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Veterans of the Hardrock 100-Mile Endurance Run in Colorado’s ragged San Juan Mountains are a different breed. The race punishes athletes with 13 mountain passes, summiting a 14,000-foot peak and more than 33,000 feet of total climbing—equal to climbing Everest from sea level (except that the low point on the Hardrock course is over 7,600 feet) and then some.
Aid stations along the Hardrock course resemble M.A.S.H. units, with the number of horizontal runners increasing as the miles wear on. Don’t be fooled by the postcard-worthy course imagery—while the Hardrock course is stunningly beautiful, she is also evil and abusive.
And yet some runners return to it every year.
“They’ve pretty much gone way beyond the sense of accomplishment and personal satisfaction that finishing a single Hardrock gives them,” says Dale Garland, 61, of nearby Durango, Colorado, the Hardrock 100 Race Director. “They will all mention the fact that the sense of community is a major reason for returning every year.”
Roch Horton, 61, of Salt Lake City, who has worn many hats for the Hardrock 100—runner, volunteer and Board member—says, “Hardrock has something to offer to everyone. Whether it’s family, runner, pacer, crew or volunteers, there’s something about that little corner of Colorado that brings the best out of people.”
Hardrock is unique in the way it honors its long-time runners—actually setting aside a number of its annual entries for those who have achieved “veteran” status by completing the race at least five times.
“Veterans are so important to Hardrock and that’s why we celebrate them like we do,” says Garland. “As ultrarunning becomes more mainstream and Hardrock becomes more of a ‘to-do’ run, it’s the veterans who are the true ambassadors of the Hardrock spirit and community.”
Nobody has enjoyed the ritual of kissing the painted, 2.5-ton cube of sandstone rock at the Hardrock finish line more frequently than Kirk Apt—an incomprehensible 24 times. So much smooching qualifies as more than harmless dating. Apt, 56, of Fruita, Colorado, and Hardrock are in a full-fledged, long-term, long-distance relationship.
He completed his first Hardrock in 1993—after dropping in 1992, the first year that the race was held—with a fourth-place time of 34:21. Seven years later, in 2000, he won it with a time of 29:35—a course record at the time.
It wasn’t until Mile 82 that it dawned on Apt that he had a real shot to win it. “I did my thing and found myself in the lead,” said Apt in an interview with ultramarathon coach Matt Hart. “I’m really not competitive by nature, so I had to convince myself to go for it because [I realized] it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance.”
Apt’s vague memory of that win reflects his mellow, Zen-Buddhist-like approach to the race. Since 2000, Hardrock has been the focal point of every summer for Apt, a bodywork therapist who focuses on Rolf Structural Integration and myofascial massage.