Field Includes Telluride and Ridgway Runners Rick Denesik and Rick Hodges
WESTERN SAN JUANS – On Friday, July 12, shortly before 6 a.m., 140 runners from 26 states and five foreign countries will gather in the cool dawn out in front of the Silverton School gym for the 20th running of the Hardrock 100. They will leave in a pack, heading east into the looming mountains and the rising sun.
At some point the following morning – perhaps in the pre-dawn blackness, perhaps as the first rays of sunlight warm the air – the first of these runners will lope back into Silverton and kiss the Hardrock – that painted granite icon of the race that marks the beginning, and end, of the course each year.
Nobody knows, of course, who the winner of this year’s race will be, or what kind of drama will unfold along the way. Surely, there will be drama.
Runners will follow the course in a counter-clockwise direction (it flip-flops from year to year), tracing a big, beautiful 100-mile loop through the San Juan Mountains from Silverton to Lake City to Ouray to Telluride 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 Race Director Dale 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.
The biggest concern facing race organizers this year has been the threat of wildfire. One portion of the course near Pole Creek in the Rio Grande National Forest was actually closed to the public due to the Papoose Fire (part of the vast West Fork Fire Complex), until just a few days ago. BLM recreation specialists in the Dolores and Rio Grande offices “have been very cooperative and proactive in helping us look at alternatives,” said Garland.
Luckily however, conditions have improved to the point where the race can now proceed along its traditional route.
At 20 years old, the Hardrock 100 has established a niche for itself as the most demanding (and arguably most scenic) of all the 100-mile trail runs in the United States.
Hopeful runners from 43 states and 26 foreign countries applied for the 140 slots in this year’s race (the Forest Service caps the number of participants). Each runner must finish another 100-mile run just to qualify to enter. Those who got in through a lottery last December “consider themselves pretty lucky,” Garland said. The only runners who are guaranteed a spot are those who won the race the previous year.
The Hardrock 100 is a spectator-friendly sport. Fans and support crews spread out along the sprawling course to cheer the runners on, and catch a bit of the magic that comes from witnessing fellow human beings accomplish the seemingly impossible.
The aid station at Fellin Park in Ouray (about halfway through the race, whether it is run in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction) is always a decision point for runners, Garland said. “People have to decide whether to go to the Hot Springs, or keep on running,” he explained.
This year, being a counterclockwise year, Ouray is 56.6 miles into the race. Runners will be coming down the Bear Creek Trail from Engineer Pass and then back up towards Governor Basin and eventually, over the ridge and down into Telluride.
The lead runners are expected to arrive in Ouray by around 5:45 p.m. on Friday evening. They will continue to stream (or stagger) into town throughout the entire night. The cutoff time for passing through the Ouray aid station is Saturday morning at 9 a.m.
The Telluride aid station is at mile 72.8 of this year’s race. Lead racers should start blasting through at around 9:15 p.m. on Friday night. This aid station remains open until 4:45 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.
Who will this year’s frontrunners be? Among the female contenders, last year’s 1st place and 3rd place women’s finishers, Darcy Afrika of Boulder and Darla Askew of Oregon, are back and favored to do well. The ferocious Diana Finkel of South Fork, a five-time Hardrock 100 winner and current female course record holder (27 hours, 18 minutes, 24 seconds, set in 2010), is also running again this year.
Top male athletes include last year’s runner-up Joe Grant of Boulder, five-time winner and former course record holder Karl Meltzer from Sandy Utah, Chris Price of California, Sebastien Chaigneau of France, Ted Mahon of Aspen, and previous winners Scott Jaime and Jared Campbell.
“It might be a little crowded up in front,” Garland predicted. “Obviously, it will be a very fast course – no high water, no snow, nothing.”
Altogether, this year’s lineup includes 120 males and 20 females from 26 states as well as Canada, France, Japan, Germany and Austria. The oldest runner is 73-year-old Hans Dieter Weisshaar from Germany, and the youngest is Nick Coury, 25, of Silverton.
In addition to Coury and his brother Jamil, also of Silverton, other local competitors in this year’s field include fellow Silvertonian Rodger Wrublik, Rick Hodges of Ridgway and Ricky Denesik of Telluride.
Hodges, 64, is among the eldest runners in this year’s field. This will be his twelfth running of the race.
Denesik, 53, is known locally for his many Imogene Pass Run wins. He also has five Hardrock 100 finishes (four of those in the top 10), and one Hardrock win, to his name. He’s been around this ultra-run since its inception, serves on its board of directors, and has paced the race’s founder, Rick Trujillo, several times. This year, Trujillo will pace Denesik, whose training was interrupted from mid-June through early July when he joined fellow members of the Telluride Volunteer Fire Department’s wildland fire team, to help battle the East Fork blaze near Silver Jack Reservoir.
Now considered one of the “old timers” of the race, Denesik said that for him, “it’s just about finishing the race, and enjoying it.” His favorite part of the course? “The finish line.”
The Hardrock 100 won new recognition last month, when legislators on the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee amended the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Bill (S.341), shifting its proposed boundary by 50 feet in a place where it overlaps with the Hardrock 100’s course to accommodate the event, before passing the bill out of committee. The minor amendment ensures that the race can continue on its current course well into the future, in the event that the Wilderness proposal eventually becomes law.
“We owe a great deal of thanks to Senators Udall and Bennet and groups like Sheep Mountain Alliance and San Juan Citizens Alliance,” Garland said. “We got the Wilderness boundaries adjusted to be a Win-Win for us and Wilderness. We wanted to support each other. It’s an example of groups working together toward a common goal.”
Once the race gets underway on Friday morning, fans can monitor its progress online at hardrock100.com.
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