Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
Sebastian Chaigneau of France won the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run with a time of 24 hours, 25 minutes and 50 seconds, setting a record for the counter-clockwise running of the 100-mile course through the San Juan Mountains that began Friday at 6 a.m. in thick fog.
Chaigneau, 41, kissed and hugged the sandstone mascot on the Hardrock for the win, the race’s alternative to crossing a finishing line.
“Oh, it was a long run,” he said. “Now I just want to sit.”
In a rainy competition marked by muddy aid stations and wet socks, satisfaction if not relief was often hard to find. Director Dale Garland expected about 40 percent of the 140 competitors would not finish within the 48-hour deadline, which actually is about average for the grueling course.
In one heartbreaking conclusion, four-time female champion Diana Finkel was 11 miles from finishing when she unexpectedly quit at Kamm Traverse aid station at 6:16 a.m. Saturday. No reason was given for ending her attempt at a fifth title while 2 hours 19 minutes ahead of her nearest female competitor.
Darcy Africa, the nearest female competitor and defending champion, finished first for the women with a time of 29 hours, 54 minutes and 55 seconds. It was her second first-place finish.
Africa, 38, of Boulder, said the rain also could be a welcome distraction, noting she was heartened by a full rainbow while coming down Engineer Mountain midway through the race.
Ironically, Chaigneau did not know whether he would be competing a week ago because he was on the wait list. There were 820 applications for the 140 spots this year. Thinking he always could make it a vacation if he did not get in, Chaigneau arrived two weeks before the race to get himself ready for the altitude.
“I have wanted to make this race for a long time,” he said.
When luck turned his way, Chaigneau turned to an American friend to help him win a race the day before Bastille Day.
“We just put it together last minute,” said Scott Jurek of Boulder. “He didn’t have anybody (to pace him).”
The pair became buddies running an ultramarathon at Mont Blanc. Jurek said Chaigneau’s English is better than his French.
Jurek turned out to be a good choice as a pacer since he won the Hardrock in 2007. Jurek gave Chaigneau moral support as he ran with him from Ouray to the end.
The local wildlife also gave Chaigneau a burst on the mountain trail. He saw a herd of elk as well as a mother moose and her baby.
“That’s when you run a little faster,” he said.
The trail winds in a circle through Lake City, Ouray and Telluride at an elevation that averages 11,000 feet.
The race, which always starts and finishes in Silverton, rotates direction each year.
The counter-clockwise direction is considered the more time-consuming as there are longer climbs at the end of the course when runners are exhausted.
Karl Meltzer of Utah previously held the counter-clockwise record of 24 hours, 38 minutes. The overall fastest time is 23:23.30, a record held by Kyle Skaggs.
Meltzer, who dropped out of the race early Friday, said he was happy for Chaigneau.
“Records are meant to be broken,” Meltzer said.
The second-place finisher, Troy Howard, 40, of Golden, said thoughts of his 15-month-old daughter, Kalinda, motivated him for the final 20 miles. His wife Pam handed him their daughter at the last block before the kissing rock. He gave Kalinda a smooch before doing the same to the rock. Howard finished 25:20.9.
The exhausted runner said he was not worried about dropping his 22-pound child. “I realized I was bouncing too much,” he said. “I had to walk in.”
His daughter made all the aid stations that are drivable. “She had a meltdown in Telluride, but it was 10:30 p.m., though,” Howard said.
Scott Jaime, 43, of Highlands Park, finished third in 26:36.43.
Jaime said he lost a few seconds when he had to stop to put on a jacket in the rain.
“The higher I got, the colder I got,” he said.