Locals take on Hardrock 100 ultramarathon
Carbondale’s Garett Graubins appears to be a normal, athletic guy. The senior editor at TrailRunner magazine, like many valley residents, jogs area trails to stay fit.But the 32-year-old is no ordinary runner. This morning, Graubins will be one of three Roaring Fork Valley residents attempting a race that makes even ultramarathon runners shudder – the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run. The Hardrock, a 100-mile race linking the former mining towns of Silverton, Ouray, Telluride, and Lake City, is no run-of-the-mill ultramarathon. “This is a DANGEROUS course!” the official race handbook reads. “In addition to trail running you will do some mild rock climbing … wade ice cold streams, cross cliffs where a fall could send you 300 feet straight down …” Much of the run is above tree line, peaking at 14,048 feet on Handies Peak. Runners face snow, scree, extreme exposure, wild animals (including marmots with the irritating habit of eating the trail-marking flags), hazardous weather, and up to two nights out in the wild.Sound like fun? Graubins thinks so.”People think ultramarathoners are superhuman freaks of nature,” he said, “but nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, you definitely get your share of wackos, but on the other end are people who just love, love, love the outdoors. If you really love trails, it’s as close as you can come to getting too much of a good thing.”Graubins has completed six ultramarathons, including Colorado’s Leadville 100, where he finished eighth in 2004.Hardrockers also are not as young as people expect. The average age of the race’s all-time top 40 finishers is 37.5. The youngest finisher was 27 years old. “They aren’t super lean and mean,” Graubins said. “And sometimes they’re a little thick around the torso, but they finish.” Far from thick around the torso, Graubins focuses on mileage, hiking high-altitude mountain passes, and trail running five to six days a week to prepare for the race. Runners qualify for the Hardrock by running a race-accepted ultramarathon such as the Leadville 100, Wyoming’s Bighorn or Hawaii’s Hurt 100. Tough as these races are, they have cutoff times 12-18 hours earlier than the Hardrock’s 48-hour limit, which allows for its harsh terrain and 66,000 feet in elevation changes. With much of the course so steep even power walking must be forgone for scrambling, past participants call it the “Hardwalk 100.” This worries Graubins.”I’m more of a runner than a hiker, but [the course] is so slow,” he said. “I’m impatient by nature. It’s not my kind of race.” Graubins’ goal in his first Hardrock is to kiss the one and only Hard Rock. Across the finish line of the Hardrock is running’s holy grail, the Hard Rock itself. Race rules have evolved over the years to stop a runner’s time only when his or her lips meet the rock, a 5-by-3-foot chunk of granite. “Kissing the Hardrock is sacred; it’s almost like you’ve been to the Promised Land,” said Graubins. “Unless I’m injured, I’ll make the finish. You don’t think ultramarathons are possible, but you can be a pretty normal person and still go out and do something extraordinary.”Extraordinary is nothing new to Aron Ralston, the Aspen mountaineer who sawed his boulder-trapped arm off to escape from Utah’s Blue John Canyon in 2003. Ralston, 29, finished last year’s Leadville 100 just more than a year after his backcountry ordeal in order to qualify for this year’s Hardrock. “I honestly pretty well hate running,” Ralston said. “I ran in middle school gym class because I had to. The only other competitive race I ran was a 5K for a church fund-raiser in 1994.”After reading Outside Magazine’s July 2001 article on the Hardrock, titled “It’s Gonna Suck to be You,” Ralston became fascinated with the way the race depended on the very qualities that made him a successful mountaineer. He moved to Aspen in 2002 to spend his weekends trotting up area peaks. “The Hardrock is my kind of race,” said Ralston. “Lots of elevation. I have a pretty high pain tolerance – Blue John Canyon wasn’t a fluke. After reading the [Outside] article, I started meeting ultrarunners and helping with their training. We hooked up so they could get better at the mountaineering side of things and I could learn their ultramarathon secrets.” Ralston is unconcerned with the handbook’s warning that race participants will “do some mild rock climbing (hands required).”Running without his prosthesis he will be five pounds lighter, and his extensive climbing experience is far more than most Hardrockers will have. But is it quickness, experience or patience that will pay off in this grueling race?Devin Gardiner of Carbondale plans to apply the mantra of the tortoise to his first Hardrock. “If I can just keep plugging along at a good pace, I have a chance,” he said. “You can’t burn up 100 miles.” Nicknamed “The Turtle” by high school friends, Gardiner’s patience served him well in previous races. “I was a late bloomer in high school,” said Gardiner who, at 27, will be one of the youngest Hardrockers on this year’s starting line. “I would have gotten killed in football. I was never fast, but I was able to do distance.”Gardiner became interested in ultramarathons after the 2002 Hardrock was canceled because of fire danger. He had agreed to pace a friend for the 32 miles from Silverton to Telluride, and he decided to run the leg anyway. “Going up over the Oscars I puked twice, and I was hooked. I signed up for my first 50-miler,” he said.Gardiner swims and does Pilates to round out his training schedule. After years of laying carpet for his dad’s business, his knees need extra care. “I never run over 80 miles a week,” said Gardiner, now a landscape architect. “I save the impacting for the races. I figure at mile 60 I can put in some ibuprofen and finish.”But will these men finish? As has been proven, the only way to know for sure is to wait … and watch the race. The Hardrock plays dirty – previous champions have pulled out because of stomach problems, altitude sickness, injuries, cramps. For these valley athletes, finishing is no sure thing, but their sights are set on the Rock.To follow the progress of Hardrock racers throughout the weekend, go to http://www.run100s.com/HR/
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