Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
Sebastian Chaigneau of France jumped out to the lead in the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run on Friday evening, aided by vegan running star Scott Jurek as his pacer.
“Come on, Sebastian, we’ve got a race to run,” Jurek urged at the 56.6-mile stop in Ouray where Chaigneau was first to report with a time of 12 hours, 12 minutes and 34 seconds. The second-place competitor, Joe Grant, 30, of South Fork, trailed with a time of 12:33.30.
Four-time female champion Diana Finkel was leading the women in a little more than 12 hours. She was the fourth runner to leave the Ouray aid station, following Chaigneau, Troy Howard and Grant.
Chaigneau was greeted at the Ouray town parks with cries of “allez, allez!” by French partisans in this grueling race where the average elevation is 11,000 feet and the course is 100 miles long.
It is natural terrain for Chaigneau, who lives in the Alpine region of France.
“He wanted to run because he likes the profile (of the mountain trails),” said his girlfriend, Isabel Levionnois. Chaigneau won similar mountain races in Spain and France to qualify.
At the Ouray town park, Chaigneau, 41, quickly drank miso soup and water with chia seeds. He is not a vegan but likes to eat Japanese food, said Jenny Jurek, the wife of Scott Jurek, subject of the bestseller Born to Run book on ultramarathon running and his autobiographical Eat to Run, about Jurek’s life and veganism.
Jurek and Chaigneau became friends from competing in ultramarathons in Europe, including a race around Mount Blanc.
The winner was expected to finish early this morning with a customary smooch on the rock in Silverton, where the 100-mile run through the San Mountains started at 6 a.m. Friday.
In Ouray, the Hardrockers sprinted downhill on foot-wide mountain paths with an 800-foot drop off, not unlike a car trying to navigate the sharp turns of Red Mountain Pass.
“If you are agoraphobic, it’s a lot of fun,” joked Brad Bishop, the aid station manager in Ouray.
The downhill descents wear out the quadriceps much like heavy breaking wears out the brakes of a car descending a steep incline, Bishop said.
Runners started the race Friday with a dash into dense fog. Forecast of rain had filled runners with a sense of foreboding.
Billy Simpson, from Memphis, Tenn, said he was not looking forward to the “storms, the lightning, the rain. It’s not necessarily the distance, the climb, so much; you got plenty of time to get this done if you’re patient. It’s the weather. It’s not looking so good for (Friday) and (Saturday). There could be some serious storms.
“You get wet and cold up there. It’s no fun, shivering uncontrollably is pretty much part of the gig if it’s raining.” said Simpson, 58, who is competing in his ninth race.
Competing in his 18th race, Blake Wood of New Mexico said he is hooked on the “stunning beauty of the course. I could backpack here for two weeks.
“It’s kind of cool to do something that sounds just completely impossible,” Wood said.
There are 13 aid stations with food, drink and supplies along the course. When they rest, they have the option to quit.
In preparation for the race, director Dale Garland urged volunteers of the aid stations to let the competitors make up their own mind about quitting. Runners who appear to be in bad shape “may just need an hour to recover,” he said. If they can’t go on, “It’s kind of an emotional thing,” Garland said. ”They will say cut off my wristband. It’s the end of their effort.”
Competing in his first Hardrock, Mikio Miyazoe, a 37-year-old from Japan, said he is just happy to be here. He calculated his chances of winning the lottery to compete at “2 percent.”