In Australia, it’s fair to say we look across the pond at two US massive races. Western States and this one, Hardrock.
My own love affair with this race is lived vicariously through the likes of Andy Hewat (going for his fifth finish I believe) and Phil ‘ Spud’ Murphy, with three finishes. Andy is over there again this year, along with Hoka maestro, Roger Hanney, attempting his first Hardrock. And while I’m sure they won’t mind me saying that neither are likely to be gunning for a top 10, I’m sure as heck going to be following their progress across the weekend with that element of jealousy that exists this time of year.
So who’s in the running for line honours this year? Somewhat unfortunately, there’s been quite a few higher profile withdrawals from the race and while I don’t often start a preview like this, the likes of Anna Frost, Andrea Huser, Kilian Jornet and Mike Foote have taken a leave of absence.
Still, there’s plenty of people to monitor across this mammoth race, which begins in the early hours of Saturday morning for us antipodeans.
Sabrina Stanley and Nikki Kimball seek to bash trail feet together in an enticing battle of young gun versus the matriarch of US ultra running.
Nikki needs no introduction if you know ultra running. There’s nothing she hasn’t won that’s worth mentioning and in that bracket you can include Western States, UTMB, the MdS and any general bad ass race out there. This is Nikki’s first crack at Hardrock and I’m sure one that she’ll want to make count to add to the tally of huge wins she’s gathered over the years.
Sabrina hit the trail scene running with a third place at last year’s WSER100. She’s one consistent performer, hitting the top five of the big US milers such as Run Rabbit Run, HURT 100 and Leadville. Expect a big battle between these two very evenly matched runners.
And while many focus on Sabrina and Nikki, Japan’s Kaori Niwa could sweep things from under their feet. She’s tough as old boots when it comes to taking on big mountain milers. Her resume includes top ten placings at UTMB in 2016 and 2017, second at the 2018 UTMF, and second at the 2017 Ronda dels Cims. In short, you know she’s going to finish this thing and be right up there, the question is, can she win it? There’s a good chance, I feel, she can.
Our final lady for the podium picks Darla Askew, a five-time finisher here with a best performance of second in 2013. She’s got what it takes to challenge, so expect her to digg into the heels of the other ladies mentioned here.
Like the ladies, two men standout as potential winners in Frenchman Xavier Thévenard and Jeff Browning.
Xavier is likely the man to watch for the win here, his running career to date is hugely impressive. It includes a previous third place here in a super quick time as well as two UTMB wins. It’s hard not seeing him pick up the win for the first time this year.
Aiming to stop that is Jeff Browning, who just a few weeks ago was tearing up Western States once again with a fifth placed finish. Jeff’s no stranger to this race having finished four in 2016, where incidentally, he ran the WSER / Hardrock double then. Recovery is unlikely to be an issue if that result is anything to go by, but with a big miler in his legs already, it would take some super human powers to stop the French machine.
A wildcard for me is John Fegyveresi, member of an extremely select group – a Barkley finisher. Is he the quickest guy out there, hell no. But when you have someone who can tough it out like that, combined with an ultra racing history of 76 ultras to his name, you kind of think he could be top five potential. Watch this space.
Hardrock is certainly the place for repeat offenders and one of those with a series of finishes to his name is Troy Howard. He finished second here in 2015 and has a fifth placed finish from 2015 too. Top five has his name etched already.
Finally everyone’s favourite versatile runner, Mike Wardian lines up for a bash at what is not what you might regard as the terrain that most suits his awesome abilities, but looking forward to seeing how he progress here.
All the best to everyone racing this weekend, sent with much jealousy from Sydney 🙂