SILVERTON – Frenchman Seb Chaigneau ran through rain, hail, wind and fog to set a blazing-fast new counter-clockwise record in last weekend’s Hardrock 100 endurance run. His time, 24:25:50, bested that of fellow Frenchman Julien Chorier, who took the men’s title on a counter-clockwise course in 2011, by close to an hour. The counter-clockwise route traces a long, tortuous course through the mountains from Silverton to Lake City to Ouray to Telluride and back to Silverton again.
The previous counter-clockwise course record, 24:33.02 was set by Karl Meltzer of Utah in 2009. Kyle Skaggs still holds the overall Hardrock record, 23:23:30, set in a clockwise direction in 2008.
Chaigneau, 41, came to Silverton not even knowing for sure whether he would get into the race. He was No. 1 on the waitlist when he bought his plane ticket and flew to the U.S., keeping fingers crossed that he would get in. A spot finally opened up just days before the race.
While he has made a name for himself in Europe in the ultra-running scene on legendary courses like the UTMB (Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc), this was Chaigneau’s first Hardrock attempt. He came into the race – or run, as he preferred to call it – with the objective of simply finishing the loop, connecting with fellow runners and enjoying the spectacular scenery along the way.
He and Joe Grant, who came in second place last year and was the odds-on favorite to win this year’s race, paced each other through the first 80 kilometers of the course, well over Handies Peak, into Grouse Gulch, and beyond. On the long downhill cruise from Engineer Pass down the Bear Creek Trail into Ouray, Chaigneau eased out ahead of Grant, who was not feeling well, by about 10 minutes.
Grant dropped out of the race at the aid station in Ouray, and the rest of the course was Chaigneau’s for the taking. Pacing him through the stormy night from Ouray to the finish line in Silverton was Scott Jurek, a previous Hardrock champion.
An encounter with a baby moose and its irate mother on the trail helped speed them along their way.
Chaigneau kissed the Hardrock at 6:25 a.m. on Saturday morning, after running down the flag-lined gauntlet with his arms spread wide. “I want to, just, ah, sit,” he proclaimed to the cheering crowd, a giant smile on his face.
He was never thinking about setting a course record or winning the race, he said. His success was “just a consequence of good preparation.”
Chaigneau said he abandoned his competitive mindset in regard to running three years ago, in order to embrace what he calls “the spirit of the trail.”
“Now I prefer to make the race, or the run, with the other racer. Without objective,” he explained in careful English. He puts no pressure on himself, he said. “If I finish five or ten, it’s the same. I run with the other. It’s a liberating mindset. “
Chaigneau brought this same mindset to the award ceremony on Sunday morning. “This trophy, it’s mine, yes,” he said. “But it’s also to Joe, because he ran 80K with me. It’s a trophy for Scott Jurek, my pacer, and it’s a trophy for all of the Hardrockers, because we do the same thing, in the same place, at the same time.”
Joining Chaigneau in the winner’s circle was Boulder-based runner Darcy Africa, the winner of this year’s women’s race.
“I never underestimate the conditions or terrain of this course,” she said in a pre-race interview with iRunFar journalist Bryon Powell. “This year, I’m trying to stay as relaxed as possible, pacing myself and running my own race.”
Africa’s sunny, relaxed attitude saw her through the soggy weather that dogged the course this year, and sped her across the finish line in 29:54:55. The highlights of her run? A full rainbow that she happened to glimpse with pacer Matt Hart when she looked over her shoulder while descending from Engineer Pass into Ouray. “It was just breathtaking,” she said. “And how about those wildflowers?” Completing the race with Krissy Moehl at her side, a fellow Hardrock women’s champion (2007) who paced her all the way from Telluride into Silverton, made the finish extra-sweet.
“If you can keep moving, it’s a race where anything can happen,” she said.
Africa tipped her hat to fellow runner Diana Finkel, who started out incredibly strong this year and ran in third place overall for much of the race, but had to pull out at Mile 89, due to an ongoing struggle with a condition known among runners as “Rhabdo” (Rhabdomyolysis) which almost claimed her life after coming in second overall in 2010. The condition causes the breakdown products of damaged muscle cells be released into the bloodstream and can lead to kidney failure. This year, Finkel stopped when the symptoms started to manifest, and was feeling okay the next day. Dropping out of the race so close to the finish line “was an agonizing no-brainer,” she said. “I thought I had it figured out.”
“I have a lot of respect for Diana,” said Africa. “She is clearly a phenomenal runner.”
Early Sunday morning, as the clock ticked relentlessly toward the 48-hour cut-off, a last swell of runners crossed the finish line. Claire Ketteler took the caboose award, kissing the Hardrock with a mere 16 seconds to spare. “I could have stopped to tie my shoe,” she laughed. “I’m good at being last.”
Kristina Irvin came down the chute three minutes later, too late for her time to officially count, and sank into her husband’s arms for a long hug.
“I heard the screaming [for Ketteler], and I knew there was no way. It was already two minutes after six on my watch. I just knew,” she said.
“I thought it was you,” her husband said. “I thought they were screaming for you.”
In between the first runners, and the last, there was enough drama to keep the online chatter going until next year’s run – including a proper down-on-the-knees marriage proposal by runner B.J. Haeck to girlfriend Erica Deese in front of the Hardrock at 2:15 a.m. on Sunday morning. “We've been dating for seven years, and she has been with me and crewed me at every 100 I've ever run,” he said. “I've been waiting for the right moment to ask her, and finishing Hardrock was the perfect moment. I carried the ring with me the entire way and used it as my inspiration to ensure I wouldn't quit. If I hadn't finished, I didn't get to ask her. That made it a no brainer.”
She said yes.
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