Scott Jaime has started the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Race eight times and finished eight times. He hopes to make it 9-for-9 this year.
But Jaime and the 151 other ultramarathon runners who departed Silverton on the 100-mile race, one of the toughest on the planet, are never at ease in the waning moments before the 6 a.m. start in front of the Silverton School gymnasium.
“I threw up about four times on the walk here. It was just out of the blue, and it was because of my nerves,” 50-year-old Cory Johnson said 10 minutes before the race began.
Johnson is no greenhorn when it comes to the Hardrock 100, either. He finished the race 37th overall last year in 38 hours, 27 minutes, 44 seconds, roughly three hours better than the average finisher of the race.
Jaime is a perennial top-10 finisher, but he admits he still gets nervous. The 45-year-old out of Highlands Ranch said the mental aspect of preparing is the most important factor the week of the race.
“The whole year is always based around Hardrock,” Jaime said. “Really, it’s about being comfortable being uncomfortable. Learning to get comfortable with the conditions you face on this race – running through the mountains at night and through weather – it’s learning to be comfortable while being totally uncomfortable.”
Even the best athlete in the field, Kilian Jornet of Spain, said he didn’t know what to expect in this year’s race, even after shattering the course record running the clockwise direction last year.
“Not really, we’ll see what happens,” Jornet said when asked if he had a goal for this year’s counterclockwise version of the race. “It’s a very long race, and many things can happen ...”
Anything can happen at an average altitude of 11,017 feet. The athletes will climb a total of 33,992 feet and descend the same distance as the race travels from Silverton to Lake City, over 14,048-foot Handies Peak and on to Ouray and Telluride before returning to Silverton.
Athletes have 48 hours to complete the race, with the fastest time on record Jornet’s 22:41:35 from 2014. The record for the counterclockwise course is 24:25:50, set by Frenchman Sebastien Chaigneau in 2013. Jornet’s target time for this year is 24:36:00.
But Jornet, Jaime and the rest of the top-10 contenders are just a sliver of the field that competes in the Hardrock 100. The average age of the competitors is 45, and most simply hope to finish before the 48-hour cutoff.
“I have a lot of nerves, especially about the cold,” said 41-year-old Michelle Bichsel of Ohio, who said she hopes to finish in under 36 hours. “Being from Ohio, I do some other harder, hilly 100 miles on the East Coast, and I did a bunch of treadmill-incline work, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Steve Ansell, 46, of San Francisco has raced in several 100-mile races, but this is his first Hardrock. He said he isn’t racing to be in the lead pack, especially coming from sea level. Instead, he hopes to finish in under 35 hours while trying to enjoy new scenery. He knows the enjoyment aspect of that combination is relative to the suffering it takes to complete the race.
“I used to be a mountain biker and rock climber, but I started my own company and had no time, so I started running to stay in shape,” Ansell said. “I love being on the open trail, and doing 100-milers was a way for me to stay on the trail longer and see more. The goal is to be on the trail as long as I can to see these amazing scenes.”
Though it is regarded as one of the most difficult foot races on the planet, the enjoyment of being in the San Juan Mountains is what draws the group of 152 runners and more than 1,200 applications for the race each year.
All of those starting-line nerves seem to wash away with the first creek-crossing, but they can always return in a flash with a bolt of lightning or the bitter cold of running at such high altitude in the middle of the night.
“I don’t ever think about not finishing, but I’m always nervous,” Jaime said. “I’m nervous I won’t enjoy it as much as I want to. But being nervous is a sign of respect for the San Juans.
“We all enjoy it as long as we can, and especially when we get back to Silverton to kiss that rock at the finish.”