Anna Frost wasn’t totally committed to defending her back-to-back titles in Silverton, but she found the motivation she was looking for in the three weeks leading up to Friday’s start.
Frost, a 35-year-old ultrarunner from New Zealand who also calls Durango home, is back for this year’s Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run after a pair of masterful performances on the 100.5-mile course through the San Juan Mountains in 2015 and 2016.
But a third consecutive title will be hotly contested by one of the best, yet small, women’s fields in Hardrock history. Enter France’s Caroline Chaverot and Nathalie Mauclair, two of the top women’s runners in the world over the past three years. Darcy Piceu of Boulder also makes her return to the Hardrock 100 after suffering through the wait list and not gaining entry last year. She was the last woman to win three consecutive Hardrocks from 2012 to 2015 before Frost’s reign began.
“I’m really excited about the depth of the women’s field,” said Hardrock race director Dale Garland. “With Darcy, Anna, the two French women, Durango’s Hannah Green and Darla Askew, who always runs a great Hardrock, it is a very competitive group.”
In 2016, Frost conquered the Hardrock course, which features 66,050 feet of elevation change at an average elevation of more than 11,000 feet, in 29 hours, 2 minutes. In 2015, running the same counter-clockwise course the athletes will face this year, Frost finished in 28:22:47. The women’s course record was set by Diana Finkel in 2009 in 27:18:24.
Frost hasn’t had her best year of running since last year’s Hardrock. But she put in a short yet strong three-week training block to prepare for this year’s event.
“One of the hardest parts of a race is getting to the starting line,” Frost said on her Facebook page. “It has been a battle but I’ll be there with all my heart and soul ... and a little bit more.”
The family atmosphere of the Hardrock and her love of the San Juan Mountains helped Frost find the motivation to commit to this year’s race. Bryon Powell, runner-in-chief of iRunFar.com, said Frost living in Durango some of the year will help her be ready.
“Not the best results for her this year, but she knows how to maximize a few hard weeks of training,” Powell said.
Chaverot may be the top challenger. It will be the first ultra in North America for the 40-year-old from France. She claimed the IAU Trail World Championships, the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc and the Skyrunning World Championships in 2016 to go with plenty more big wins and already has two ultra wins to her name in 2017.
“For the last year and a half, Chaverot has been the best female ultrarunner in the world, period,” Powell said. “She’s as close to unbeatable as it can get.”
Chaverot has had plenty of competition from Mauclair, 47, who won the UTMB and IAU Trail World Championships in 2015. Both of the French women arrived to the San Juans weeks early to acclimatize to the course they’ve yet to conquer.
“If you ask who was best before Chaverot, it was (Mauclair),” Powell said. “They’ve been awesome and have had a lot of battles. It will be fun to see how that plays out. Both have been very aggressive racers in the past. (Mauclair) has learned a bit to be less aggressive. It will be nice to see if either of them can control efforts early, because this course will beat you up if you go too hard too soon.”
Piceu’s last Hardrock resulted in a second-place finish in 2015. She suffered through the wait list last year, and a lack of movement left her off the start list. She didn’t have to worry about that this year after being selected in the 145-runner lottery.
“It’s a small field to begin with, and this year’s women’s field is even smaller than that,” Powell said. “But having a year when four world-class ultrarunners are here competing is amazing. To see Darcy back in the event as one of them is awesome. She represents what Hardrock is with her toughness, respect for the course and mountains. She won the race a few years by being patient and running smartly, and she is always impressive in that respect.”
Durango’s Green is the youngest runner in the field, regardless of gender. But the 26-year-old has proved to be a rising star, with wins at the Telluride Mountain run and the Squamish 50 Mile last year as well as a third-place finish at the Wasatch Front 100 Mile. In 2015, she claimed the San Juan Solstice 50 Mile race, proving she is a force in her backyard.
“She’s really coming on strong,” Garland said of Green. “I can’t wait to meet her this week.”
Nobody can count out Askew, either, with four top-four finishes the last four years. According to Powell, other women to watch include Rachel Bucklin, Katie Grossman, Becky Bates, Debbie Livingston and Jamie Frink. Betsy Kalmeyer, who owns the women’s record of five wins, will look for her 18th Hardrock finish.
The course will travel from Silverton to Lake City, Ouray and Telluride before the return to Silverton. There is a 48-hour cutoff, with most runners taking an average of 40 hours to finish. Nearly one third of the field drops out each year. The course has 14 aid stations along the route that features 14,048-foot Handies Peak and 13 passes higher than 12,000 feet.
It all begins in Silverton at 6 a.m. Friday.