The first time Jason Schlarb tried to get into the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run, he hadn’t completed any of the qualifying races and decided to send the race organizers a letter asking for a spot in the lottery.
He didn’t get in, and rightfully so.
Five years later, when Schlarb finally toed the starting line of the Hardrock 100 outside of the Silverton School Gymnasium at 6 a.m. Friday, he wasn’t about to let his first shot go to waste.
Schlarb stayed with two-time defending champion and ultra running superstar Kilian Jornet step-for-step for 22 hours, 58 minutes, 28 seconds to finish as co-champion with the Spanish star.
“I got a (Western States 100) spot, and I turned it down so I could come to this because this is my favorite race in the world,” Schlarb said. “I was also planning on going to Europe right now, but I postponed that and canceled Western so I could be here. It’s very special to me.”
Schlarb moved to the Durango area a little less than two years ago after spending time in Missoula, Montana. He completed the first ski traverse ever recorded on the 100-mile Hardrock 100 course in March with fellow Durangoan Scott Simmons, skimo racer Paul Hamilton, who helped pace Schlarb on Friday, and backcountry videographer Noah Howell.
Finishing hand-in-hand with Jornet before 5 a.m. Saturday delivered a similar feeling as the ski trip for the 38-year-old Schlarb.
“I’ve never had an experience like I did with Kilian,” he said. “But the camaraderie with Paul, Scott and Noah was one of those that lasts a lifetime. When you spend four days in the wilderness accomplishing something that’s really out there and something that’s never been done, it’s pretty special.”
Having a Durango man finish as a champion reminded race director Dale Garland of legendary runs by Rick Trujillo and Ricky Denisick, two pioneers of the 25-year-old event.
“It’s really special to have somebody local,” Garland said. “We haven’t had somebody local do this well for a long time, and it gives a little Durango pride.”
Being a professional athlete, Schlarb had the luxury of picking a hometown that best suited his passions. Along with his wife Maggie, who owns her own business, and son Felix, the Schlarbs picked Durango.
“We traveled abroad for a bit before Missoula,” he said. “Being a professional athlete, we could have picked anywhere in the country to live. Durango and the San Juans is the No. 1 place in the country. Luckily, we were able to make it work there, because Durango is our favorite.”
Next up for Schlarb is the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc in France before a stage race in Iceland. He previously has finished in the top five at UTMB, widely regarded as the Super Bowl of ultra running.
Schlarb has built a spiritual connection with the San Juans and the Hardrock course, and he said he will definitely accept his automatic spot into next year’s race.
His days of writing letters to Garland and crew are over.