With predawn darkness subtly giving way to a summer sunrise, the tradition of the annual Hardrock 100 Endurance Run took off again Friday morning.
Precisely at 6 a.m. Friday, the field of 140 runners stepped away from the starting line at the Silverton School, turned left on Snowden Avenue and proceeded out of town on a mountain trail odyssey unlike any other.
Led by familiar favorites and ultrarunnning legends such as five-time Hardrock winner Karl Meltzer of Sandy, Utah, and four-time winner Diana Finkel of South Fork, the Hardrockers will tackle more than 100 miles over the next 24-48 hours, taking them from Silverton to Telluride to Ouray to Lake City and back to Silverton.
When the shuffling bundle of energy, expectations and trepidation eased away from downtown Silverton on Friday morning, left behind was a nervous mix of wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, moms, dads, friends and pace runners.
Now, its that hurry-up-and-wait. You get kind of antsy, said Chris Askew of Bend, Ore., after watching his wife Darla break from the starting line. When they go, you never know. Especially here, where it takes so long to get to those aid stations.
Askew, after a lengthy wait, will pace his wife over the second half of the 100-mile trail race.
Ill run from Ouray back into Silverton ... 54 miles, 57 miles. Something like that, he said.
Darla Askew has competed in a number of long trail races.
This will be her sixth 100, said Chris Askew, who works for Metolius Climbing in Bend. Darla Askew is a lab technician.
This is her first Hardrock, he said, then added his wife will use poles for the first time in a race.
We came out two weeks early, and shes been practicing with poles, he said of the light, telescoping climbing poles that have become popular among Hardrock runners in recent years.
Meltzer, the senior statesman of ultarunning, pioneered the use of poles at the Hardrock.
Askew said the anxiety of the approaching race makes it difficult for runners to get good rest the night before the event.
So you try to get good sleep early in the week because you know that last night is going to be tough, he said.
Fellow pace runner Mike Hinterberg of Fort Collins said hes eager to help pace his runner, Nick Pedatella of Boulder.
But he, too, will have to wait his turn.
Weve done some training runs together and some races. Were friends, Hinterberg said. Nick was looking for someone to pace him and drive out here with him.
An avid runner himself, Hinterberg leaped at the chance to run part of the Hardrock course.
Its a great chance to be out on the course, said Hinterberg, who will pace his runner over two different sections.
Hell run with Pedatella from Ouray to Grouse Gulch and from Cunningham Gulch to the finish in downtown Silverton.
Id love to be in the race. I didnt get picked this year but one of these years, said Hinterberg, who is a research scientist for CU-Denver.
Nick is a researcher at CU-Boulder. So we talk science ... it gives us something else to talk about while were on the trail.
Other runners, such as first-time Hardrocker Noe Castanon of San Pablo, Calif., will negotiate the course in solitary fashion.
Im excited. I know it will be very challenging for me ... for everybody, Castanon said after he had his photograph taken by the famed Hardrock rock before Fridays start.
It will be difficult, I know, he said. My main concern is the rocks because its very technical with ... a lot of climbing.
But I am so happy to be here. Its a privilege to be here.
Liz Bower would second that.
Bower, from Georgia, was on the Hardrock 100 waiting list this year high on the list. She prepared as if she would run. She traveled to Silverton, and she sent drop bags to all the aid stations.
She went to sleep Thursday night still on the waiting list, but 40 minutes before Fridays start, another runner fell ill and scratched.
Bower was in.
She took her race number, joined 139 of her closest running friends. And she, too, is off and running in the 2012 Hardrock 100.