Mile 56.6 of Hardrock 100 when run in the counter-clockwise direction.
Runners come down a long descent in Bear Creek Canyon, a cut into the side of a mountain trail, thirty switch-backs in broken shale, that I am told sound like you are running on broken plates. A bad thunder and hail storm hit the front runners in the mountains above,
and none of them arrived in Ouray looking particularly fresh and festive.
About 13 miles into the race, in a steep snow patch coming into Maggie Gulch, Kilian Jornet took a bad head-over-heels tumble, dislocating his left shoulder. He popped it back into place and continued on, fashioning a makeshift sling out of his hydration vest. At Grouse Gulch, mile 42, he had it taped, immobilizing it. By the time he arrived at Ouray, barely in the lead, he looked in obvious pain and distress, and a fourth consecutive championship did not seem likely.
Spain’s Iker Karrera started strong and ran in front with fellow Spaniard Kilian (who enjoys company) for most of the the first half of the race, but somewhere between the back-country aid station of Engineer (mile 48.7 and around 12,000 feet in elevation) and Ouray eight miles later both his stomach and his hip started bothering him. He arrived at Ouray in fourth place, behind Joe Grant, Kilian, and Mike Foote, and left the aid station ninety minutes later, in sixth place, which is where he would finish. For a while, it seemed likely that he would dropped at Ouray.
France’s Caroline Chaverot is known for racing hard, and actually led the race early before settling in to third place behind Kilian and Iker until Pole Creek aid station, at mile 20. By Ouray, she was in fourth place overall and well ahead of the women’s course record. Because of her history of starting very hard, and because she’d already had an extensive race schedule, it almost seemed inevitable that she would blow up somewhere in the last third of the race. She did not, leading the women’s field from start to finish, at one point by several hours. She did get off-course for a while, though, and that killed her chances at a new course record. She was all business at Ouray, in-and-out quickly even after changing clothes and eating.
Chris Price is a friend from his days living in Los Angeles. He and his wife Elissa moved to Colorado a few years ago and now actually live in Ouray, population 1033. (The Price family is almost 1/3 of 1% of the Ouray population. My household has 1/10,000 the significance here in LA). Chris had a fourth place finish at Hardrock when he was an Angelino living at sea level. Now that he lived and trained on the course, he expected a much better finish. Unfortunately, this was not his year. His stomach had also taken a bad turn. Chris arrived in sixth place, spent an hour at the aid station in obvious anguish, left in eighth place, and dropped soon after.
The Rest of the Front of the Pack
Kilian, Iker, Caroline Chaverot, Mike Foote, Joe Grant, Chris Price…all had left Ouray, most showing considerable wear. The front runners gone, the trickle would turn into a stream: Nick Coury, last year’s women’s champion Anna Frost, three time women’s champion Darcy Piceu (who also has three second place woman’s finishes), Jaeson Murphy, Hannah Green, and many others slipping in just before dark.
Aside from Chris Price dropping, there would not be many changes at the top. Kilian would go on to win, his arm still in a makeshift splint. Mike Foote would take second, Joe Grant third, Gabe Joynes fourth. Nick Coury would surge in the very last miles and pass Iker, who would finish sixth. Caroline Chaverot would win the women’s race and come in seventh overall.
We slept in the car and woke up int next morning, just before dawn. Seventeen time (!) finisher Betsy Kalmeyer, a friend, had arrived in Ouray at 3am. Four hours later, she was still there. Betsy has won the women’s race five times, and has five second place female finishes, but this year just a finish was not looking hopeful. She came into Ouray in 102nd place overall, and would drop 30 places during the four hours she struggled to get some rest and keep some food down. She would steadily retake those 30 places, a few between each aid station, to finish the race in 102nd place once again, her eighteenth finish, the woman with by far the most finishes.
Not looking hopeful seemed to be a common theme at Ouray both for runners in the front and in the back. Kilian Jornet did not look like he would finish let alone win. It seemed unlikely that Iker Karrera would leave the aid station. I saw this a lot at Western States 100, too, working the Devil’s Thumb aid station at the top of a short but brutal climb out of a 100+ degree canyon. Plenty of runners there, including a number of front-runners, arrived in bad shape and seemed unlikely to continue. That they did is something important for me to remember the next time I am at an aid station feeling sorry for myself and thinking I need to pull the plug on my race. Of my too-frequent DNFs, only a handful are legitimate could-not-continue-due-to-injury. The rest are could-not-continue-due-to-frustration, and frustration is never an excuse to quit.