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When the Hardrock lottery revealed that Courtney Dauwalter, 37, would be back to race in the San Juan mountains of Colorado, along with previous champion Francois D’Haene, 36, and Kilian Jornet, 34, from Spain, the stage was set for an epic race from the beginning.
Both Kilian Jornet and Courtney Dauwalter shattered the previous clockwise records (the course reverses directions each year, running clockwise in even years and counterclockwise in odd years). The clockwise direction is slower, thanks to an extra 1.5 miles of trail and a summit of 14,058-foot Handies Peak after mile 70 of the race.
The 102.5-mile loop starts and ends in Silverton, Colorado, and winds through the rugged peaks of the San Juans. With aid stations in Ouray, Telluride, and near Lake City, a few course changes bumped up the mileage and vertical gain even more, for over 33,000 feet of climbing, all at high altitude. Despite the added challenge, the winners beat both the clockwise and overall course records.
While the Hardrock field is significantly smaller than many international events that garner attention and coverage, Jornet told Trail Runner that he keeps returning to the event because of the community. “Of course we are racing and we are pushing, but it’s much more about the community than it is about racing,” he says. “It’s the people that make it special, and this race has a very special atmosphere because of that.”
Courtney Dauwalter Leads Women’s Field To Decisive Victory and Course Record
After a disappointing DNF due to GI issues in 2021, Courtney Dauwalter was back this year, and dead set on completing the loop to “kiss that dang rock,” according to pre-race interviews. She dialed in her fueling, focusing on forcing more calories at lower altitude aid stations and training in the high-altitude peaks near her home in Leadville, Colorado.
This year’s Hardrock saw 27 female entrants, the most ever in the field’s 31-year history, after announcing a change to their lottery last year to expand opportunities for entry. Now, the number of women on the start line must match the percentage of women in the lottery.
The previous clockwise record (28:32) and overall course record (27:18) were set by Diana Finkel in 2010 and 2009, respectively. The women’s race included decorated runners and Hardrock vets Darcy Piceu (last year’s second-place, with eight Hardrock finishes to her name, including three consecutive wins), Meghan Hicks (third in 2021, with three Hardrock finishes and multiple Marathon de Sables finishes and a win), and Canadian Tor de Glaciers champion Stephanie Case, who lives in trains in Chamonix, France. Big’s Backyard winner Maggie Guterl and Silverton local Hannah Green (with wins at Bear 100 and a Hardrock finish in 2017) were also top contenders.
Dauwalter took the lead immediately, though running relatively conservatively and not jumping too quickly on the course record pace. She worked her way into the top ten overall of the race relatively early, but was smooth and collected through the checkpoints as she focused on her fueling strategy. By mile 73, she was over five hours ahead of the next woman.
Case had rallied back from early stomach issues into second place at the Sherman Aid station (mile 73), with Green close behind. Piceu and Hicks followed in fourth and fifth place.
Dauwalter had been running a balanced race but turned her attention to the course record in the last ten miles of the race, picking up her effort considerably. She eventually finished in 26:44, well ahead of the clockwise and overall course records on a longer course.
When she knelt to kiss the legendary Hardrock rock at the finish line in Silverton, she was all smiles. “That was hard!” she laughed, hands on knees as she took in the cheering crowd.
Case finished in 33:52 and Green in 34:26. Piceu was fourth in 35:08, and Hicks fifth in 36:32.
Three Hardrock Legends Battle it Out for a Historic Finish
With two previous winners and course-record holders, Francois D’Haene and Kilian Jornet, as well as top finisher Dakota Jones (runner up in 2011) on the start line, the men’s race was close from the get-go. Ultra legends John Kelly, Jeff Browning, and Luke Nelson also made for an excitingly deep men’s field.
Jornet, D’Haene, and Jones ran in a close-knit pack through the Ouray aid station at mile 44, chatting and having fun while over ten minutes ahead of the course record. Outside of Ouray into the Engineer pass aid station, Jones made a bold move to take the lead ahead of Jornet and D’Haene, who continued to run together. Jones led the charge through Grizzly Gulch, before being passed by Jornet and D’Haene at the mile 73 Sherman aid station.
The race was really on by mile 93 at Cunningham Gulch. Jornet charged out of the aid station in first place, with D’Haene hot on his heels just seconds behind. By the final aid station at mile 96, Jornet had picked up speed on the final descent, dropping his pacer and putting a five-minute lead on his friend D’Haene. Jornet finished in 21:36, marking his fifth Hardrock victory, and setting a new clockwise and overall course record (beating his own CR from 2014). A fifth victory for Jornet means he ties the record for wins held with Karl Meltzer and Betsey Kalmeyer. D’Haene kissed the rock after 21:51 (also under the previous CR) and Jones in 23:06, a close race considering the race’s technicality and distance.
At the finish line, the men’s podium shared a few minutes of lighthearted reflection on the miles that they had shared together. Jones joked that on the final climb he saw two sets of headlights, “I thought the first set was Kilian and Francois, and the second was probably their pacers.”
Italian athlete Dani Jung finished in fourth place, the spot he maintained throughout the entire race, in 25:53. Jeff Browning finished fifth, marking his sixth completion of the loop, in 26:17.
Both D’Haene and Jornet plan to compete at this year’s Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, and while Dauwalter says she’s intrigued by the Hardrock-UTMB double, she’s dedicated her focus to the Colorado mountain race this year. All three are previous UTMB champions.
“The media and people who support the race might want to make the story all about Kilian and Francois, but that’s not really what it’s about,” D’Haene says. “Ultra-trail running, and especially Hardrock, because of the difficulty and the immersion in nature, is really about spending time with people. These events are always races but it’s how you share your experiences in nature that are important.”