Only four people finished Colorado’s highest 100-mile race, the Divide 100, which featured nearly 29,000 feet of vertical gain and an average altitude of 11,500 feet.
On Aug. 26, seven racers took off on foot in Georgetown. The runners ran through rugged terrain, rocky paths, streams, creeks and puddles. The course climbed the Argentine Pass, Glacier Mountain, Teller Mountain, Red Cone, Guanella Pass and other iconic locations. The highest point runners reached was 13,207 feet at Argentine Pass, which is the highest pass on the Continental Divide.
The group of racers started out together, chatting for about the first hour, then everyone established their individual paces and dispersed. This race, unlike many other ultramarathons in Colorado, is a small, intimate race with only a few racers. Raphael Sarfati, who ran it for a second time this year, said that’s what he likes about it.
“I actually like the very small size of the race, the fact that it's only a few runners, it makes it a bit more friendly in a sense, a bit less overwhelming,” the Boulder resident said.
Sarfati came in first place this year. But he said winning is not really the point to him.
“It's not so much about beating the competition — it's a really hard race — it's more about a personal victory, just being able to finish, being able to finish in good shape,” he said.
Silke Koester, also from Boulder, was the only woman to cross the finish line. This race was the tenth 100-mile race she had completed. In past years of the race, she helped “sweep” or clean up the course, so this year she decided to compete.
Koester said some of the highlights of the race for her were the awe-inspiring views. She recalls having 360-degree views, seeing the beautiful mountains and even being able to see a view of Denver.
“In another direction, you can see the lights of Denver shining in the night sky,” she said.
In a 100-mile race, runners don’t stop to sleep when it gets dark. Running through the night was an interesting experience for both Koester and Sarfati.
Koester described it as a “wild and lonely” feeling, often wondering where the other nearest human being was.
Koester said while running in the dark, she realized she's a "very small person in a very large natural world."
Sarfati remembers looking forward to sunrise while running the race, perhaps because of his nocturnal experiences.
“I still don’t know what animal it was, but there were some glowing eyes looking at me in the dark,” Sarfati said.
Guy Love, the race coordinator and creator of the course, explained that the route he created doesn’t allow for a runner to take their eyes off the ground for long.
“It’s pretty remote," he said. "It’s technical the entire time underfoot, there’s not a lot of smooth gravel roads where you can zone out for very long."
On a technical and remote course like this, runners were required to carry survival gear with them in case of emergencies. Some of the items included headlamps, maps and cold weather gear.
The course itself had 13 aid stations for runners to stop at to get food, drinks, dry socks and other gear. Usually, runners only stopped for five to 10 minutes, but once bad weather hit, racers were spending sometimes half an hour at the stations.
Sarfati was not sure he could even continue the race when he got dumped on by a thunderstorm near Guanella Pass.
“The weather wasn’t so good, coming into Guanella Pass I got rained out a lot and it got windy and I got really, really, really cold. I had to stop at the aid station for almost an hour and a half,” he said.
Sarfati had to warm up with blankets and try to dry his clothes, socks and shoes so he could continue running. Once he got back on the course, he said he felt that “runners’ high” once again.
Love designed the race so runners cross the finish line in daylight, that way they could enjoy a drink in Georgetown and get the full finisher's experience.
When he was getting close to the finish line, Sarfati felt relieved because he knew at that point he would finish. While the finish line did not have as much glamor as some races in Colorado, that is what Sarfati liked about it.
“I feel like the Divide is really a race for personal challenge, it's not so much about the pictures and the buzz and…it's really about doing something big for yourself, and I like that,” he said.