Fire nearly threw a wrench into the Hardrock 100.
The course – and accompanying logistical fears – extinguished, the focus is back to the grueling, exhausting 100.5-mile race.
The West Fork Fire ran right through the Hardrock 100 course, which would’ve caused logistical nightmares for the race organizers, run director Dale Garland said. But, with the course back open again, the only question is who will take home the title at the 20th annual running of the race?
Defending men’s champion Hal Koerner isn’t on the start list, but the men’s field isn’t lacking in terms of skill. Five-time champion Karl Meltzer will be in the field when the race starts at 6 a.m. Friday. Fellow former champion Jared Campbell also will toe the starting line.
Last year’s runner-up Joe Grant and fellow former runner-up and experienced Hardrock 100 runner Scott Jaime also will try and crack through with a victory.
“It’s a good, deep field. Probably Joe Grant, the men’s runner-up from last year, has the experience. He’s shown he can run fast. ... (So do) Jared Campbell and longtime Hardrock finisher Scott Jaime,” Garland said.
Sebastian Chaigneau of France has a win in the nearly 75-mile Transgrancanaria and a third-place finish in the nearly 100-mile Ultra Trail Mount Fuji race this year and should be a name to watch.
Chris Price is the defending Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run champion and could factor heavily here, as well.
On the women’s side, the Hardrock 100 appears to be a two-woman race. Defending champion Darcy Africa broke the four-year stranglehold held by Diana Finkel last year, and the two endurance runners are set up for another duel to the finish this year.
It’s a duel Garland said he’s looking forward to, adding that Darla Askew and Tracy Garneau could be darkhorses to bust up the two-woman show.
“It’s fun to watch them interact because they’re friends,” he said. “But when they run against each other, they’re very competitive.
“I think this is just a course that Diana Finkel loves. It suits her, and Darcy loves this, too. Those two will duke it out just like they always do.”
The course is almost exactly the same as a year ago and will have 33,124 feet of climbing and descent apiece with an average elevation of 11,016 feet above sea level.
Garland said the dry conditions of late should make for a fast track for this group of runners, 60 percent of which are making a return Hardrock 100 Endurance Run appearance.
“The course is fast,” he said, and the organizers are taking extra precautions to avoid potential fire-causing dangers. “Because there’s no snow and no high water, and those are two things that traditionally slow our runners down.”
As always, there are multiple fun aspects to the Hardrock 100, and 2013 is no exception. The average age of the entrants – 120 men, 20 women – is 46 years old, and 15 runners are 60 or older, including Hans-Dieter Weisshaar, the oldest runner in the field at 73 years old.
Five foreign countries – Austria, Canada, France, Germany and Japan – will be represented, as will 26 states, and 97 participants have finished the race at least once before.