In the early hours of Saturday morning, Kilian Jornet defended his title at the Hardrock 100, a mountain race in the San Juan Range, that begins and ends in Silverton, Colorado. The Spaniard’s time of 23 hours, 28 minutes, and 10 seconds was a “counterclockwise” course record. The course alternates directions every year and Jornet's “clockwise” record from 2014 remains the fastest overall time. As if that weren’t impressive enough, Jornet’s victory came a mere five days after he won the infamous Mount Marathon in Seward, Alaska.
If you’ve never heard of Mount Marathon, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the 3.1 mile race. According to the origin story, sometime in the early 1900’s (dates are fuzzy) a group of roughneck inhabitants of early 20th century Seward were arguing about how quickly one could get to the top of the mountain, which looms 3,022 feet above the small port town on the Kenai Peninsula. One man finally tried to do it, estimating it would take him under an hour. He missed the mark by just a few minutes.
The first official race was held on July 4, 1915 and has been held each Independence day since then. It attracts a cast of characters that includes Olympic Nordic skiers, ultrarunners, and Seward locals who compete in a furious out-and-back, often with serious physical consequences. Runners claw their way up to the summit and back on a slope that averages 34 degrees. Obstacles range from thick Alaskan brush, loose, falling rocks, cliffs, flowing water, ridiculously slippery mud, steep shale and, in some years, residual ice and snow. And the occasional bear.
In 2012 Matt Kenney, a runner from Anchorage, suffered a traumatic brain injury after a fall. That same year Michael LeMaitre, disappeared on the course, and has yet to be found. This isn’t your average 5k.
After setting a new record in a time of 41 minutes, 48 seconds, Jornet, who decided to run the race after his Salomon teammate and friend Rickey Gates participated last year, reflected on his Mount Marathon experience in an interview with irunfar.com, saying that the Hardrock hills would feel “nice and calm and flat” by comparison.
Hardrock, though, isn’t nice and calm and flat. It’s 33 times longer, with an elevation gain of 33,000 feet. The race has only twice been run under 24 hours, first by Kyle Skaggs in 2008 and last year by Jornet himself. Most racers take nearly 48 hours to complete the loop of the San Juans.
Normally, in the week leading up to Hardrock, racers cut their training down to a fraction of previous weeks. And they rest. Running a brutalizing mountain race on an unknown course, then traveling hundreds of miles to a new location isn’t considered rest. But it must have worked for Jornet who spent much of Saturday chatting with aid station volunteers and even paused to admire the sunset on Virginus Pass. Even after getting lost, he was as positive as ever. Which may explain his reasons for running both races so close together. As he put it to irunfar.com: “It’s fun. I don’t race because I need to. I race because I love it. It’s fun. This year, I haven’t raced before Mount Marathon. It was so cool to go there and discover the race and come here to Hardrock because it’s a fun race. You want to come here. You want to race. You want to stay with the people. It’s just because it’s cool.”