Kilian Jornet boasts a résumé full of elite accomplishments. When he kissed the finisher’s rock at the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run at 6:32 a.m. Saturday, he had turned in perhaps the grittiest performance of his life.
The Hardrock 100 has become a regular event on Jornet’s calendar because of the family atmosphere it promotes as well as the challenging course. It features 66,050 feet of elevation gain over 100.5 miles. Runners surpass 12,000 feet a total of 13 times, including the summit of 14,048-foot Handies Peak. It is run at an average elevation of more than 11,000 feet.
Jornet, a 29-year-old from Spain, won the Hardrock 100 for the fourth consecutive year. He previously set the course records running the loop both directions.
On Saturday, Jornet finished in 24 hours, 32 minutes, 19 seconds. It was his slowest time after setting three of the five fastest times in Hardrock history the previous three runs. Jornet wasn’t only slowed by inclement weather early Friday while climbing to the summit of 14,048-foot Handies Peak, he also dislocated his left shoulder on the descent of Stony Pass only 13 miles into the race when he slipped in a snowfield.
Jornet briefly ran with only one trekking pole and let his left arm dangle as he summited Handies, but he rigged a makeshift sling using his running vest by sticking his arm through the back of a water bottle holder on the front strap of the vest. He also taped the injury several times when he stopped at aid stations.
He ran roughly 87 miles with the dislocated shoulder, holding off elite challengers Mike Foote (24:55:28) and Joe Grant (25:38:00) en route to victory.
“It wasn’t sure at all today that I was able to finish,” Jornet said. “I was feeling really good from (Friday) morning, in really good shape. Then when I fall, it was painful. I didn’t know if I could make it to the finish. Being able to make it to the finish and finally to win, it’s cool. It’s nice; I didn’t expect that.”
Jornet has become a legend of trail running and mountaineering over the last five years. He has set numerous speed records on some of the world’s most iconic mountains, and he summited Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak at 29,029 feet, twice in the span of six days in May. Two weeks later, he won the Marathon du Mont-Blanc, leaving no questions about his fitness to run the Hardrock for a fourth consecutive year.
Jornet said he has dislocated the same shoulder four times and will eventually need surgery. He did not take any medication to relieve pain during the run, and said it felt fine as long as it didn’t move. He popped it back in himself after his fall.
He blamed himself for looking at the stunning views instead of at the terrain under his feet, and he went tumbling down rocks and acquired scratches to go along with the dislocated shoulder. For a runner who has faced extreme challenges with a great threat of danger, running more than 80 miles with a dislocated shoulder was never a decision he questioned.
“I was stupid because it was my mistake going through the snowfield looking around,” he said. “It’s an injury, but it’s nothing that will kill me or stop me from running. The shoulder is not the legs. Of course not 100 percent, but you can still run. On mountaineering, you learn that. Perfect conditions, it never exists. There’s always a problem. Mountains not in perfect conditions or something and you need to adapt from that. If things can kill you, it’s important to stop or turn around. If not, you can keep going, you know.”
Jornet didn’t win without a challenge from his fellow competitors, either. Foote, of Montana, and Grant, of Gold Hill in Boulder County, pushed him until the KT aid station at 89.1 miles, when he finally lost Foote on a climb up Grant Swamp Pass.
Despite his injury, Jornet maintained a smile and friendly nature at each aid station, chatting with volunteers and his rivals along the way.
“The same as always,” Foote said when asked about Jornet’s demeanor during the run. “Positive, not complaining about the fact he dislocated his shoulder. He would just kind of hang out with me even though he could go a lot faster. It’s pretty impressive.
“Kilian graced me with his presence for the majority of the run it felt like. And then he left me, which I was expecting.”
Grant ran out of Ouray at Mile 56 in first place with Foote and Jornet still in the aid station. He began to struggle on Oscar’s Pass, and his ability to run quickly downhill to bridge gaps began to fade.
“Chatting with Kilian takes the mind off the 11-mile ascent of Virginus,” Grant said. “Just a really cool guy. Nice to share the trail. Freaking Kilian, with his broken wing man, really impressive.”
It was the third Hardrock finish for both Foote and Grant. Foote placed second in the men’s race in 2009 and 2015 despite getting lost both times. This year, he stayed on course for another second-place result. Grant was second in 2012 and fifth in 2011. Last year, Grant dropped out after hitting his head on a rock in a tunnel near Bear Creek Trail outside Ouray. Shortly after that disappointment, Grant set a self-powered speed record on Colorado’s fourteeners using only his legs by biking, hiking and running.
All of the leaders experienced extreme weather conditions ascending Handies Peak, the 14,048-foot summit near Lake City. Runners and crews faced rain, hail and severe lightning. One word was widely used to describe the conditions: rowdy.
The weather became much better for the rest of the race. Foote ran in a short-sleeved shirt all night.
Jornet said he enjoyed spending time with Foote and Grant a year after he finished as co-champion with Durango’s Jason Schlarb. The two had run together the majority of the race, and Jornet didn’t see any point in a sprint to the finish. Schlarb had to drop out this year after only six miles because of severe stomach problems. He became ill in the days leading up to the race and hoped he could give it a go, but he wasn’t in condition to tackle the full race.
There was no co-champion this year, but Jornet still relished the chance to run alongside men he considers friends, including fellow Spaniard Iker Karrera, who he ran alongside the first 46 miles before stomach problems slowed his compatriot. Karrera finished sixth.
“The cool thing about distance races, you can chat and talk,” Jornet said. “You don’t need to go to the bar to have the news from your friends, you are running.”
Gabe Joyes finished fourth in 26:55:55, Nick Coury claimed fifth in 27:14:39, and Karrera was sixth in 27:19:05. Hardrock first-timer Jeff Rome (28:53:35) was the seventh man to finish, and Jamil Coury (29:02:32) took eighth on the men’s side. Jake Milligan was ninth (29:03). Ted Mahon (29:22:38) finished 10th. It was his seventh top-10 finish and ninth overall.
Canada’s Adam Campbell, who finished third in 2014 and 2015 and started this year less than a year after a near-fatal fall that broke his back and pelvis, crossed the finish line in 33:18.
Jornet said he hopes to be back in 2018 to go for a record-tying fifth victory. Another win would match the mark of Utah’s Karl Meltzer.
“I think it’s a very special race because of course the mountains here are beautiful,” Jornet said. “Very high altitude. Very interesting. Very challenging. The mountains are amazing. The ambiance, the spirit of the race, yeah it’s the care all the organizers and all the aid stations give to all the runners from the first to the last one. That’s something very special. I love it.”
After last year’s Hardrock, Jornet’s goals centered around Mt. Everest. With that project complete, he is ready to make new plans and conquer new summits. He was inspired during his week in Colorado after reaching summits of four Colorado fourteeners – Longs Peak, Mt. Elbert, La Plata and Mt. Eolus. Last year, he also checked off Mt. Sneffels. Reaching the summits of peaks is what continues to drive the worldwide sensation.
“More like to take time do decide what to do next,” he said when asked if he would take a break. “When you go on a summit, look around and many summits and you want to climb them all. You cannot. Have to decide which one to go. I’m in this process now to decide next projects.”