Preview: 2017 Hardrock Endurance Run

This Friday at 6:00 A.M., the Hardrock Endurance Run starts in Silverton, Colorado. The race started in 1992 and is considered one of the most prestigious ultramarathon trail runs in the world. One of the reasons why the 2017 edition will be special is because Debbie is running it for the first time. It’s not easy to get into Hardrock. 145 runners will toe the start line, and she is part of a subset of 45 “Never” runners who have never started the race. There will be 33 “Veterans” who have run five or more times, and there will be 67 “Else” runners who have done the race less than five times, or who started by didn’t finish a previous run. I’m glossing over some of the details, but they are outlined on the detailed Lottery page of the website.

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The key point is that Hardrock is a very difficult race to obtain entry to, especially for runners who have never done it, and especially for women. There are only 22 women in this year’s race. Debbie first applied to get in after the 2011 Grindstone 100. Just getting into the lottery takes work. You have to complete one of a select number of qualifying 100 mile runs. They are all races held on rugged terrain and have significant elevation change. Running 100 miles is hard, regardless of the course, but some races are harder than others. Hardrock is among the hardest. The website is a great resource, but throughout this post, I interspersed hyperlinks to help you gain a better understanding of the race. I’ll also add commentary on this year’s edition.

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The about page offers a concise overview:

The Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run is an ultramarathon of 100.5 miles in length, plus 33,050 feet of climb and 33,050 feet of descent for a total elevation change of 66,100 feet, at an average elevation of over 11,000 feet. The run is held on a loop course on 4WD roads, dirt trails, and cross country in Southern Colorado’s San Juan Range, USA. In 2017, the run will be in the counter-clockwise direction, from July 14-16.

The run starts and ends in Silverton, Colorado and travels through the towns of Telluride, Ouray, and the ghost town of Sherman, crossing thirteen major passes in the 12,000′ to 13,000′ range. Entrants must travel above 12,000 feet (3,700 m) of elevation a total of 13 times, with the highest point on the course being the 14,048′ summit of Handies Peak. The run has been held in early July of each year beginning in 1992, except for 1995 (too much snow) and 2002 (nearby forest fires). Each year’s run is run in the opposite direction of the previous year’s event (2016 was run in the clockwise direction, 2017 will be counter-clockwise). In order to complete the event, instead of crossing a finish line, runners are required to “kiss the Hardrock”, a picture of a ram’s head painted on a large block of stone mining debris.

This course offers a graduate level challenge for endurance runs. The course is designed to provide extreme challenges in altitude, steepness, and remoteness. Mountaineering, wilderness survival and wilderness navigation skills are as important in this event as your endurance.

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Hardrock will garner a lot of media attention, so there are a number of other great resources to consult for history, storylines, and coverage. I’ll add some of the best links to this post. Some of the recent Hardrock news has swirled around the International Trail Running Association, the UTMB, and the Ultra-Trail World Tour. UTMB, which Debbie started, but did not finish in 2007, is another one of ultrarunning’s iconic races. 10 years ago, it was a lot easier, but today, runners are required to accumulate points at qualifying races around the world. Hardrock has not joined and that has made news. The race’s stance has also rekindled questions about the fairness of Hardrock’s lottery. I’ll steer clear of the politics and just admit that Hardrock is hard to get in to, and Debbie is grateful to be in this year’s event.

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So, after Grindstone, she applied for 2012, but didn’t get into Hardrock. Her qualifier was good for two years, but she also missed out in 2013. She ran another qualifier, the 2013 Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run, but failed to finish, which to this day, along with the 2007 UTMB, are her only ultrarunning DNF’s. She returned to the TRT100 in 2014 and finished. At that time, TRT100 was still a Hardrock qualifier, so she tried the lottery twice again, but missed out in 2015 and 2016. Once again needing to extend her qualifying window, she completed the 2015 ULTRA-TRAIL Mt. FUJI. That was quite an adventure! Throughout this period of time, she was applying to the Western States Endurance Run, one of the sports other iconic races. She has paced/crewed at WS100, but never gotten in herself. Many years ago, she missed a “Golden Ticket” automatic entry to WS100 by one spot. She will keep applying with hopes of running someday, but between Western States and Hardrock, the latter was clearly her preference. The smaller field, the San Juan Mountains, and the rugged nature of the course are more appealing to her and more suited to her style of trail running.

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So, back in December when they held the lottery for this year’s race, we were thrilled when she was picked 7th on the Never wait list. 45 Never runners made it in and six others were in front of her. We did a bunch of research to determine what the odds were of her getting in to the race.We reviewed prior years’ data to determine that the 7th spot on the Never wait list made it in some years and not in others, including 2016, when only four runners made it off the wait list. It was worrisome, but we held a family meeting and decided that no matter what, we were going to Hardrock, whether she got to run it or not. She would build her training plan and our family travel plan around the race. If she didn’t get to run, we would volunteer, pace, observe, and enjoy the mountains. As a fallback plan, she applied and got in to another Hardrock qualifier, the Cascade Crest 100. That way, without a Hardrock start/finish, she could apply again for the 2018 race.

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There was no movement on the wait list until late-May. With the full refund deadline looming on June 1st, the action started. Over the course of a week, leading up to the deadline, she steadily moved up to first on the waitlist. We were worried that there might not be more dropouts until race week. We figured that after the refund deadline passed, runners wouldn’t willingly drop out; but that only an injury, illness, family matter, or some other reason out of their control would lead to a DNS. 15% attrition is about right for a typical race like this with registration so far in advance, and seven out of 45 is 15.5%.

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Then, the afternoon after the deadline had passed, on June 1st, she got a call from the Run Director Dale Garland, with an invitation to run. She didn’t hesitate to accept the entry. She left me an ecstatic voicemail. I don’t know who was happier. We have been a team since 1999 and I was pumped about crewing this event. I was equally as excited to visit southwest Colorado with our family.

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She has done more than 80 ultramarathon trail running races since her first in 1999, and there is no question that the 2017 Hardrock will be the biggest one yet. Her preparation has been solid. We have a Hypoxico Altitude Training System and have used it diligently for the last four-month in anticipation of the race. We live at 590 feet in Connecticut, so this is one step we took to acclimatize. Her big training runs included our Long Trail Adventure, our Mohawk Trail Adventure, her Manitou’s Revenge Ultra run, and our recent Katahdin Adventure. She couldn’t simulate the high altitude in training, but she definitely got in a lot of hill running/hiking on rugged terrain.

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We arrived in the San Juan’s at the end of last week. All of the Camp Hardrock events begin today in Silverton. Packet pickup is tomorrow and the pre-race briefing is on Thursday. Yesterday, we drove to Ridgway to visit friends and then they took us back to Ouray to enjoy the hot springs and see the town. We saw some of the mountains, but didn’t get on to the trails. Having our kids along on this adventure can limit some of the activity, but they are an integral part of Debbie’s crew. My cousin, Danny Roy, arrives later this week and will round out the team. He has been a “go to” pacer for Debbie at her ultras over the past five years. We still have a few days to go, but the excitement is building.

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As for Hardrock Endurance Run resources, here is a bevy of information:

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