The most loaded field in history is set to descend on Silverton for the 2019 Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run.
The Hardrock 100 set another record for applicants for the 26th edition of the trail running ultramarathon through the San Juan Mountains, and a star-studded field was selected through the lottery process Saturday morning.
“At the front of the pack, it’s going to be very interesting in both the men’s and women’s side of things,” said Hardrock 100 run director Dale Garland.
Names included four-time champion Kilian Jornet, a 31-year-old from Spain; three-time Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc winner Xavier Thévenard, who was disqualified from last year’s Hardrock 100 after he had run more than 90 miles of the 100.5-mile race; France’s Francois D’Haene, a Frenchman who is a four-time UTMB champion and the UTMB course record holder; and 2016 Hardrock co-champion Jason Schlarb of Durango, who won last year’s Run Rabbit Run 100 in Steamboat. Also in the men’s field is 32-year-old Dylan Bowman of Aspen who won the 2018 Ultra Trail Mount Fuji 100 miler and was second at UTMB. Also in the field is automatic qualifier Jeff Browning, who won last year’s race after the disqualification of Thévenard.
The women’s field is also stacked with defending champion Sabrina Stanley of Steamboat Springs set to go toe-to-toe with Golden’s Courtney Dauwalter. The 33-year-old Dauwalter was second overall and the first woman at the 2018 Tahoe 200 Endurance Run, the women’s winner of last year’s Western States 100 and the first overall finisher of the 2017 Moab 240 Endurance Run.
Much attention will be given to Thévenard’s return to the race after last year’s disqualification. The 30-year-old eventually admitted to violating Rule 5 of the Hardrock 100’s Executive Rule Summary that reads: “No stashing of supplies along the course and no accepting aid except within 400 yards of a designated aid station.”
He was photographed outside Ouray receiving what was ruled outside aid, as he stopped at a crew vehicle for a few handfuls of ice and bottled water. He was leading last year’s Hardrock by more than an hour when the official ruling was made less than 10 miles from the finish after the violation occurred near the midway point of the race. He was the first runner ever to be disqualified from Hardrock. The second would follow a day later.
Thévenard had been in contact with Hardrock about returning for 2019 for a shot at redemption, and now he will have his chance. In 2016, Thévenard finished third behind co-champs Jornet and Schlarb.
“Xavier, having him here after last year, it’s just a really special thing to show that we are a run that has rules but then we can also forgive and forget and move on,” Garland said. “Without compromising our integrity, what we did last year, the actions we took were about the choices he made in 2018, and now we’re ready to move on.”
Garland is happy to have Jornet back for the race after his one-year hiatus, as Jornet will have a chance to match Karl Meltzer’s record of five victories. Jornet already owns the course record going in both directions. The 2019 race will be run counter-clockwise from Silverton to Lake City, Ouray, Telluride and back to Silverton.
“Kilian is such a great ambassador for our sport, the mountains, and being able to have him there is special,” Garland said. “He’s a guy who loves not only Hardrock but the mountains for all the right reasons and understands Hardrock for all the right reasons.”
While Jornet and Thévenard will go toe-to-toe, perhaps the favorite will be D’Haene, who will make his Hardrock debut. Garland also sees Bowman as a strong contender.
“Francois and Dylan Bowman are running at such a high level right now,” Garland said. “It’s gonna be a special year competitively.”
The addition of Dauwalter to the women’s field along with Stanley’s return and quest to become a “True Hardrocker” by finishing the race going in both directions will also bring electricity to the women’s field. It is expected that Dauwalter will defend her Western States 100 title June 29, 2019, before attempting the Western States, Hardrock double. Many men, most notably defending men’s champion Browning, have made the double famous, but not many women with a chance to contend for both victories have attempted the feat.
“Having Courtney toe the line at Hardrock, it’s going to be really interesting to see how she handles it,” Garland said. “I met her last year in Ouray, and she’s familiar with the course and she wants to be here. How will she handle competing at her level at Western and turn around and compete at her level at Hardrock shortly thereafter? Not very women have done that.”
Also in the women’s field is a loaded list of returning talent including Darcy Piceu, a three-time champion and four-time runner up and Darla Askew, a six-time finisher of Hardrock with five finishes in the top four. Garland said he expects Andrea Huser of Switzerland to also contend in the women’s race. The 44-year-old was second at the 2017 UTMB and has posted big results around the globe. She was 10th at the 2017 Western States 100, too.
“Having Darcy back, she’s like Kilian in that she comes here for all the right reasons,” Garland said. “Being able to have her here again is really cool, and same with Darla. Huser is running really well, too. It’s gonna be fun.”
A total of 2,487 runners applied for the lottery this year, up from 2,236 a year ago and 1,972 in 2017. As competitive trail running has become more popular, more athletes have completed qualifying runs to enter the Hardrock 100 lottery.
Out of all the applicants, only 145 are accepted. Of those, the men’s and women’s defending champions get an automatic spot. Another 45 runners who have never competed in the Hardrock are selected along with 33 veterans and 67 placed into an “else” category.
Veteran runners such as Kirk Apt and Blake Wood are back in the field. Fruita’s Apt will go for his 25th win, while Los Alamos’ Wood will go for his 23rd. Randy Isler will go for his 20th finish after a two-year hiatus.
“Words start to fail me about Kirk Apt and Blake Wood and the tenacity and longevity,” Garland said. “It blows me away. They love the mountains and community of Hardrock. Neither have a whole lot left to prove and they keep coming back.”
Durango will be well-represented by not only Schlarb but also Phil Wiley, Steve McClung and likely Drew Gunn, who is only second on the veteran’s wait list.
Hardrock features 66,050 feet of elevation change. Runners summit 14,048-foot Handies Peaks outside of Lake City. There are seven mountain passes to be crossed of 13,000 feet or more of elevation along with 13 passes higher than 12,000 feet. The average elevation for the course is great than 11,000 feet.
Now, all that’s left is to hope for a good winter of snow to prevent dangerous fire conditions that could always put the run in jeopardy.
“Now the fun begins,” Garland said. “Now we can start the planning and start the next level of things and bring people to the San Juans. It’s kind of Mother Nature’s job to do her part now.”