Thevenard front and center in the neon
Screenshot: iRunFarMedia (YouTube)

The 25th running of the Hardrock 100 ultramarathon took place this weekend, with 114 of the 146 runners who started the race making it the full 100.5 miles. Of the 32 who didn’t finish, 30 fell short of completing the arduous race, while two were controversially disqualified.

French ultrarunner Xavier Thevenard was leading the race by over an hour, and he seemed destined to coast to an easy win until race organizers disqualified him with under 10 miles left to run. The official reason? Thevenard got hydrated at the wrong time. Race rules forbid runners from receiving outside supplies or aid unless they do so within 400 meters of an official race-led aid station. The purpose of this rule is to force athletes to truly rely on themselves as much as possible. As the the runner’s manual explains, “crew access is not allowed at some aid stations” because “this is part of the challenge of the run”

Thevenard reportedly left the Ouray aid station, which is 44 miles into the race, after mere minutes. A few miles outside of town, a photographer witnessed the Frenchman stopping at a crew car and taking on some water and ice. Race organizers were made aware that Thevenard had broken the rules, and after initially denying that he’d done so, Thevenard later admitted that he’d violated the aid rules. He was disqualified after 91.2 miles of racing. “While the violation was clear and substantive,” organizers said, “we do not feel it was made with malicious intent, and invite Xavier to join the lottery for future Hardrocks.”

Thevenard released a statement on Facebook, calling the decision to kick him out “a little too cruel.” He clarified that he only got a little bit of ice and a few sips of water before continuing on his way. While that’s a violation of the rules, Thevenard still expressed bafflement at the scale of his punishment, which really does seem overly harsh for what is essentially a technical violation. “I feel miserable because I didn’t think I was cheating,” he wrote. Had he only been slapped with a one- or two-hour penalty, he still could have won. The race organizers sounded very concerned about setting precedent:

“It was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do as the director of Hardrock,” said run director Dale Garland. “Integrity was very important. That was a major part of this. What message, not only what precedent, but what message are we sending about what Hardrock values and what Hardrock believes.”

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Another runner was later disqualified after organizers learned that they had “significantly deviated from the prescribed course.” These were the first two disqualifications in race history, but at least nobody tried to scam the race by hiding in a port-a-potty.