First-time Hardrockers dig deep to prepare

“Wild and Tough” and one of the most difficult 100-mile races with 67,984 feet of elevation change over extremely rugged terrain, the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run attracts hundreds of veterans and newbies who vie for its 140 coveted spots each year.

Local ultra runner Leah Fein, who will run the Hardrock for the first time this year, knows it has the reputation as the hardest 100.

“That sparked my interest,” Fein says. “It became a goal of mine to get enough ultra experience to enter Hardrock. It feels like the Holy Grail of 100s, being the hardest.”

Fein has been training all winter and, because of the mild weather, has had ample opportunity to run trails. With three 100s and numerous 50-mile races under her belt, she feels ready for the challenge. The arrival of springtime will shift her focus to big mountains and high altitude.

“More than any other 100, this kind of specificity will be most important,” Fein says.

Durango runner Drew Gunn became interested in the Hardrock three years ago.

“Not really a runner then but coming from a mountaineering background, the 34,000 feet of elevation gain just blew me away,” says Gunn.

Having done some long-distance mountain-bike rides, Hardrock became his next big challenge. In 2011, Gunn completed the Bighorn and Bear 100-mile races, and he plans to do one or two 50-milers this spring.

“The most beneficial training for Hardrock will just be long days in the mountains,” Gunn says. “The best training is to power-hike up a mountain and run down over and over again. It’s all about strength, endurance and, perhaps most important, will.”

Boulder transplant Megan Finessy began volunteering at Hardrock’s Cunningham aid station after moving to Durango in 2008 and then paced a runner over 47 miles of the course in 2009.

“The course is just spectacular; the places it takes you are just phenomenal,” Finessy says. “I wanted to be a part of that special group of people and take on the challenge of being a Hardrocker.”

Although each of these ultra runners trains a little differently, they all emphasize the need to get up into the mountains and train at altitude as critical to having a successful race. Running, skiing, snowshoeing, yoga and weight training are some of the many activities that keep them in shape throughout the year with more high altitude-specific training as the weather and terrain allow.

Come July 13, these runners will be on the starting line in Silverton hoping to join the ranks of first-time Hardrock finishers.

“Hardrock seems less like a race and more of a celebration of the profound beauty of the San Juan Mountains,” Gunn says.

“It is arguably the most beautiful 100-miler, and it’s in our backyard,” says Fein. “I don’t think I will be satisfied until I go for it.”

In four short months, these first-timers will be trained, tuned, tapered and toughened up for the challenge ahead and will have earned the privilege of kissing the Hardrock at the finish line.

Reach Marjorie Brinton at