The disqualification of French ultrarunner Xavier Thevenard partway through this year’s Hardrock Hundred race in the Colorado Rockies has divided the ultrarunning community, or so it would appear if you read the Facebook comments.
Thevenard had a commanding lead through the race right up until his disqualification at the Cunningham aid station, at which point Jeff Browning, who had been in second position, took over the lead, closely followed by Jeff Rome. Browning hung onto the lead and was the eventual winner, with Rome finishing second.
In my home, I have a poster of Steve Prefontaine with a quote that reads, “It’s more than just a race.” Eighteen years into this journey, I can feel the truth of that statement. Ultrarunning is a microcosm composed of exhilarating joy, despairing depths, and always lessons learned. It is life. While I certainly wouldn’t have chosen for my only Hardrock win to have come through another’s disqualification, here I am. And so, I’m going to focus on the beauty of the mountains. On Hardrock’s incredible volunteers, and on how good it feels to be 46 and on the other side of my 32nd 100-miler. Giddyup. Photo: @trailjunkiephotos
In the comments on the race’s Facebook page, Thevenard’s supporters (as well as Thevenard himself) expressed frustration and disbelief with the decision to DQ. Some suggested a time penalty would have been more appropriate. Others feel the decision was justified and necessary, and that Thevenard should have known better.
“I try not to read the comments,” says Garland, who has been directing Hardrock for 27 years. “We had 114 happy finishers, gave away lots of awards, there was great spirit at the race, and there were lots of great comments, so it was a good weekend.”
Here’s what happened
Following a bystander report of a possible rule violation by Thevenard (backed up by photos and videos), race officials questioned him and his crew at three different aid stations as he continued along the course. At the Cunningham aid station (mile 91, or kilometre 146), still with a commanding lead, he was told he had been disqualified, and was taken off the course.
In response to the criticism about how long it took for a decision to be made, Garland responds, “It was mostly a matter of logistics… There are two sides to every story, and I wanted to make sure I had both. To those who say we dragged our feet, it was a matter of getting everything put together so we didn’t make a bad decision.” Furthermore, Garland went to the trouble of locating a French interpreter, so there would not be a language barrier, not an easy task in a small Colorado town on a Saturday night.
What do the rules say?
In Section 4 of the Runner’s Manual, entitled Crew and Aid Station Protocol, section 4.4 reads, “Runners may receive aid from their crew ONLY within 400 yards either side of those aid stations at which crew access is allowed.” The rule is repeated in the Executive Summary at the front of the manual. Disqualification is up to the discretion of the race director.
Why does it matter?
Garland explained that the rule exists for reasons having to do with equity, safety, and accountability to the government permit adminstrator. “The permit administrators approve our operating plan, and we say we’ll administer aid in organized and established locations,” says Garland. “It’s headaches and hassles for everybody concerned if it’s all open [and the rules are not enforced.]”
Kilian Jornet weighs in
Some of Thevenard’s supporters, speculating that race officials wanted an American to win, predicted that Kilian Jornet would likely never return. (The Catalan ultrarunner who has won Hardrock four times and holds the course records in both directions.) But Jornet expressed both sympathy for Thevenard and full support for the decision to DQ, his opinion being that customs and rules are different between European and North American races, and it’s on the runner to follow the local rules.
I had done this mistake in the past when I came to Speedgoat and cut switch backs. I was DNF and it was my big mistake to don’t be aware of the US traditions and rules.
— kilian jornet (@kilianj) July 21, 2018
Jornet speaks from experience, having been forced to forfeit the prize money at the Speedgoat Vertical Mile in Utah in 2012 for cutting switchbacks, something European racers do routinely (they are encouraged to find the fastest possible route), but that is not allowed in North American races with marked routes. (He was not formally disqualified.)
Adam Campbell weighs in
Canadian ultrarunner Adam Campbell agrees. Campbell finished third at Hardrock in both 2014 and 2015, and returned to the race last year after a serious climbing accident in 2016.
“I think it was the right decision, personally. It’s unfortunate that Xavier was DQ’d, and that he did not follow the rules properly. In Europe people often accept aid outside of aid stations, but the Hardrock rules are clear, and it’s up to athletes to know the rules.”
Jamil Coury weighs in
American ultrarunner Jamil Coury, who was spectating at this year’s race, created an interesting thread on Twitter with his confession that he once accepted a beer from a bystander near the end of an ultra. “Should I be DQ’d retroactively?” he asked. One might interpret his question as ridicule for the Thevenard decision, but a few commenters replied “Yes.”
I took a beer from course spectators at the 2015 Hardrock 100 at the mineral creek crossing two miles from the finish – not at an aid station. Should I be retroactively disqualified? Curious to hear your thoughts. Go to 14 minute mark: https://t.co/9XevEKvwXV pic.twitter.com/nKgV5DeYYx
— Jamil Coury (@JamilCoury) July 22, 2018
The first DQ in Hardrock history
It was the first disqualification in the history of the race, but it wasn’t the only one, as it turned out. Dima Feinhaus was also DQ’d after inadvertently leaving the course during a thunderstorm and not making his way back to that spot upon discovering his mistake, but rejoining the course further on and continuing.