The Softrock 100

The lottery loser’s answer to running the Hardrock 100

Every December, 152 ultrarunners receive a piece of magnificent news: they’ve been accepted by lottery into one of the world’s toughest, most prestigious and sought-after ultramarathons—the Hardrock 100 in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. It’s a rugged course with more than 33,000 feet of elevation gain, all at high altitude.

As the race’s reputation and popularity have exploded in recent years, though, the number of lottery-losing runners has also grown. In the lottery for the 2016 race, 1,397 runners were denied entry.

So what’s a disappointed, wannabe Hardrocker to do?

Several years ago, I got wind of something called “Softrock”—an affectionately used term for running and hiking the 100-mile course on your own, typically over 3-4 days. It’s possible to camp out or stay in hotels in the mountain towns of Telluride and Ouray along the way. Softrock is not a race, nor even an unofficial event; it’s simply the informal name for an adventure that increasing numbers of runners are tackling in lieu of (or sometimes in addition to!) running Hardrock itself.

Two summers ago, a group of friends and I ventured out for our own Softrock adventure. Here are a few highlights from our journey:

Not running through the night permits you to see more of the course’s stunning scenery in daylight.

Even by early- to mid-July when Hardrock typically takes place, snow often lingers. When we were able to do so safely, we sat down and glissaded our way down from certain passes.

Steep is the name of the game in the San Juans.

Hiking up Grant-Swamp Pass above the iconic Island Lake is one of the most picturesque parts of the course.

Lack of a ticking race clock permits a more leisurely pace, so there’s ample time for taking a quick dip in icy alpine lakes.

Facing 33,000 feet of vertical climbing, many of us opted to use trekking poles.

1 Comment