Why the race matters to me and so many, plus a guide to other Colorado 100s
I did not get into the Hardrock 100 for 2022, but I’m not surprised. I had 16 tickets in the lottery pool, accumulated from four years of not gaining entrance, and given the demand of 1,916 applicants—most of whom also held multiple tickets—going for only 119 available slots, my chance for being drawn was like the snowball in hell, around 5 percent.
Rather than add to the dogpile of commentary related to the Hardrock lottery and its bias of awarding spots to those who’ve run it many times before, most of whom are male, this is what I’d like to talk about: Why Hardrock matters so much to me and so many, and why I’m more at peace about not getting selected this year.
Then, for all of you who might like to run a Colorado 100, I’ll offer a list of alternatives.
Some subscribers might have no idea what I’m talking about, or maybe wonder what all the fuss around Hardrock is about. Briefly, the 100-mile route starts and ends in Silverton and loops through Telluride and Ouray, over 13 mountain passes, ascending a total of some 33,000 feet at high altitude. It’s ridiculously scenic and rugged, showcasing the San Juan Mountains, and lives up to its motto “Wild & Tough.” Started in 1992, back-to-back cancellations in 2019 (due to excessive snow and avalanche damage) and 2020 (covid) added to the backlog of runners vying for entrance.
Unlike the overhyped corporate Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc 106-mile race in the Alps, which packs in some 2500 runners and thousands of spectators in a festival-like atmosphere, Hardrock is fiercely old-school, small and independent. Only 145 runners are allowed to run it. Those entering the lottery have to run a qualifying mountain 100, and now those qualifying races (see list here) are getting increasingly tough to get into, too.
The number of available spots this year was only 119 due to deferrals from 2021 and other special reserved spots, and they are broken unevenly into three lottery pools, “Veterans” who’ve finished Hardrock five or more times; “Elses” who’ve finished it one to four times; and “Nevers” like me who’ve never run it. For a good overview on how the lottery worked this year and those who gained entrance, see iRunFar’s article.
[Update in July 2022: the Hardrock board changed the lottery to consolidate the Else and Veteran pools into a single “Finisher” category, reducing the Veterans’ advantage. The effect on Nevers like me should be unchanged, unless more spots are delegated to the Never pool, which is to be determined. Check the Hardrock 100 website for info.]
I first entered the lottery in December of 2015, the year I ran my first qualifying ultra (Wasatch 100), and for four years in a row, through 2018, I did not get in. I did not enter it for two years due to the event’s cancellations. (“Nevers” picked in the December 2018 lottery were rolled over to last summer’s 2021 event.) Hence, last weekend’s lottery felt even more suspenseful, given the two-year hiatus.
But I wasn’t holding my breath. Only 15 spots were available for females in the “Never” category, and 320 of us applied. Some women in my category had 128 tickets from seven years of not getting picked, and they still did not get drawn. Meanwhile, a nice woman I met a few years ago at a running camp got selected with only two tickets in the pool. So goes the lottery luck.
Why do I want to run Hardrock, given the long odds?
What’s the drive behind this goal that I roll over year after year? On one level, it’s simply that I’ve witnessed so many other runners whom I admire finish the grueling, gorgeous loop that I want to see if I can, too. But it’s deeper than that.
I went through a rite of passage a decade ago, at the 2011 Hardrock, serving as a pacer for an experienced runner kind enough to take me under his wing, Garett Graubins. I “paced” him (which in this context means accompanied him for safety and support; it’s not about setting a time pace as in a road race) the final segment, from Telluride to the finish in Silverton.
That first pacing experience opened my eyes to mountain running and lit a spark, but also proved intimidating. A basketball-sized rock whizzed by inches in front of my nose, hurtling down the mountainside as we ran down a talus field in a hail and electrical storm. It could’ve smashed my head. I took a misstep on a weak snow bridge and my leg plunged through, nearly causing me to lose balance and slide toward a drop-off on the mountainside. Many more close calls occurred in following years when I paced other runners— Besty Nye in 2014, Clare Abram in 2015, Mark Tanaka in 2017. I’ve also seen the race up close by volunteering for it in other years.
Each year, the apprentice-like experience of being involved as a spectator or pacer fortified a tenuous belief that I could do it. I only regret it took me so long, until 2015, to develop enough confidence to run a qualifying 100 and put my name in the lottery. I could’ve started the process years earlier. But it took time to build experience and a belief in myself that I could be qualified, especially for an event with so few women.
Hardrock offers the thrill of true adventure, meaning the outcome is uncertain and risky. I want to fight feelings of timidity and softness as I age and prove I’ve got it—“it” being the wild & tough spirit as well as the physical prowess.
Again, why? Any single one of Hardrock’s mountain passes would make a challenging day hike, which would be fulfilling enough for most women my age. Why do I need to string them together and do them in under the 48-hour time limit? The answer has to do with my love of immersion in these San Juan Mountains, as well as feeling some connection to the athleticism and adventure of three ancestors: my grandfather, grandmother and great-uncle.
My grandfather worked deep in the darkness of the Camp Bird Mine in 1932, above Ouray, where the course route passes, and he also scaled numerous peaks. The Hardrock 100 is named after the gritty hardrock miners of his and earlier generations who made a living working in punishing conditions in these mountains. My grandmother, in her early 20s, followed my grandpa and his brother on pioneering climbs in the San Juans in the early 1930s, and she became the first woman on record to summit the 14er Sneffels in 1932, in extremely harsh weather conditions. My grandpa’s brother was a legendary climber who mapped, measured and explored nearly all the mountains along the Hardrock course.
I lionize this trio of ancestors (longer story here) and wish I could have known them better (only my grandfather I knew before his death in 2003; the other two died young, before I was born). It may sound woo-woo, but I want to do Hardrock to commune with their spirits, pay homage to them, and feel a little closer to them. I would like them to be proud of me, and to pass on their spirit to my two kids through my role-modeling.
Some have asked, why don’t I scratch this itch by doing Hardrock on my own, since I’m privileged to live here with the route so close to home? Many do the route self-supported over several days, a challenge nicknamed “Softrock.”
I might. But it’s not the same. It’d take more time and effort to self-navigate without course markings, and I’d like the support of a pacer and aid stations. Mostly, I want to race and to be part of the excitement of the actual event—one of the chosen few in it, not a wannabe on the sidelines. I want the athletic challenge of testing myself against others and the clock.
Why I’m less disappointed this year
Watching the online lottery play out last Saturday, my envy of those chosen was tempered by genuine thrill for several women I know and respect who got in, along with numerous good guys. Plus, several friends with more tickets than I did not get chosen either. It’s hard to feel sorry for myself under the circumstances.
On race day, July 15, 2022, 18 percent of the 145 runners, or 27 total, will be female. That sounds small, but it’s actually a notable improvement over past years, when fewer than 20 women—sometimes only 10—ran among the 125 or more men. A new gender policy mandates that the percentage of women running Hardrock must at least match the percentage of female applicants, which got the female entrants up to 27. (Link to all the entrants chosen.)
I’m hopeful because more women are entering tougher mountain ultras, thus qualifying to enter the Hardrock lottery, and their participation over time will help tip the balance a little more toward gender equity (although, given the better odds for applicants in the “Else” and “Veteran” pools, Hardrock will remain male dominated for the foreseeable future). But change is happening. I remain optimistic I’ll get my ticket picked within five years, so I’ll get my shot while I’m still in my 50s.
It’s a great motivator, actually, to take the long view and plan for Hardrock over a decade. It means I have to stay in shape to run the qualifying races, and I will.
Meanwhile, I can still be a part of Hardrock as a volunteer or pacer. That’s a great weekend gig, always a highlight of summer.
Hardrock isn’t the only special 100-miler in the state
If you can’t get into Hardrock, go run another great 100 in Colorado! Here’s a rundown.
Hardrock qualifying races:
Run Rabbit Run 100, September 16. It’s close to full for 2022, so register soon if you want to run it.
Non-Hardrock-qualifiers, in chronological order:
Mace’s Hideout 100, June 4. Started this past summer, the inaugural race attracted 28 starters, and 16 finished. It’s one of three new 100s in the state by Tempest Adventures, a homegrown race company started by Chris and Marci Westerman. Mace’s Hideout takes place in the Wet Mountains, a subrange of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Pueblo.
Ring the Springs, a new 100M around Colorado Springs with a 50 too by Aravaipa Running, permits pending.
Silverton Ultra Dirty , August 5. Part of the route overlaps Hardrock’s.[cancelled for 2022]
High Five 100, August 12. This race makes Hardrock look as mild as Javelina Jundred. Self-navigated, minimal support, five 14’ers … it’s for the truly hard-core and experienced mountain athletes.
Leadville 100, August 20
Creede 100, August 27. A new race this year by the same people behind Mace’s Hideout.
Rio Grande 100, October 1. Same as Creede—a new event by Tempest Adventures. It will take place in South Fork (southeast of Creede) in the La Garita Mountains
UPDATE: Reader recommendations
After I published this post on Wednesday, readers recommended the following Colorado 100s that I missed:
Great Divide 100, May 21, Mueller State Park west of Colorado Springs
Silverheels 100, July 9, Fairplay
Divide 100, August 26, around town of Georgetown west of Denver
Sangre de Cristo 100, September 24, in the Sangre de Cristo range in southeast Colorado
Will you be running any 100s in Colorado in 2022? If so, which one and why?
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