Marathon is part of Russ Valdez's personal journey

SILVERTON/CAPULIN — When Russ Valdez qualified for the Hard Rock Hundred (HRH) Endurance Run July 14-16, he was both excited and humbled.

At age 57, the run was a culmination of a running career that began in 1980 when he realized it was a good way to relieve stress.

Since 2011, the Capulin resident had been going to HRH to pace other runners and to work at aid stations, yet he was surprised when he was called off the “never wait list” and into the competition, even after several years of qualifying and applying.

He had been running on mountain trails and competing in ultra marathons such as the HRH in the past, so this was the ultimate, where 145 ultra runners climbed and descended 33,124 feet at an average elevation of 11,016 feet above sea level. The low point was 7,680 feet at Ouray and the highest was 14,048-foot Handies Peak.

Russ says when the sun rose and found him atop the 14’er, he was amazed at the beauty of the Earth below.

Finishing the HRH was a goal this year for Russ, but he’s quick to say he didn’t expect to win, though he completed the run in less time than he had anticipated. He expected to finish in 44 hours, but came in at 39:25:12.

Just finishing the grueling race was his reward, since historically only 62 percent of the people who start the race finish within the allotted time frame.

A father, farmer, husband and friend to the land, Russ is accustomed to hard work, but the run is the toughest task of all.

“I don’t run to call attention to myself,” he explains. “I do it for deeply personal reasons.”

His two sons, Jake and Paul, were born with a progressive degenerative brain disease and he runs for them. Paul had a humble heart and beautiful smile as he passed away at the age of 14, while 26-year-old Jake is confined to a wheelchair and can’t get out of the house. He has outlived all medical expectations and Russ says he’s “number one on my team.”

With the pressure of knowing this, Russ runs for his son, as well as for time to pray and meditate.

He dedicated his HRH run to his loved ones at home in the San Luis Valley and to those who are now deceased. He was raised in Center and graduated high school there, but has devoted his life to working at his wife’s family ranch near Capulin, which they now own. He’s also a member of the Capulin Fire Department.

Speaking of his sons, he knew from when they were small that they would never be able to get out onto the trails and see the beauty he has experienced.

And that beauty awaits him when he runs in the mountains above Capulin, on the forest service roads and into the forest itself.

Running the HRH, Russ traversed a system of Jeep roads, trails and cross country terrain between Lake City, Ouray, Silverton and Telluride. The runners return to Silverton, where a two-ton sandstone boulder awaits.

Each runner must kiss that hard rock to finish the run.

The course is designed to utilize as much off-road terrain as possible while runners go from town to town and there’s no telling what Mother Nature has in store. The HRH is dedicated to the perseverance and determination of the hard rock miners who lived and worked in the area.

In addition to Earth and weather, remoteness, weather, animals, and people problems on the course make it problematic at best.

Russ says a rain just before and during the HRH offered the complication of mud and moisture, but he and the other runners adjusted.

The HRH must be completed within 48 hours and participants run through the night in order to finish. Russ says running through the forest in pitch darkness is a challenge, but it can be overcome.

Russ said he was truly blessed to be able to qualify and finally participate. He will continue running, not only in endurance runs such as the HRH, but in the San Luis Valley mountains.

It’s his prayer and his way of thanking God for what he has and those he loves.