This race report was submitted by our friend and summer SkinTrack contributor Shaun Stephens-Whale.
The Hardrock One Hundred Mile Endurance Run (Hardrock) is perhaps one of the most challenging endurance races ever conceived. Since its inception in 1991, Silverton Colorado has played host to the 100 mile course that features a staggering 66,050 feet of elevation change (20,000 m). What’s perhaps more impressive still is that Hardrock runs at an average altitude of around 11,000 feet – peaking beyond 14,000 feet, making merely functioning, let alone racing, a challenge – perhaps this is why Hardrock is called a “run”, rather than a race.
In Hardrock, the first challenge is to be amongst the 140 participants selected to compete. With a pool approaching twenty times its capacity, prospective participants can earn tickets to enhance their chances of being selected. This system has been criticized for its nepotism towards former participants, watering down the potential pool of elite athletes who might compete. Despite this fact, Hardrock has been host to an international contingent of accomplished athletes.
On the men’s side, Killian Jornet has been the victor for the past four years; yet, on June 20th, he chose not to attempt a 5th straight victory, leaving the door open for someone new to capture the title. Among those most likely to win is Xavier Thévenard, a man who had won the UTMB twice and has broken 24 hours on the Hardrock course in the past.
The race began as many expected, with Xavier Thévenard taking a commanding lead as the front runner with Jeff Browning – who finished 4th at Hardrock in 2016, and Brendan Trimboli holding the other podium position. By the Ouray aid station at mile 43, Xavier had opened a near hour lead over Browning, and after a quick stop, he was on his way.
Disqualification From 1st Place
In Hardrock, there are 10 rules that must be obeyed in order to consider oneself a finisher – some of the rules are curt and masochistic, such as Rule 8: Enjoy yourself!!!, while others speak to the tradition of the run, such as Rule 10: You must kiss the Hardrock upon completion of the run. Rule 5, however, limits athletes to taking on supplies only within 400 yards of an aid station.
Two miles outside of the Ouray aid station, Xavier was seen at his crew car, receiving ice and water. Since this incident occurred outside of the 400 yard radius, it was in violation of rule 5 and after careful review by a committee, grounds for disqualification. While all this was occurring, Xavier Thévenard continued to push a punishing pace and was on track to once again break 24 hours on the course. At Cunningham Gulch – the final aid station on course at Mile 91, the news of his disqualification was made public and Xavier retired from the course.
In a Facebook post following the race, the Hardrock committee emphasized that the decision was made without malicious intent and encouraged Xavier to join the lottery for a future Hardrock. Xavier Thévenard was evidently disheartened by this news and posted on Social Media that the rule was “excessive” and the committee’s decision “unfair” and that he would have difficulty when looking to the future.
While this drama was occurring up front, Jeff Browning continued to strengthen his hold on second position. In an interview with IRunFarMedia, Jeff says that he lost track of the flagging in the dark and had to backtrack 2 kilometers down a ridgeline. While doing so, he ran into Troy Howard, who was making his own bid for glory; after a quick exchange, Browning surged to re-establish a gap over Howard. When Jeff reached the Cunningham aid-station he was informed of Xavier’s disqualification; according to Browning on his new found fortune, “[the] race dynamic changes and mentality changes – you have to roll with whatever opportunities present themselves”. On hearing this news, Browning quickly shed all excess weight, took 2 gels and promptly returned to the course.
Heading up the final big climb of Hardrock, Browning noticed a light following him up the switchbacks – this was from the late charging Jeff Rome who was having a special day and had moved up into second position. Despite Rome’s efforts Browning was not to be caught and finished in a time of 26 hours and 20 minutes. Rome finished 14 minutes later, in 26:34 while Troy Howard held on to third place, finishing in 27 hours and 9 minutes. On IRunFarMedia, Browning said that “out of all my wins, this is the most special”.
On the Women’s side, Sabrina Stanley was focused completely on the Hardrock race. Prior to the race, she posted on social media that she wanted to win and break 30 hours. Taking the lead early on, she established herself as the clear favorite; at the Chapman aid-station, Stanley was feeling strong and with Nikki Kimball on her tail, pushed hard up towards Oscar Pass, building a substantial lead. As the day progressed, Stanley kept getting stronger and stronger and finished just outside her goal, in 30 hours and 23 minutes. For Kimball, who had been dealing with injury earlier in the year, second place was a strong result – especially after experiencing altitude sickness early on in the race; Kimball finished in 32 hours and 18 minutes. Darla Askew, who has twice podiumed before at the Hardrock race finished in 3rd, in 32 hours and 52 minutes.
Full results can be found here.