In it’s 26th year, runners from around the world have willingly signed up to come to the southwest corner of Colorado to pit themselves against the trails of the Rocky Mountains in the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run, a 100-mile footrace which generally takes more than 40 hours to complete for the average competitor.
The Hardrock, which starts in Silverton, travels through Lake City, Ouray and Telluride before ending where it started, includes more than 66,000 feet of elevation change. That can be hard to comprehend for recreational runners and those who only run when chased.
“I think the best way to conceptualize it for a lot of people is running from sea level to the top of Mount Everest and back down at an average elevation of a little more than 2 miles,” said Dale Garland, director of the Hardrock 100.
The course, which traverses Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands, includes a mere 1.3 miles of on-road running and takes runners past 13,000 feet a dozen times. It also includes the summit of one of Colorado’s fourteeners, Handies Peak.
It began in 1992 as a testimony to the lifestyle of the miners that called the San Juans home and were as hardened as the ore they took from the earth.
It is an example of men and women testing themselves against the elements. It has been canceled twice because of environmental concerns such as excess of snow on the trails or forest fires blazing in the mountains.
This year, more that 2,100 applicants from 48 states and 43 foreign countries threw their hats in the ring for the 145 spots, Garland said. Those runners had to complete three qualifying races to even have a chance in the lottery.
Brendan Trimboli, president of the Durango Running Club, ran the Hardrock in 2015 and said for many of the runners, it is less a competition against each other and more a cooperative effort to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
“It’s a race of willpower, and they’re working against the voices in their heads telling them to stop running,” Trimboli said. But running doesn’t have to be what Garland calls an experience of “shared suffering,” at least not all the time.
Marjorie Brinton, former president of Durango Motorless Transit and longtime ‘On the Run’ columnist for The Durango Herald, said running can be an exercise of becoming comfortable being uncomfortable. “Running isn’t easy; it’s one of those sports where when you come across non-runners they’ll typically say, ‘I only run if something is chasing me,’ or, ‘running is too painful,’ and even as a runner I recognize what they are talking about,” Brinton said.
The key is being able to work through that pain so you can reap not only the physical benefits of weight loss and increased fitness but also a healthy emotional outlet, she said.
She added that this outlet has been crucial for her when going through difficult times in her life, such as the recent loss of her husband, Scott, who died of cancer in February.
Trimboli said his morning runs provide him an opportunity to achieve a state of mental clarity.
“It’s like meditation. It’s the one time of the day where I haven’t been hit by the work stress yet, I don’t have a cellphone, I don’t have email. It’s just me and my thoughts and I can go run,” he said.
How to get startedSo how do you get started? It can be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other as you walk around your neighborhood and gradually build up your pace.
Brinton said she tells people who are interested in building up to running that the best thing they can do is start simple with a 1-minute rotation of running and walking.
From there, they can build up as they become acclimated and increase the ratio of running to walking.
She said this can be a good way to avoid the pain, fatigue and muscle soreness that would come from going out and running for 3 miles right off the couch.
Brett Sublett, owner of Durango Running Company and assistant cross country coach for Fort Lewis College, said he, too, supports a run/walk routine for beginners.
Sublett said this gives your body time to adapt and adjust to the stress you are putting on and also is mentally beneficial because you can set goals that are achievable rather than coming out the door with a mileage target which a beginner might routinely fall short of.
“It can be demoralizing because you think, ‘OK, I’m going to do this,’ and then you’re not five days into it and you’re like, ‘I’m sore and I’m tired and I’m slow,’” he said. But if you stick with a walk/run routine and build up, you can transition to a steady pace.
“If you listen to your body and listen to the parts that are talking to you, you can figure out when you’re going to be ready to just run without walking,” Brinton said.
Trimboli suggests outings of no longer than 30 minutes for beginners and cautioned that there is a “break-in period” where it might feel like you are getting beat up and not progressing.
“I would definitely encourage them to understand that it’s going to be uncomfortable at first, but it does get better,” he said.
As far as where beginners should run, it comes down to personal choice and what they want out of it.
Brinton suggested roads might be better for starters as it takes terrain out of the mix, while Trimboli said trails could be better as it uses a wider variety of muscles and can disperse the physical impact.
Garland said the best thing for a beginner to do is not to worry about how much distance they are covering when choosing where to run but rather find a place they want to explore and go for it.
Other important considerations for both beginners and experienced runners is making sure you have the right shoes for your running goals and the right form to avoid injuries.
“The most important thing about running is being healthy enough to keep running,” Sublett said.