See Gunn run
Durangoan seeking to join rarified ranks with 10th Hardrock finish

See Gunn run

Gunn in 2017

Missy Votel - 07/13/2023

Local runner Drew Gunn likes mountains. Really, really likes them – so much so that this Friday, he’ll be toeing the start line for his 10th Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run.

In the words of Ron Burgundy, and Hardrock Race Director Dale Garland, “This is kind of a big deal.”

For those of you not good at math, that’s 1,000 miles of Hardrocking – not to mention the thousands more that go into training. But the real eye-popping number here is 331,970 feet. That’s the cumulative Hardrock elevation Gunn will have gained when he crosses the finish line sometime late Saturday (running gods willing.) 

To put it in perspective, at 330,000 feet in altitude, there’s something known as the Kármán line, sort of an internationally agreed upon imaginary line where the Earth’s atmosphere officially becomes outer space. In other words, Gunn will have literally run to outer space. (And back, when you factor in the training.) 

Remarkably, Gunn is humble and unassuming as heck over his terrestrial astronautical feats. By day, he works at Pine Needle Mountaineering, where chances are, he has fitted you for a pair of ski boots or maybe advised you on some Smartwools. He also has a side hustle, Drew Gunn Training, where other runners can tap into all his Jedi training secrets. But, predictably, during his other waking hours, you can find him bagging peaks, doing hot laps on Hogsback, or riding his bike from Silverton to Lake City to bag peaks over there.

So, how does one become such a veritable vertical maniac? Was he raised by a pack of mutant Yeti billy goats high in the Himilayas? Actually … try Alabama.

“My mom was a big runner,” Gunn, 49, said. While growing up, he ran regularly – later adding cycling and climbing to the repertoire. 

“But I can never remember thinking that running 100 miles sounded like a good idea,” he said.

However, in his early 20s he was bitten by the mountain bug and moved to Steamboat Springs for a stint before moving to Durango in 2004. It was during this time he got his true calling: mountaineering.

“When I first learned about the Hardrock in 2009, the amount of vertical is what grabbed my attention – going up and down mountains all day long rather than just covering distance,” he said.

His first Hardrock was in 2012, and he has run it every year since that the race has been held. (*It was canceled in 2019 because of snow and in 2020 because of that pandemic thing.) 

Of course, to run this many Hardrocks requires a lot of athleticism, grit, determination and very large lungs. And, perhaps, the ability to reach a certain Zen-like state that some of us landlubbers may interpret as, well, cray cray. 

“I am very good at repetition; going out and getting in the zone for hours,” he admitted. “I rarely get bored.”

In fact, he doesn’t even listen to music while out there ticking off the miles  – something many of us would find unthinkable. Music, he said, can throw him off his natural pace, making him run either too fast or too slow, and it can be distracting. “I like to be fully immersed,” he said.

Another thing that is required to do this many Hardrocks: pure, simple luck. Apparently, there are hundreds if not thousands of people every year who willingly want to subject themselves to traversing 100 miles through the mountains with no sleep. However, the Hardrock’s permit is only for 145, meaning the race must hold a lottery every year for entrants.

“I have incredible lottery luck. It’s kind of ridiculous,” he said. “I’m sure there’s people who see my name again and say, ‘How does that jerk keep getting in, and I don’t?’” he joked.

Of course, as we all know, luck may get you to the start line, but it won’t necessarily get you to the finish line. So just how does one get to kiss the Hardrock 30-something hours later, inquiring recreational runners who barely survived the Imogene may ask?

Well, for starters, lots of preparation. Safe to say, after 10 years, Gunn’s got his system dialed, from shoes (Altras or Salomons) to sustenance (gels, bars, drink mixes and a breakfast burrito on the second morning) to socks and underwear (just kidding, we didn’t ask him about underwear). He also doesn’t like to be rushed, which is a good trait for someone about to tackle a very, very long distance by foot. Each year, he arrives in Silverton three days before the race to acclimate, relax and connect with his surroundings.

In fact, he’s so dialed in that, at the risk of jinxing him (Drew if you’re reading, skip to the next paragraph), he can’t really even think of anything bad that’s ever happened to him out on the course. No bear encounters, not a single blister and no puking (although he’s felt like it.)

“I’ve got a pretty good stomach,” he said. “I’m very lucky. In many ways it’s genetics, the people around me and having fewer barriers. I get to spend a lot of time in the mountains and am used to the altitude. I feel more comfortable in the mountains than anywhere else.”

Gunn also noted that modern advancements – like GPS, cushy shoes, lighter and brighter headlamps, carbon fiber trekking poles and Gore-Tex, to name a few – have made the Hardrock a little less rocky over the years. These are all things his predecessors in the 1990s did not have the luxury of possessing.

“When the Hardrock started in 1992, it was just a few weirdos who gathered in the San Juans every summer,” he said. “People who did this in the early days – that was a different challenge; there were so many unknowns. They were a little tougher. That’s a good thing to keep in mind.” 

However, with the explosion of aforementioned technologies, ultrarunning also took off, helping to put the Hardrock on the map. The sport has even spawned a few badass superstars, like current Hardrock men’s record holder Kilian Jornet (who will not be running in this year’s Hardrock) and Courtney Dauwalter (women’s Hardrock record holder fresh off a record at the Western States 100 as well). 

Despite its popularity and notoriety on the ultrarunner bucket list, Gunn said the Hardrock will always be one of his favorites, not for the bragging rights but for the beauty. (And perhaps the commemorative “10 Hardrocks” jacket he’s rumored to get as well.)

“There are not that many other courses that are appealing to me,” he said, noting that Italy’s Tor des Géants – which is basically two Hardrocks – is a dream of his. “I’ve been spoiled by the Hardrock. We kind of take it for granted, because we live so close, but the San Juans are amazing mountains. The Hardrock is arguably one of the most scenic 100-milers in the world. It’s hard to beat.”

So, as long as the lottery luck continues, Gunn has no plans of quitting. Sort of like the Tom Brady of the running world (oops, wait – he retired? Again?)

“I’ve never predicted how long I would do it,” he said, noting that by endurance-running standards, he’s one of the “younger” ones. “I’ll keep doing it until I’m not having fun anymore. Maybe this will be my last one. Maybe I’ll go for 20. I have no idea.”