The Hardrock 100 Endurance run is a 160km battle over hills, ridges and valleys, with enough altitude to conquer Everest. The average finishing time is just over 41 hours – and many of the 140 invite-only entrants don't finish at all.
For Kilian Jornet, widely regarded as the best trail runner in the world right now (and maybe ever). This year was the first opportunity Jornet had to compete – and compete he did.
The Hardrock has been running for since 1992, having been canceled twice (once for high snow levels, another time due to forest fire.) It's one of the highlights of the North American trail running season, and attracts world-class athletes from around the world.
The original organizers put the race together to honor the people who worked in the sparse, harsh mountains – often doing dangerous jobs in the mines. When the mines went bust, the small towns suffered greatly. The race course even goes through the ghost town of Sherman, CO.
The course – which also passes through towns in the San Juan Mountain Range (part of the Rocky Mountain Range) in Colorado – is known for breathtaking scenery and breath-stopping climbs, with over 10,000m of climbing over the course. The trail runners follow is so remote that aid stations are carried in by hand – and in this case, set up as a climber's bivouac next to the race course.
Jornet took what some called an apparently 'care-free' strategy to the course – often staying in aid stations for nearly fifteen minutes, rather than minimizing his rest time.
Navigation – simply following the trail – is as much a challenge as the physical race itself. The extreme distance means large, highly visible signs are impossible to place – instead, racers rely on small wire markers, shown below.
Right from the early morning start, Jornet kept a relaxed but quick pace near the front of the pack, but moved to the front of the race quickly with a five to seven minute lead as early as mile 22 – before slowing down so that his friend Julien Chorier could catch up and he would have someone to run with.
While weather started good and the entire fleet of racers was moving at an above average pace, over the night, a storm moved in, and one racer, Adam ~Campbell, was even struck by lightning – yet managed to finish the race.
Upon finishing, Jornet kissed the Hardrock per race tradition, before sitting down to relax after having spent 22 hours, 41 minutes and 33 seconds on his feet. That time beat the old course record by 42 minutes.
What Kilian had to say after the race was this: “I'm thrilled with the result. It's a mythical race, and the last one left on a list of races I made when I was 16 years old.”
What the people who saw him finish were saying was this: “He doesn't even look tired!” And indeed – video from the finish line shows Jornet, happy, awake – and looking like he could turn around run the race again.
Up next for Jornet? More trail running before the winter season sets in. Always a man with goals, he's still working on his project The Summits of My Life, which so far has given him speed records on Mt Blanc in France nd Mt Denali in Alaska. His final goal? A speed record on Everest. Will it happen? We can't wait to find out!