The Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance Run is definitely not a race. The race organizers, along with all the veterans make that pretty clear.
As a flatlander, coming from the intense altitude of 630 feet in North Texas, to the over-whelming San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado, I was unbelievably excited, albeit a bit nervous. Could I really sleep at 9,500 feet night after night? Could I really hike up 4,000 foot climbs? Was I in way over my head?
I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d get High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), or if I’d end up trapped on top of a mountain in the middle of a life threatening lightning storm. (One of which did happen!)
My adventure to the Hardrock 100 started out as a chance to pace Joe Prusaitis from Grouse Gulch (Mile 60.4) to the finish in Silverton at mile 102.5. Little did I know what I’d come away with from the life-changing event that is the Hardrock 100.
During my prep for the trip I did plenty of research and even emailed back and forth with a few people that had been to Hardrock. I kept hearing different stories, all of which sounded completely ridiculous. I heard stories of lightning, snow, hail, exposure, super ornery marmots, and cross country sections where you could easily end up miles off course.
I listened to all of these stories, but wasn’t really “hearing” them. I assumed that they were all somewhat exaggerated and probably a bit embellished. Oh, how naive I was!
On Saturday morning around 4:00am, I was surprisingly woken up by Joyce Prusaitis. In my fuzzy, sleep drunken stage, I was completely confused. (It’s also possible sleeping at 9,500 feet was taking it’s toll!) Why was Joyce here? Shouldn’t she be out pacing Joe? I must be dreaming…
It didn’t take too long for me to realize what had happened. I walked into the living room to find Joe sitting by the front door. Neither Joe or Joyce really went into too much detail on what happened, because they were both too worried about getting me out on the course with a runner to pace. This is the Hardrock spirit.
Within two hours or so of waking up I was paired with a guy that had just left the Grouse Gulch aid station named Mark. Little did I know, but this was going to be Mark’s 14th finish of the Hardrock 100. I was on the trail chasing after Mark not three minutes after driving into the aid station.
I caught up with him after about 15 minutes of quick hiking and began the 2 hour and 45 minute hike up the 14,000 feet Handies Peak. It was slow. Like REALLY slow. This is Hardrock.
About 15 hours later Mark and I, along with four other athletes and pacers were hunkered down under a rock in the middle of the most intimidating lightning I’d ever heard or seen. I was freezing cold with sheets of rain coming down, and spilling off the rock onto my rain jacket. I was convinced this rock could be my gravestone. When the lightning had slowed, I asked Mark where we were going. He said, “Up”. This is Hardrock.
Another three hours later we’d arrived into the last aid station and Mark continued on with his wife to the finish. Joyce was of course there with Joe. After she insisted on wrapping me in a blanket, she ran off to find me another runner. She found me another runner within minutes. Of course, I was paired with a soon to be eight-time finisher. This is Hardrock.
My last runner was Rick. Rick is 63 years young and showed me the definition of “relentless forward motion”. I seriously had some trouble keeping up with Rick on that last 2,700 foot climb. I’m 37 years younger than Rick. This is Hardrock.
Four hours later my new runner Rick and I were cruising along in the woods with the lights of Silverton just out of view. Rick said he wanted to finish before 2:00am. This was the first time he’d mentioned a time goal. I told him if he wanted to make it, we could make it. So Rick started power hiking like a man possessed and he kissed that big ‘ole rock at 1:45am. This is Hardrock.
The Hardrock 100s tagline is “Wild and Tough”. I didn’t really understand what “Wild and Tough” was. Now, I do. They couldn’t have chosen a better tagline.
The athletes of the Hardrock 100 are like a group of people that you’ll never see anywhere else. These athletes completely break the mold of what we consider to be an “ultra-runner”. When it comes to this run, the old saying holds true. You can’t judge a book by its cover.
One can listen to the stories of Hardrock and the majestic San Juan mountains, but the truth be told, you can’t tell anyone about Hardrock. One has to experience Hardrock.
The Hardrock 100 is so much more than a run. It’s a safe place for people like “us”. It’s a place where we can come together and talk about climbing multiple 13,000 foot or 14,000 foot peaks in one day without someone saying, “Why?” or “that’s crazy”. It’s a place where we can talk about doing multiple 100 milers in a year without criticism.
I can’t help but think that the veterans of Hardrock know something about life most of us don’t. Having now been to Hardrock and the San Juan Mountains, I can’t help but feel even more alive. While the run is on a “closed” course, it’s on some very unforgiving, wild terrain where a misstep here or there could mean the difference between a broken ankle, or a 1,500 foot plunge off a cliff.
This course is not a joke, and it’s not for everyone. While there I found out that either Hardrock is your kind of run or it’s not. The people that come back to Hardrock don’t do it just once or twice, but multiple times.
At first I thought that those veterans of Hardrock had seen the course so many times that they no longer really saw what the first timers were seeing. This, could be no further from the truth. Those veteran Hardrockers see the beauty every time. It’s what brings them back for more. You won’t hear those veteran Hardrockers complain about anything, because there is “no whining” at Hardrock.
On Sunday morning, after sleeping maybe three hours, I watched a new group of Hardrockers graduate for the very first time, and watched plenty of veterans, including the two I paced graduate for the 8th and 14th times. As I stood just outside the Silverton High School gym, I couldn’t help but know, that someday I too will graduate from the School of Hardrock.
- Jacob Evans