The last smiling faces runners in this week’s Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run will see before staggering into Silverton will be those of the Durango High School cross country team.
The DHS team has volunteered the past three years at aid stations along the 100-mile route that traverses through the San Juan Mountains and starts and ends in Silverton. Proving to be a reliable group, the Demons were awarded a permanent aid station at Putnam, the 95th mile of this year’s counter-clockwise edition of the Hardrock 100.
“What really helps Durango High School is there is a consistency there,” said Hardrock 100 race director Dale Garland, who is a social studies teacher at DHS. “It’s not always the same group of people, but they are institutionalized as a program we can count on. We know DHS will exist for years to come, and coach (David McMillan) is the glue that holds that together.
“He realized he’s building a family and a program, not just a team, and that plays into our philosophy as a run. Part of their program is giving back to the running community in a variety of ways.”
Hardrock 100 aid station coordinator Brad Bishop of Denver awarded the Putnam aid station to the Demons. The team spent its first two years at the Engineer aid station, which is roughly halfway through the race and is a hike-to camp. Last year, the team worked out of the Cunningham Gulch aid station. Putnam also is a hike-in station; McMillan said the Demons prefer those locations.
There are 14 aid stations along the route, which features 66,050 feet of elevation change, 13 major passes of 12,000 to 13,000 feet and the summit of 14,048-foot Handies Peak. This year, the course will start in Silverton, run through Lake City, Ouray and Telluride before coming back to Silverton.
Some of the best athletes in the world participate every year, if they can get in. Runners must complete three qualifying races to have a chance at the lottery, which draws more than 1,000 entries every year. After the lottery, only 145 runners are allowed to compete.
“It gives our team an appreciation for the magnitude of the effort, the magnitude of the mountains,” said McMillan, who serves as the aid station captain. “They see world-class athletes like Kilian Jornet and Jason Schlarb come through, and they work like clock-work. When Schlarb came into the aid station last year at Cunningham, his team had socks out, new shoes, a watch, vest. Our kids were looking at that and saying, ‘Man, look at all the preparation that goes into just the last aid station.’”
It’s not only the elite athletes who finish in under 30 hours who inspire the Demons. There is a 48-hour cutoff for the race, and typically one third of the field will fail to finish. Most finish in around 40 hours.
“They get an appreciation for the effort, dedication, focus of the folks out there for 40-plus hours,” McMillan said. “That’s tough, and they get to witness all of that and help the people as they come through.”
One parent will produce 4 gallons of soup to spread out across aid stations. The team will carry water, food, kettles and pots and camping gear from the nearest parking area into the aid station. They will also dig a latrine and collect and chop firewood. Keeping the course clean is a top priority, and all aid stations practice “Leave No Trace” principles. Crew members for the competitors won’t have access to the Putnam aid station, making the job of the Demons imperative.
The race will start at 6 a.m. Friday, and the Demons will be at their station from midnight Saturday until 6 a.m. Sunday when the cutoff goes into place. They will all attend the start in Silverton.
“I think it is great for the team,” Garland said. “Having a local guy like Dakota Jones, who has run the race and helps pace, as a role model, they can see where maybe the next step is in some of their running. Cross country is not something they have to stop doing after high school; there is a life in running well beyond school.”
The race started as a small event in 1992 and has boomed into an international phenomenon. Garland and the race committee pride themselves in providing an intimate atmosphere for the runners, crews and volunteers in what has become the “Hardrock family.” Part of that family has become the cast of characters across the 14 aid stations, and people are lining up to get into the action. Garland now has to turn away volunteers and has a wait list for groups hoping to work at aid stations. Whether running the race or helping, everyone wants a chance to join the family.
“Whoever thought we’d be in this position where people are wanting to help like this,” Garland said. “What kind of event has a wait list for people to volunteer? I’m not quite sure.”