Kilian Jornet is on a mission to become what he calls a true Hardrocker.
Shattering a course record at the 2014 Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run wasn’t enough for the superstar athlete from Spain. He wants to repeat his performance running the course counterclockwise this year.
After finishing the clockwise course in 22 hours, 41 minutes, 35 seconds – surpassing Kyle Skaggs’ previous record of 23:23:00 set in 2008 – Jornet said he needed to win the race the opposite direction to become a “true Hardrocker.”
Fresh off a record-setting win at Alaska’s Mount Marathon last Saturday, Jornet has spent the last few days preparing for the race in the San Juan mountains, and he is ready to embrace the challenge of the grueling Hardrock 100 once more.
“Running in the other direction is very exciting and something that isn’t typical in mountain races,” Jornet said in an email interview with The Durango Herald. “Also, the ambiance is terrific, and the wilderness of the San Juan Mountains, everything makes it almost the perfect race.”
Jornet is one of 152 athletes registered for the race. He took one of 35 slots reserved for Hardrock veterans, with 47 slots saved for first-time entries and another 70 for other applicants.
It’s a race even diehard runners dream of qualifying for. About 1,200 applications came in this year from 33 countries and 46 states.
To be eligible for the lottery, athletes must have finished the race within the last three years or have finished a qualifying 100-mile race within the previous year.
The race starts at 6 a.m. Friday at the Silverton School and ends in the same spot, passing through Lake City, Ouray and Telluride along the way. Runners will climb and descend a total of 33,992 feet and average 11,017 feet of elevation. The high point is the summit of Handies Peak, a 14,048-foot mountain near Lake City. The low point comes in Ouray at 7,680 feet.
The race has a cutoff time of 48 hours, with the average runner finishing in 41:10:15. As much as 75 percent of the field finished in 2009 and 2013, but as low as 39 percent finished in 1997. You never know what you’re going to get at the Hardrock 100.
But despite the threat of lightning, rain and even hypothermia, it attracts the biggest names in ultra running, and Jornet, 27, is currently the man everyone is chasing.
He will go after Sebastien Chaigneu’s counterclockwise record of 24:25:50. The Frenchman set that record the last time it was run this direction in 2013.
“We’ll see what happens,” Jornet said. “It’s a very long race, and many things can happen. But only being able to be here and enjoy the race counterclockwise is very exciting.”
Jornet isn’t the only elite runner in the 129-man field, and he knows it will be a competitive.
“Many strong athletes will be here this year. Iker Karrera for sure,” Jornet said, mentioning his 40-year-old friend from Spain who will compete this year. “But then also the Americans who know well this terrain.”
One top returner on the men’s side is Adam Campbell, a Canadian who placed third last year even after being knocked down by a nearby lightning strike atop Handies Peak. The blast was so strong it knocked out the batteries in Campbell’s head lamp.
Also in the field is five-time Hardrock 100 champion Karl Meltzer of Utah. Meltzer, 47, has won a world record 36 100-mile races in his career.
Mike Foote of Missoula, Montana, is another top contender. He finished third in 2010 in under 30 hours and has had several big races since then.
More top-10 placers from the 2014 race in this year’s field include Jared Campbell, 35, of Utah; Scott Jaime, 45, of Highlands Ranch; and previous second-place finisher Troy Howard, 42, of Golden. Race director Dale Garland called Howard an under-the-radar runner who could be dangerous.
Garland also expects Chris Price, 34, of California to be a major factor.
On the women’s side, Darcy Piceu of Boulder will look to win the race for the fourth consecutive year. She finished last year’s race in 29:49:58 and was the 11th overall finisher.
Piceu, 40, is the most experienced runner in the 23-woman field but is expected to be tested by Durango’s Missy Gosney, 48; Anna Frost, 33, of New Zealand; Darla Askew, 42, of Oregon; and Pam Reed, 54, of Wyoming.
Piceu owns the clockwise record for women after finishing in 29:09:00 in 2012. She will go after Diana Finkel’s counterclockwise record of 27:18:24, which was set in 2009.
Finkel was selected in the lottery but withdrew from the race, leaving the event without one of its most prized female athletes.
“It’s the first time she’s had to pull out before the run,” said Garland, who has been in charge of the Hardrock since its first start 24 years ago. “Diana is a classy woman, and to not have her as part of the event this weekend is something we will miss.”
But athletes chasing time records may find it difficult this year. There is still a lot of snow in the San Juans, especially on the northern exposures. Athletes in the Hardrock 100 are used to running into snow, but they also will have to deal with wet conditions on all the trails because of the wet summer in the region.
“It’s going to be wet, but the snow is melting quickly,” Garland said. “I would anticipate slower times because of the mix of snow and wet trails.”
Those elements would be welcome to the runners if it means the rain and lightning stays away.
And Jornet won’t mind a bit of snow. After all, he is the world champion in ski mountaineering, too.
“A lot has happened since Hardrock last year, including a complete season in trail running and ski mountaineering and lots of hours spent in high mountains to pursue my passion,” Jornet said. “I’m not feeling any stronger, but I really loved this race last year, so I had to come back.”