Interesting aspects of this weekend’s “Wild & Tough” race
Hardrock competitor Chris Price trains in early July in American Basin, on the Hardrock course near Handies Peak. Photo by fellow Hardrock veteran Howie Stern
This weekend’s Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run will undoubtedly push the limits of its “Wild & Tough” motto, due to treacherous course conditions and world-class mountain runners, several of them wild cards as first-timers at the event.
With Spain’s Kilian Jornet and New Zealand’s Anna Frost both toeing the starting line in Silverton, Colorado, on Friday morning, the men’s and women’s course records could fall. But some of the most exciting action may unfold toward the middle and back of the pack, as others try to overcome personal challenges.
Hardrock, which began in 1992, changes the direction of its loop course annually, and this year it runs counter-clockwise from Silverton to Ouray to Telluride and back to Silverton. The course features a mix of steady and sharp climbs over 13 ridges above 12,000 feet, hitting a high of 14,048 feet on Handies Peak (mile 37 in this year’s direction), with a low of 7,680 feet at the Ouray Aid Station (mile 57), climbing and descending a total of about 66,000 feet.
“In this year’s direction, we run up the ramps, down the steeps,” explains past Hardrock champ Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer, who will be starting Hardrock for the 12th time (he has finished seven of those times, including five wins, and DNF’ed it four). “The other way—running down the ramps—could yield faster running times, but it’s hard to really tell. Kilian should be able to tell us after this year”—a reference to Jornet going after his own course record of 22:41, set last year in the clockwise direction.
Whether you’ll be cheering on the runners at aid stations or following along from home, here are seven things to watch at the 2015 Hardrock.
1. Can Kilian Beat His Own Record?
Can Jornet break his own record in an arguably slower direction, in more difficult conditions due to this year’s deep and slushy snowpack? That may be the question on most people’s minds going into this year’s Hardrock 100.
Kyle Skaggs established the prior record of 23:23 in 2008, in the same, clockwise direction the race was run when Jornet set his 22:41 last year. The counter-clockwise record (and third fastest time ever) is 24:25, set by Sebastien Chaigneau in 2013.
Just last weekend on July 4, Jornet hammered his legs while setting a course record at the intensely competitive Mount Marathon Race in Alaska, a 5K that climbs and descends a 3,000-foot peak. How that extreme hill climb, and the subsequent travel from Alaska to Colorado, less than one week before Hardrock will affect him remains to be seen.
2. The Course: wetter than ever
Over the past few weeks, several competitors training on the Hardrock course posted photos online that showed the steep ridges and vast basins above tree line covered with virtually impassable deep snow. That snow is quickly melting in warmer temperatures, which means runners will post-hole through slushy snow banks and slog through shoe-sucking mud in areas that are swampy even in dry years.
What’s more, the region is stuck in a typical summertime weather pattern of afternoon thunderstorms, which could make for a repeat of last year’s severe lightning and hail storms during the race.
“Everyone said 2011 was the wettest they had ever seen on the course. I think this year will be worse,” says Matt Hart of Boulder, Colorado, who ran Hardrock in 2011 and has been training on the course during the past several weeks. “The San Juans got late May snow, and there’s still a lot of it out there.”
Adds James Varner of Seattle, Washington, who has run and paced at Hardrock multiple times and also has been training on the course recently, “If the snow is still soft and deep like it is now, that will really suck a lot of energy out of the runners’ legs. … People’s feet will rarely get a chance to dry out, since the course will be soggy and muddy in many places, so for some people that will cause blisters and painful, extreme ‘pruning.’ ”
3. The Women’s Race: Longtime experience vs. raw talent
In recent years, the women’s Hardrock race has been a contest between Diana Finkel of South Fork, Colorado, who has four straight wins (2008 through 2011) and holds the women’s course record of 27:18, and Darcy Piceu (formerly Darcy Africa) of Boulder, Colorado, who has finished five times and has a Hardrock best of 29:09.
Piceu won Hardrock the past three years, but in each of those years, Finkel led until dropping late in the race due to health concerns (Finkel had serious kidney-related illness following the race in 2010).
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Instead of another Darcy-Diana matchup—Finkel is not racing this year—the 2015 race will introduce another top contender: Anna Frost of New Zealand, whose international racing prowess makes her the strongest threat not only to Piceu for the win, but also to Finkel’s course record.
“Darcy, I don’t think, can run in the low 27 [hours], but Anna can,” predicts Meltzer, referring to the current course record. “Anna is the most talented, but Darcy is easily the most experienced. Darcy will run her own race and see what happens. Anna will race from the start and have a higher risk of blowing.”
Frost, however, has only one 100-mile finish to her name—The Bear in 2014, which she won and set a course record. She has tried to compensate for inexperience at 100-milers and unfamiliarity with the San Juan Mountains by spending the past month living around Silverton and training on the Hardrock course.
“The girl loves these San Juan Mountains and obviously has so much talent and drive,” notes nine-time Hardrock finisher Billy Simpson, who has been training and hanging out with Frost. “She is camping in her campervan and really absorbing the total experience. Not many elite runners who have the status she has would do that. She also has a healthy fear of this thing, and that’s why she has been here for a solid month doing her homework.”
The Hardrock 100 lottery typically draws around 20 or fewer female competitors. This year, 23 of the 151 entrants are women.
Darla Askew of Bend, Oregon, is the most likely woman to finish third, or higher if Frost or Piceu falter. Askew has two Hardrock finishes with a best time of 31:09.
But several other strong women—including Suzanne Lewis, Meghan M. Hicks, Missy Gosney, Clare Abram and the indefatigable “Betsys”—Kalmeyer and Nye—could challenge Askew. The two have more Hardrock finishes than any other women—Kalmeyer 15, Nye 13—and both won it in earlier years.