OURAY – “That is the hardest thing I have ever done,” declared Zac Marion, upon crossing the finish line of the Ouray 100 ultramarathon and flopping down on the grass at Fellin Park.
It was early Sunday morning, Aug. 3, and the 28-year old MUT (mountain ultra trail runner) from Salt Lake City had practically set the course on fire with his blazing pace, running through a day and a night to finish in 26:05:23.
Forty minutes later, Courtney Dauwalter, 29, of Denver became the first female finisher and second finisher overall. She had chased Marion all the way across Ouray County, steadily closing the gap between the two as the race wore on, and finishing in 26:46:20.
Marion and Dauwalter were the first of 19 runners (out of 29 starters) to complete the Ouray 100 in its inaugural year. Forty-three runners registered for the race, but there were quite a few no-shows, which is pretty normal for an ultra, Race Director Charles Johnston said.
For those runners who did show up, the first “chapter” of the course turned out to be a doozy, taking its toll on a lot of them.
The segment consisted of an out-and-back course following county roads and hiking trails from Ouray all the way up to Ptarmigan Lake and Silver Basin in the vicinity of Imogene Pass, then incorporating an out-and-back spur along the Weehawken Trail up to the Alpine Mine, on the way back down along County Road 361 to Ouray.
With the steamy siren song of the Ouray Hot Springs Pool beckoning to runners as they passed through Fellin Park on their way to the next portion of the course, it’s no wonder that many of them decided it was a good place to drop out.
For those who continued, the next “chapter” of the course took them along the thickly woodedsingle-track of the Dallas Trail, skirting the flanks of the Sneffels Range, eventually connecting with County Road 5 and cruising into Ridgway.
After another out-and-back leg to Owl Creek Pass, runners then retraced their steps along the Dallas Trail to finish where they’d started in Fellin Park.
The course, with a total vertical ascent of 16,699.48 ft and a maximum elevation of 13,188.98 feet, was considerably less challenging than the legendary Hardrock 100 ultra-run that happens every July in Ouray, San Juan, Hinsdale and San Miguel counties. But with a cut-off time of 36 hours (compared to the Hardrock’s 48-hour limit), many Ouray 100 runners were still challenged to complete the course in time to buckle.
The race volunteers were outstanding, the weather was perfect, and “runners were able to get really pretty views of the early part of the course,” with its blue lakes, jagged rocks and beautiful, dense forests, before night set in, Johnston said.
Johnston, a 30-year-old ultrarunner and CPA from Houston, just moved to Montrose with his wife and baby in tow about a year ago. It didn’t take long before he’d fallen in love with the rugged landscapes of Ouray County and decided to create a brand new ultra-run. The past year has been a blur, first figuring out what route the course should take, then getting it permitted, then figuring out the endless permutations of logistics – everything from where to put aid stations to how to mark the course so that runners wouldn’t get lost as they ran along trails at night.
(His solution involved clothespins, tape, polyethenol tubing chopped into 4-inch sections, coin shaped 3-volt batteries and loose LEDs, bought in bulk for cheap, all assembled to make mini-glow sticks to light the runners’ way. “It worked like a charm,” he said. And better yet, nobody got lost.
Next up, Johnston plans to catch up on his sleep. Then, he’ll open registration “within the next week or so” for next year’s Ouray 100.
Runners take note: there may be a few course changes. “I have to make it harder,” Johnston explained. “There were way too many finishers.”