Monday, July 6, 2009

One Weekend, Two Outrageous Races: The Hard and the Bad

Ultra running is a great sport full of great characters and unbelievable feats of human endurance. If there were to be one weekend that summed up the extremes of an already extreme sport, this would have to be the one: Hardrock and Badwater within days of each other!

First up, beginning this Friday, is the famed Hardrock 100. For those familiar with the US ultra scene, this race needs little introduction, but for those less familiar with mountain 100s, suffice to say that the Hardrock loop across the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado boasts a total elevation gain of approximately 33,000 feet and an average elevation of 11,186 feet above sea level, rising to above 14,000' on Handies Peak. This thing is a lung-busting beast. Entrants have a total of 48 hours to get it done.

After the excitement of Kyle Skaggs' demolition of the old course record last year, the race for first looks to be a little less predictable this year. Here are some names I recognize as characters or contenders (in alphabetical order):

Kirk Apt - I stayed with Kirk and his wife Keith down in Fruita this spring for the Spring Desert Ultra. During the stay, I learned that Kirk will be toeing the line in Silverton for the 15th time on Friday, which means that he will have started every single Hardrock, failing to finish just once. He's won both Hardrock and Leadville through the course of his career, with, I think, close to 15 finishes at Leadville in addition to his 13 at Hardrock. Kirk is from the old skool and loves the mountains. He won't win, but he'll have a good time getting it done and finishing top ten.

Ryan Burch - Ryan is going into this race with an eye toward exorcising a few 100-mile demons and enjoying the San Juans, a mountain range he loves. He's proven at the 50-mile distance, having won a number of events in the region, has good leg speed (2:45 marathon) and great downhill eyes and feet. He's gonna go out conservative, but if things fall into place, he could be the sleeper who kicks it into high gear late in the race.

Jared Campbell - Don't know him personally, but I've certainly seen his name at or near the top of many a 100-mile and 50-mile race. He's gotten it done in Silverton before, coming fourth last year and in 2007. Has to be considered among the favorites.

Helen Cospolich - A mountain girl who loves to run and win long-distance races. I've run a couple of 50-mile races this year in which she has blown away the women's field, setting a course record at Collegiate Peaks 50 and winning handily at the Fruita 50. In addition, she won Leadville last year. She never looks to be running that fast, which is probably a pretty good qualification for Hardrock.

Ricky Dennesik - Like Campbell, Dennesik has course knowledge, finishing third last year. Based on that alone, I say he has to be considered a favorite.

Diana Finkel - Another veteran of the circuit and also last year's winner. The one to beat in the female division.

Roch Horton - Another guy from the old skool whose name has appeared on the results sheet of just about every 100-mile race in the country. A perennial top-ten finisher at Hardrock, look for him to keep that streak alive.

Scott Jaime - Again, don't know him personally, but from following his blog for the last few months, I'd have to say he goes in as a favorite. He was second last year, admittedly 6.5 hours back on Skaggs and only just dipping under 30 hours, but he appears to be much fitter this year and has trained with great specificity for this race. He'll be tough to beat if he fires on all cylinders.

Andy Jones Wilkins - AJW just got done tearing it up at Western States eight days ago, finishing in a strong 10th place (male div). Not the fastest out there, but this guy has run something like 25 100 milers, winning many, stats that have to make him a contender. He won't make the mistake of going out too fast and will likely catch runners late in the race. If he's recovered from States, I put him top three.

Karl Meltzer - Like AJW, Meltzer hardly needs an introduction. Suffice to say he's won this thing four times before and is a former course record holder. He ain't gonna get in under 24 hours, but based on current form, I'd say he has a shot at running the second fastest time ever recorded.

Betsy Nye - Another old skooler who knows how to get it done at Hardrock. Look for a top-three finish.

Paul Sweeney - Don't know much about Paul other than he won in '04.

Wait List

John Anderson and Bryan Goding both have a chance of running, based on their wait-list spots, if they show up in Silverton on Thursday. I think John is planning on it, and know that Bryan will be there. If John runs, he's definitely a contender for first. If Bryan gets in, he could easily finish top five.

Honorable Mention

Brownie - He's been talking smack for months. Let's see what he's got.


Before getting out there and pacing and crewing for Alene Nitzky last year, I thought this race was for the crackpots only. I still do to a certain degree, but I have a lot more respect for the race and the mind-blowingly beautiful Death Valley after experiencing it first hand. I wound up pacing Alene for the last 45 miles (all hiking). She got in under 48 hours for the buckle finish.

We drank a lot of water over the course of two days

Just keep moving

Rest too long and it's hard to get going again, especially after 90 miles

Day two - the long march to Whitney

Just a few more miles of climbing

Alene had been talking non-stop for hours about that tree!


The race starts at the lowest point in the lower 48 and continues 135 miles to Whitney Portal, which serves as the trailhead for an 11 mile hike to the highest point in the continental U.S. As originally conceived, the race finished at the peak of Mount Whitney. Due to permit restrictions, the official race has been cut short (!) at the 135-mile mark. The hardest of the hardcore keep running once they cross the official finish line and don't stop until they get to 14,500 feet above sea level, having started in the desert at 280 feet below sea level.

The more interesting women's race is Jamie Donaldson's to lose, and I'd say she has an outside shot at winning the whole thing. However, she'll be pushed hard by Pam Reed, who she beat out for first last year, and Monica Schultz. Pam has won this thing many times before (outright in '02 & '03) and Monica has two wins, so if things head south for Jamie, as they most certainly could in what looks like it may be a 130 degree year, either Pam or Monica could win it.

The men's race is Jorge Pacheco's to lose. He's the defending champ and doesn't look to have too much competition this year - from what I can tell. I guess I should probably mention Dean Karnazes as he is by far the best-known name in ultra running, and a former winner at Badwater, but he won't be winning anything this year. Could be good for second in the men's race, but will be beaten by Jamie as he was last year, if Jorge drops or crumbles.


  1. Thanks for the mention! I'm just trying to finish before the Silverton brewery closes. My pick: Scott Jamie.

    I believe Jamie D. is going all the way to Mt. Whitney. As if "only" doing Badwater isn't enough.

  2. Just for the record Nick, I won the "human" race last year... And I have a 6 hour bet with brownie fer sum beer so I've got extra motivation. If I come away with a PR I'll be happy regardless of place.

    I look to be doing some runnin' with Ryan, Jared, Karl, Ricky, AJW, Troy Howard, Jon Anderson(?) and don't forget Jamil Coury (sleeper)

  3. Scott - Brownie looks like he's ready - that might be a tough bet to win. Not sure what your PR is, but if it's your time from last year, then my money would be on you shaving an hour or two.

    It's an open race this year, with a number of legitimate contenders for the win. However, Karl still has to be considered the guy to beat. Go get him!