Local Runners Tackle Hardrock 100

 

by D. Dion

No matter what you’re doing this weekend, Ricky Denesik’s got you beat. Denesik is running the Hardrock 100, a 100.5-mile endurance race in the San Juan Mountains at an average elevation of 11,000 feet with 33,992 feet of climbing. It might sound like pain and suffering to most people, but the lanky, local ultra-runner is taking it in stride. “I think I can do it. I just don’t worry about it, I take it as it comes, one mile at a time, one step at a time,” says Denesik.

It’s likely he will do it—Denesik has already finished the race four times, each time coming in the top 10. The first time he ran the Hardrock 100, in 1998, he won the prestigious event. “I was a lot younger then,” laughs Denesik. He says his goal this year is simply to earn his fifth finish; that way, he won’t have to enter the lottery to get a spot in the Hardrock 100 in the future. Five-time finishers are guaranteed a spot in the race, which strictly limits the number of runners.

That’s what happened to another local ultra-runner, Rhonda Claridge. Claridge didn’t draw a spot in this year’s race, despite having finished sixth among women in last year’s Hardrock 100, her first attempt. She says she doesn’t mind, though: “The course goes through pristine terrain, so it’s good that they keep the race small and low impact. It should be a privilege to get in.”

She’ll still be running 42 of the 100 miles, however, as a pacer for Denesik. Denesik ran alongside Claridge for 60 miles of another 100-mile event, the Wasatch Front, but Claridge isn’t just repaying a favor—she says she will enjoy it. “It’s exciting pacing him, because he’s one of the contenders; top 10 every time he’s run it. It’s hard to keep up sometimes.”

To hear Denesik and Claridge talk about the Hardrock 100, you might not realize just how grueling the race is. Runners who finish the event—and many do not—take an average of 41 hours to cross the rugged terrain and its scree fields, snowy sections, river crossings and boulder fields. The high elevation (the course tops out at 14,048 feet, the summit of Handies Peak, and crosses thirteen major passes of 12,000-13,000 feet in altitude) topples some runners, while others have trouble navigating the extreme wilderness, especially in the dark of night.

The wild and beautiful course, however, is what lures racers like Claridge and Denesik. Both runners say they like that the course is so close to home; Claridge says that she enjoys getting to see a lot of different landscapes, and that it’s a unique way to experience the mountains. Denesik started ultra-running inadvertently—after twice setting the speed record for summitting all Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks, he realized that the race was a natural fit for his passion for the mountains, his skills and his training regimen. For Denesik, the real challenge of the Hardrock 100 isn’t the punishing and arduous physical nature of the race; he says it’s the mental strength required. “It takes a lot of mental determination not to get psyched out, thinking about 100 miles. The way I view it is just going from aid station to aid station. You go through the lows, enjoy the highs, and eventually the finish line will show if you just keep moving.”

Denesik will be joined by another local runner, Glenn Mackie, in this year’s Hardrock 100, which passes through an aid station in Telluride’s Bear Creek.

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