SILVERTON - Years of preparation culminate into the start of the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run, but it is the final minutes leading up to the start that can make or break the race for even the most talented runners.
Running 100 miles at an average elevation of 11,000 feet with climbs and descents of 67,894 feet, nothing is more important than being properly fueled and prepared to take on the race that lasts between 24 and 48 hours, depending on the skill of the runner.
“I’m always nervous before this thing,” said Durango’s Drew Gunn just 45 minutes before the race’s 6 a.m. start Friday morning in Silverton. “There are a thousand mundane details going through my mind, but added up they all make a big deal in the race.”
Among the items on Gunn’s checklist: spare socks, sunscreen and plenty of water to avoid hypoxia from setting in during the 13 climbs past 12,000 feet and the 14,048 high point at the summit of Handies Peak near Lake City.
Just two miles into the race, runners faced the first of many creek crossings at Mineral Creek. Racers have no choice but to plunge into the icy water, and Spain’s Kilian Jornet, who led the field by one minute through the opening 8 miles, joked before the race that if he stopped to take off his shoes before every creek crossing that he wouldn’t finish until 2015.
That makes those extra socks imperative.
“If you get blisters and you are 80 miles in, those get pretty nagging,” said Gunn, the 40-year-old Durangoan who is aiming for his third finish in the Hardrock 100.
The No. 1 key to success is a good night’s rest before the early morning mass start, said Sarah McCloskey, winner of the 2013 Bighorn 100 and Wasatch 100.
“I slept really well and went to bed pretty early, and that is big,” she said. “I’m super excited to have a good, healthy run. I haven’t had one since last fall, and I’m ready to get out there.”
Breakfast is another big focus for the runners. Avoiding anything heavy, the runners load up on coffee and their favorite light foods.
For Gunn, that was two oatmeal cookies and a granola bar to go with his java. McCloskey opted for a Banana Honey Stinger energy gel and a waffle to pair with her caffeinated beverage.
The 140 runners aren’t the only ones who have to prepare. For every runner, there are at least two or three members of their team who will run alongside them as pacers, helping keep their runner mentally into the race through each grueling mile.
Plenty of preparation goes into training for the pacers, too.
“You want to make sure you’re in shape to stay with the person and not slow him down,” said Durango’s Erik Skaggs, who will pace local favorite Dakota Jones the final 40 miles from Grouse Gulch to the finisher’s rock. “You have to run a lot to be prepared to go whatever pace he wants to go.”
Skaggs, the brother of Hardrock 100 course record holder Kyle Skaggs, who finished the clockwise course in 23 hours, 23 minutes in 2008, hopes to help push Jones to a first-place finish in what is being called the most loaded men’s field in Hardrock 100 history.
“Dakota obviously is super fit, and he is prepared to run the race how he needs to run it. I’m just there to provide a little bit of mental support and make sure he stays on track,” Skaggs said. “I’m just providing some company on a fun run in the mountains with a good friend.”
Being mentally ready to jump into a race during its second half can be difficult, especially when there is a two-hour window a pacer must be ready to go at any time.
Skaggs expected to meet up with Jones anywhere between 6 and 8 p.m. Up first was a stop to Avalanche Brewing for coffee and a breakfast burrito alongside droves of other pacers anxiously awaiting to drive to Ouray or Telluride to meet their runners.
“I’ve run a lot of races and crewed a lot of races, and crewing is stressful,” Skaggs said. “You are worried about your runner and don’t quite know when they’re coming through each aid station. You just wait, and, if they don’t show up when you expect them to, you start to get worried.”