montrose from Houston, Texas in July. The 30-year-old ultra-runner, a CPA by trade, was so inspired by the spectacular San Juan Mountains of his new home that he decided to create a brand new ultra-run dubbed the Ouray 100.
The inaugural 102.49 mile run, currently in the permitting phase with the U.S. Forest Service, is slated for Aug. 2-3, 2014, starting and ending in Ouray’s Fellin Park.
The first portion of the new race features an out-and-back course that follows county roads and hiking trails from Ouray all the way up to Ptarmigan Lake and Silver Basin in the vicinity of Imogene Pass, then incorporates an out-and-back spur along the Weehawken Trail up to the Alpine Mine, on the way back down along County Road 361 to Ouray.
The course then follows the Dallas Trail, skirting the flanks of the Sneffels Range and hooking up with Forest Road 852 which connects with County Road 5, taking runners into Ridgway. Runners then follow county roads 24 and 1 to Colona, then double back along the same course to Ouray.
“It’s a varied course,” Johnston said. “At the beginning you have a little taste of the Hardrock, above tree line, with blue lakes and jagged rocks. The Weehawken and Dallas trails offer really beautiful single track through dense forest. Then once you are on the county roads, it’s not nearly as difficult, but you’re passing through green hay fields and you have incredible panoramic views of the San Juans.”
A nice soak in the Ouray Hot Springs Pool will surely motivate tired runners as they approach the final portion of the race.
The course, with a total vertical ascent of 16,699.48 ft and a maximum elevation of 13,188.98 feet, is considerably less challenging than the legendary Hardrock 100 ultra-run that happens every July in Ouray, San Juan, Hinsdale and San Miguel counties. But with a cut-off time of 36 hours (compared to the Hardrock’s 48-hour limit), Ouray 100 runners will still be challenged to complete the course in time to buckle.
Sweetening the deal, Johnston is offering a prize purse for race winners. The amount will vary depending on the number of signups. If the race fills with the maximum 200 entrants, it will be $6,000 in total, with $1,500, $1,000 and $500 offered to the top three males and female runners.
Johnston and his wife Margaret moved to Montrose from Houston in July. “As soon as we got unpacked I was up exploring,” he said. One of his first expeditions was along the course of the Imogene Pass Run. “My wife dropped me off in Ouray with my running shoes, and she picked me up in Telluride where we had dinner and spent the night,” he recalled.
He had also been “looking at pictures” of the Hardrock 100 for the past decade, but admits he had no idea he was so close to the course for that race. “I have been to Colorado many times, but knew nothing about this part of the state,” he said.
As soon as he started exploring the area, he was “blown away by the beauty” and decided right away that “there needs to be another 100-mile route here.”
For months, Johnston brainstormed about various routes that the course could follow, “trying to come up with something that worked, was right distance and wasn’t in too many forest districts,” he said. Finally, in November, he settled on the current route, and filed his proposal with the U.S. Forest Service’s Ouray Ranger Office.
The proposal is currently wending its way through the permitting process. “There is an incredible amount of stuff on the front end,” Johnston said. “They want to make sure you are serious about it, and have a complete operating plan, route maps, aid stations, a general medical plan, and even GPS coordinates in case there needs to be an emergency helicopter landing.”
Once the USFS officials have completed their detailed analysis of the proposal, it will then undergo an environmental impact analysis.
Still, Johnston hopes to get a green light fairly early in the new year. “I am pretty optimistic and I will be very surprised if it doesn’t work out,” he said.
It’s important for Johnston to have as much lead time as possible. “These aren’t the types of events where people train for three months,” he pointed out. UItra-runners typically plan up to a year in advance which events they will compete in.
Lotteries for the 2014 Hardrock 100 and the Western States ultra-run happened last Saturday. The Hardrock 100 only has 140 slots, and there are well over 1,000 on the waiting list, Johnston said. The Western States run has 270 spots, and there are typically 3,500 runners who don’t get into that race.
Johnston hopes that a couple hundred of those wait-listed runners might consider the running the Ouray 100 instead.
While he has never directed an ultra-run before, Johnston comes to the Ouray 100 with plenty of running experience under his belt. He did his first ultra in 2006 and has been hooked on the sport ever since.
“I have seen a lot of ultras from a runner’s perspective,” he said. He also worked as a marathon coach in Houston, and is familiar with organizing logistics for large numbers of runners.
“You just have to really do a lot of planning,” he said. “It takes an incredible amount of work to do these things right. There are contingency plans for everything; I have an appreciation for a lot of things that can go wrong.”
And besides, he added, “I am a CPA. I’m kind of anal. Flying by the seat of my pants is not me. I’m not going to half-ass this thing. This isn’t some whim; this is something I am serious about. Life is too short to do something and not do it right.”
For more information about the Ouray 100 Mile Endurance Run, or to register, visit www.ouray100.com.
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