The Hardrock Roots of Roctane | GU Pioneers

A new formula

In 2008, GU Energy Labs released a new ultra-endurance variation of our Energy Gel formula. Roctane Energy Gel was a major innovation in our product line. Like all of our nutrition products, it was based on scientific innovations designed to meet the needs of our athletes. But Roctane’s inspiration came from a specific event, the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run; a grueling 100 mile race through Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. Indeed, the early prototypes of our ultra-endurance Energy Gel were branded as the “Hardrock” flavor.

original roctane gel
Laura Vaughan proves the winning formula

In 1997, Laura Vaughan, daughter of GU Energy Labs founder Dr. Bill Vaughan, used an early prototype of Roctane Energy Gel to fuel her victory at Hardrock, finishing in 37 hours, 22 minutes, and 32 seconds. As we celebrate 25 years of GU, we are highlighting the events, athletes, and products that have defined our company’s history. So, we decided to catch up with the race organizers of the Hardrock Hundred to explore the ultramarathon roots of Roctane.

laura running
Honoring the heritage

The story of Hardrock Hundred began in the early 1990s as ultramarathoning gained popularity in the United States. Ultrarunner legend and race organizer Gordon Hardman envisioned an event that would honor southwest Colorado’s mining heritage and stimulate economic development in a region decimated by shuttered mines. He led a group of ultrarunners who developed a racecourse that began and finished in Silverton, linking several other mining towns in a single 100-mile loop.

a view worth fighting for

The route is exceptionally difficult. Winding through the alpine terrain of the San Juans, the average elevation is over 11,000 feet. Runners climb and descend nearly 66,050 feet, cresting over 13,000 feet eight times during the race. This provides an incredible tour of the San Juan Mountains. “The course is spectacular,” says current race director Dale Garland. “To run through these elevations provides unparalleled views.”

"This terrain has humbled some of the best"

A strong community supports the race. Garland, who has directed every race since the inaugural Hardrock in 1992, stresses that an egalitarian spirit is the backbone of the race: “We are rooted in the history of mining and we celebrate the ‘everyman’ ethos of that culture. This terrain has humbled some of the best. And since these mountains don’t play favorites, we don’t either. We treat everyone the same.”

calories are the cure

The race makes extreme demands of race participants. “Gastrointestinal issues are one of the most predominate reasons people DNF at Hardrock,” says aid station director Brad Bishop. “I often say that ‘calories cure all forms of ills’. Keeping your energy levels high enables you to work through most of the other ailments that arise during Hardrock.”

Given the mountainous terrain, weather patterns change quickly. So Hardrock offers hot and cold foods… and plenty of it. In 2017, Hardrock’s field of 145 runners consumed 852 eggs, 263 avocadoes, 77 gallons of homemade soup, 34 pumpkin pies, 80 pounds of bacon, 51 pounds of beef brisket, and countless burritos and sandwiches. Back in the early days, Garland remembers the aid stations were more primitive. “We used to throw out some bananas and M&Ms and call it good. But as ultrarunning has become more mainstream, it has drawn in people who want to know more about nutrition.”

formula for rocket fuel

As GU Energy Labs began to develop an ultra-endurance formula, we looked to Hardrock as an inspiration. Our Roctane line ofDrink Mixes andEnergy Gels contain more branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) as well as the amino acids beta alanine and taurine. Studies have shown that these amino acids help muscles function better during the prolonged exercise of an ultramarathon. For example, beta alanine allows muscles to buffer the buildup of hydrogen ions and lactic acid that results from intense exertion. This delays muscle fatigue and thus allows an athlete to work at the same level of intensity even in the late stages of a race, such as the scramble up one of the many Hardrock climbs.

Roctane Energy Gels differ from the original formula by delivering three-times more sodium and three-times more BCAAs with the same amount of calories. Sodium, the primary electrolyte lost when you sweat, is particularly important for the Hardrock Hundred. “Given the variations in temperature, we stress the replenishment of sodium out on the course,” notes Garland. This electrolyte allows the body to maintain proper fluid balance and blood plasma volume.

more than physical strength

As you might expect, a race this demanding takes a while to finish. The average finisher takes around 40 hours to traverse the epic 100-mile loop and “kiss the rock” in Silverton. Some Roctane flavors contain caffeine as an ergogenic aid for these long-course events. Caffeine increases alertness and mental focus, which can reduce pain perception and enhance the body’s ability to burn fat and spare precious glycogen stores. (We do have non-caffeinated Roctane flavors, too!)


Jeff Browning (pictured) after he kissed the rock to mark his 2016 finish. Photo by Mountain Peak Fitness.

kissing the rock

We are proud of Roctane’s roots in Hardrock. Our partnership with the race helps provide nutrition out on course. We can’t wait to be back out there for the 2018 edition, which happens to be the 25th anniversary of the race. 145 runners depart from Silverton on July 20th including Team Roctane athlete Michael Wardian. In the meantime, we will keep working every day to develop, test, and produce nutrition products that fuel every runner on their personal journey to “kiss the rock.”

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