Twenty-seven years after the first run, one of the most famous events in the world is set for its silver anniversary.
The 25th running of the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run will begin at 6 a.m. Friday in front of the Silverton Gymnasium in the heart of the San Juan Mountains. The race has been canceled twice in the 27 years since the event was first held – once in 1995 because of too much snow and again in 2002 because of extreme fire danger.
Extreme fire danger threatened the 2018 Hardrock 100, with the 416 Fire that has burned more than 54,000 acres in the Hermosa area north of Durango. The San Juan National Forest briefly closed to all recreation, and high temperatures and a lack of moisture put the race in jeopardy.
But race director Dale Garland didn’t want to make a hasty decision to cancel a race that draws athletes from around the world, and the race committee’s patience paid off with the reopening of the San Juan National Forest and the arrival of rain to Southwest Colorado.
“We were really nervous,” Garland said. “It’s just something you do a year of planning to watch it kind of literally and figuratively go up in smoke. It was quite a tense time for planning, but what we did is we basically said we trust the monsoons, we know they’re gonna come, let’s go ahead and keep planning and hope Mother Nature cooperates with us, and it happened that way.
“We’re excited. All plans are moving forward, and rain is a good thing if we cannot worry about too much lightning and real heavy downpours. Being a mountain run, some of the weather comes with the territory.”
Now, the anxiety and nervous tension will shift from race organizers to the 145 runners who will embark on the 100.5-mile ultra-marathon known for being “wild and tough.”
Four-time defending men’s champion Kilian Jornet of Spain will not be back to defend his crown this year. A broken leg suffered during the ski mountaineering season forced Jornet to withdraw in June, though he’s back to running in Europe. He recently won the Marathon du Mont Blanc and set the record time on the Bob Graham Round, a popular running challenge in North West England.
Last year’s women’s winner, Caroline Chaverot of France, also won’t run Hardrock in 2018, leaving a window open for new winners when runners kiss the finisher’s rock Saturday in Silverton.
The 145-runner field, a number capped by the Bureau of Land Management, was chosen through a lottery. Applicants must have completed a qualifying 100-mile race and completed a service requirement by volunteering at an ultra in some capacity. Through the lottery, 45 first-time Hardrock runners are allowed entrance, while 33 slots go to Hardrock veterans and another 67 go to anyone who doesn’t fall under the other two categories. They all come together for a special weekend where friendships are made and runners and fans come together to form the “Hardrock family.”
“We had over 2,200 people apply for the lottery,” Garland said. “They came from across the world with 43 countries and 48 states. Our 145 is a number we work with the BLM and forest service on. We literally have people who have waited years to get in.”
Hardrock earned its moniker for being “wild and tough,” as it is run at an average elevation of more than 11,000 feet, summits one Colorado fourteener in 14,048-foot Handies Peak and features 66,100 feet of total elevation change with 33,050 feet of climbing.
Runners will endure the elements, from rain, hail and lightning to extreme heat as they manage the rocky trails, talus fields, creek crossings as well as at least one full night running under the stars. The time limit is 48 hours, while Jornet owns the course records going in both directions, with the clockwise record time of 22 hours, 41 minutes, 35 seconds set in 2014. Running the clockwise direction, the athletes will travel from Silverton to Telluride to Ouray and then Lake City before making the return to Silverton. They will cross over 12,000 feet of elevation 13 times in the process.
The course will run its normal route despite a scare with a washed-out trail, the Bear Creek Trail near Ouray. But crews have worked hard to clear the course, and the U.S. Forest Service has agreed to let Hardrock runners use the trail for the race while it remains closed to the general public.
Rain is something Durango-based runner Brendan Trimboli, who finished 11th overall at Hardrock in 2015, is expecting to have to deal with during this year’s run.
“I haven’t been up on Bear Creek or parts of the course that have seen washout, but the course is in pretty good shape,” Trimboli said. “There’s basically no snow on the course this year. If it’s raining, it will be wet, but I don’t see course conditions being a huge factor. I’m expecting to get drenched multiple times, and I’m not really looking forward to that.”