CITY OF OURAY: Ouray 100 mile race kicks off this weekend

By Sheridan Block

One hundred miles. That’s roughly 250,000 steps that runners will take throughout their journey this weekend through the San Juans, during the first-ever Ouray 100 ultramarathon.

Early Saturday morning endurance runners from all over the country, and even a few from overseas, will gather at the start and finish line in Ouray’s Fellin Park.
The 100-mile run will take participants from the heart of Ouray and up Camp Bird Road to Ptarmigan Lake near Imogene Pass. Racers will then return down the same path and follow the road to Silver Basin above the Revenue Mine, where they will turn around once again at the second lake.
On the return to Ouray, runners will take a quick detour to the Alpine Mine Overlook along Weehawken Trail. Racers will continue past town and follow Dallas Trail to County Road 5 into the Town of Ridgway. Crossing the highway, the runners will continue on county roads to reach Owl Creek Pass. The last stretch for runners is a return from the pass back to Ouray following the same route.
Unlike most ultramarathons, with routes that loop or go from one point to another, the Ouray 100 route is mostly made up of “out-and-back” sections. Route designer and race director Charles Johnston said many logistics were involved in the consideration of the course. One of the benefits of having the race backtrack along paths is that runners are able to keep an eye out for each other should emergencies arise between aid stations.
“With the route being designed (to include ‘double-and-backs’) there’s an extra level of safety,” Johnston said.
For extra health and safety assurance, the race will include six physical aid stations — four full service stations manned by volunteers and two unmanned, water only stations. Johnston said he has successfully recruited about 14 volunteers so far to help with the run, which may not seem like much when compared to more prominent ultramarathons like the Hardrock 100 or the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (around 1,600 volunteers). However, for a first year endurance run, Johnston is more than happy with the interest and sign-ups.
“You don’t need that many people to put on a good or safe event,” he said, adding that each aid station will have cell phone service in case of emergencies and a medical plan has been outlined and approved by the U.S. Forest Service.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 43 individuals have registered for the race. Johnston said he is “definitely happy” about the number of registrants, considering this is a first-year event. While first time races, especially those this physically demanding, don’t attract many runners to begin with (partly due to uncertainty of success and safety), the fact that Johnston has only begun organizing races this year and is new to the area may make some seasoned runners a bit apprehensive.
“I’m not afraid to say I haven’t put on races,” said Johnston. “I am, in all respects, a total nobody… I’m not some super accomplished ultrarunner, but I have been running (since the fifth grade).”
Johnston claims to be a “weekend warrior,” with running being his hobby. He has participated in a number of races, including his first ultra being the Grasslands 50 Mile trail run in north Texas in 2006. During the day, Johnston is a Certified Public Accountant in Montrose, where he and his family moved from Texas last summer.
While Johnston is still new to the race director position, he has successfully pulled off three races this summer: the Cimarron 50K in May, the Gunnison 100K in June and the Crawford 100 Mile on July 19.
The idea for this weekend’s race came to Johnston when he helped pace a friend during the Leadville Trail 100. When he moved to Colorado, he heard about the infamous Imogene Pass Run and ran the course on his own. Realizing how beautiful the San Juans were, he wanted to organize a race with Ouray as the hub. And even though he’s bounced ideas with friends and other runners, he considers the Ouray 100 to be his “baby.”
“It seems like a place that’s so beautiful and could use more races,” he said. “If I didn’t (organize the race), in 10 years I would have regretted it.”
Overall, Johnston is “pleasantly surprised” with the interest in the new race. He mentioned he spent much time advertising this event and hopes that it continues to grow.
“One of the most important things to me is that I want this event to be something for the community as well as the runners. This is something that has the potential to be a really neat thing for everybody and I hope that it’s something that’s neat for the town,” he said.
The Ouray 100 Mile ultramarathon will begin at 4 a.m. on Saturday in Fellin Park. Cutoff time for the race will be at 36 hours. An awards ceremony for the top finishers will take place around 4 p.m. on Sunday. Cash awards will be given to the top three male and female finishers, who will also receive custom belt buckle displays.
All finishers will receive a finisher hoodie, a custom pint glass and an oversized belt buckle (a traditional prize in the ultrarunning community). The belt buckles, designed by Johnston, are a tribute to Chief Ouray and his tribe and feature a depiction of the shooting star from the Leonid meteor showers that shot across the sky on the night of Chief Ouray’s birth on Nov. 13, 1833.