The ultimate test of trail running in the San Juan Mountains - the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run - launches its 15th annual challenge at 6 a.m. Friday in downtown Silverton.
The 100-mile trail runners will finish Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening, Saturday night and Sunday morning - back in downtown Silverton.
In the interim, from start to finish, the runners will take the counterclockwise route for the annual 100-mile Hardrock jaunt, from Silverton to Lake City to Ouray to Telluride to Ophir and back to Silverton.
Defending women's champion Diana Finkel of South Fork returns in search of back-to-back Hardrock victories. Finkel won last year's clockwise 100-mile trail run in 31 hours and change.
Veteran endurance runner Betsy Kalmeyer of Leadville, a former Hardrock champion and a member of the Colorado Sportswoman Hall of Fame, was second last year (33 hours).
She's also back this year, according to longtime Hardrock run director Dale Garland.
A number of other former Hardrock champions also are among the capacity field of 140 runners, Garland said.
Betsy Nye of Truckee, Calif., is a former winner back for another test.
Kimberly Holak of Duluth, Minn., the third-place finisher last year, also is in the field along with Helen Cospolich of Breckenridge, who won the 2008 Leadville 100.
On the men's side, a number of former champions are among the runners considered as favorites for 2009.
The 2008 record-setting winner, Kyle Skaggs of New Mexico, will not defend his title this year. He became the first runner in Hardrock history to finish the 100-mile run in less than 24 hours. He ran 23:30 on last year's clockwise circuit.
Scott Jaime of Highlands Ranch, who was second last year in 29 hours, is back in Silverton this year. He'll be joined by former Hardrock winner Ricky Denesik of Telluride, another trail-running veteran who was third in 2008.
Four-time Hardrock winner Karl Meltzer of Sandy, Utah, will be running for his fifth title this year. He finished second in 2007, the last time the runners went counterclockwise. A year before, in 2006, Meltzer won the Hardrock 100 for the fourth time.
Also racing will be former champions Kirk Apt of Fruita, Mark Hartell of Great Britain, Blake Wood of Los Alamos, N.M., and Paul Sweeney of Truckee, Calif. The field also includes Wasatch 100 runner-up Andy Jones Wilkins of Ketchum, Idaho.
Scott Jurek of Seattle was the 2007 men's Hardrock winner in 26 hours, 8 minutes, a record for the counterclockwise route. Krissy Moehl, also of Seattle, won the 2007 women's race in 29:24, a women's counterclockwise record. They are not on the 2009 entry list, but their record times will serve as targets this year.
"We're ready to go," Garland said Wednesday. "In fact, we're a little ahead of schedule. The course is in good shape ... dry."
He said a favorable weather forecast also is on the horizon for the ultrarunners, who will climb and descend a total of 66,000 feet over the 100 miles.
The low elevation point on the course is in Ouray (7,680), while the high point is Handies Peak (14,048).
Six times the runners will climb above 13,000 feet. Twelve times the runners will climb above 12,000 feet.
Three Durango-based runners are in the 2009 field for the Hardrock: Brett Gosney, Will Vaughn and Philip Wiley.
The running roster represents 27 states along with Great Britain, Switzerland, France, Australia and Canada.
"It's a great group of people to be around," Garland said.
Race updates will be posted during the 2009 Hardrock 100 on the Web site www.run100s.com.