Jason Schlarb set high goals for the 2016 Hardrock 100 and largely achieved them in winning the race along with Kilian Jornet. In the following interview, Jason talks about why he thinks confidence is so important coming into a 100-mile race, why he didn’t want to be the mouse to Kilian’s cat, why he ended up taking a more “European” approach to aid stations, and what he’s thinking about his chances at UTMB in six weeks.
[For more on how this year’s Hardrock 100 went down, including additional resources, check out our 2016 Hardrock 100 results article.]
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Jason Schlarb, 2016 Hardrock 100 Co-Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Jason Schlarb after his win at the 2016 Hardrock 100.
Jason Schlarb: That sounds really good.
iRunFar: You like that?
Schlarb: Yeah. Let’s just end there.
iRunFar: We can just cut now. Has it sunk in that you won Hardrock?
Schlarb: Wow, not fully. Not fully at all, but aspects and goals met and just the times that Kilian [Jornet] and I managed to click off—it’s feeling really pretty happy… surreal.
iRunFar: Yeah. Did you have any sense going into the race that you could run that fast?
Schlarb: I believed. Had I not, it probably wouldn’t have worked out. Especially at that 100 distance, if your head is not in a space that says, “Yes, yes, yes,” then it’s not going to happen. I was a little bit humble. I didn’t want to tell other people what I was planning to do. There was a little sheet that I’d made for splits, and I had Kilian’s course record on there. The next pace range was 24:40. A lot of people would say, “What? What are you thinking about doing? This is your first time. Kilian ran that.” So, I was scared. I didn’t necessarily always believe, but if you don’t believe that, it doesn’t happen. Obviously, it worked.
iRunFar: Someone like Kilian has an ambiance of being unbeatable at the 100-mile distance. He won Western States except in the heat. Was there any time you were running with him that you were just like, Uh, maybe I shouldn’t be doing this.
Schlarb: Yeah, Kilian likes to run with people. He likes to be entertained. He runs a lot of these races because of the event, the culture, but also he’s competitive and he always blows the socks off of course records and the competition. I think one of the trends that you see with Kilian is that he will run with some people in the first 30k or 50k depending on the distance, and then be like, “Alright, thanks. Have a good time,” and then be like… So I felt like I didn’t want to have that happen. I didn’t want to be… other people have had bad days after living in that surreal light of, Oh, I’m running with Kilian! I can do this! And then, bam, they have a really tough second half. So there was a point at around 20 miles or so after going past Grant-Swamp that I was like, Oh, no. I’m fitting in this category. I’m the cat and mouse with Kilian, and I’m the mouse. How is this going to turn out? Quickly I got in the headspace, Alright, third place. Let’s see if we can get in the 24-hour range. Let’s do this. It wasn’t that wonderfully pleasant. There was a lot of doubt in there, but yeah, I thought that was kind of a scary point. I quite frankly didn’t expect to see those guys. Fully in my heart I didn’t expect to see Xavier [Thevenard] and Kilian. I thought maybe one of the two might have something bad happen, but to catch both of them was a surprise.
iRunFar: Xavier was ahead of you for awhile.
Schlarb: Yeah, Xavier and Kilian took off, and I was alone on Camp Bird Road. That was my pity party. The stuff I was just describing was happening on Camp Bird. I picked up a pacer in Ouray, the first pacer in my life. I thought at one point I might have to say, “Go away. I just want to do this myself.” He actually really did his job.
iRunFar: Who was it at that point?
Schlarb: His name was Andy Wellman. He’s a local and lives in Ouray. He just ran out of his house and right up Bear Creek. He said he was absolutely blown away at the pace. I said, “Really?” I can’t tell because I’m in 40-some miles, and I don’t know how fast I was really going. He said it was incredible. He said he could barely keep up. All the sudden we were over in American Basin below Handies, and there’s Xavier. I pass him. I catch Kilian on top of Handies Peak.
iRunFar: So you caught Kilian going up Handies?
iRunFar: What are you thinking at that point?
Schlarb: A lot of volunteers were saying, “Kilian is looking back. He knows you’re coming.” “Wow, you’re making him look at you!” That was kind of motivating. It was like, “Oh, my gosh. Is this happening?” Right at the top of Handies we basically started running together. From there, we just had kind of a party together. It was a party that wasn’t necessarily like he was just dealing with me, which I didn’t want to happen. I would have asked him to leave had that been the case. We kind of pushed back and forth. We were both running fast and running hard. We got into Sherman and the aid station guys were like, “You’re 20 minutes up on course record pace.” That just didn’t sink in. “Oh, my gosh. What is going on here? This is a dream come true.” I was a little bit out of my mind.
iRunFar: Some people who were at Sherman… I think it was at Sherman… said that you were both in the aid station together. Kilian was done doing his stuff, and he waited for you. Was there any frustration of, “Kilian, you’re done. Get going.” Or what was going on in your head then?
Schlarb: Actually, at Sherman, we were eating bacon and pancakes. He was at one table, and I was at the other. We were sitting there and it kind of set the mood for the rest of the race. We were running really fast, but we’d get to these aid stations and we kind of decided that because we were together, there’s no rush of, “Oh, there’s somebody coming. I have to hurry,” or “Oh, I’ve got to hurry and catch the guy who’s three minutes ahead.” So we probably spent too much time in the aid stations, in my opinion, and lost the course record because we had three rounds of bacon. I’d look over at him and he’d be eating, and I’d be like, Okay, I can get some more. So every aid station all the way through Cunningham, we indulged. I’ve never done that. I’m the classic American that goes through…
iRunFar: We saw Kilian two years ago when he set the course record, he did the same thing. It was very cold that night. He was kind of sprinting between aid stations and then stopping, warming up, and eating with purpose. It was a different perspective for you.
Schlarb: Yeah, it was. It started to weigh on my mind—How is this going to finish? How is this going to end? Is Kilian going to all the sudden get that power and strength to leave, or am I maybe going to? Is he going to falter? He was coughing a little bit. I think his lungs might have been bothering him a little bit. His voice was a little bit funny. It sounded like he maybe had a little bit of a cold, but he’s Kilian. He definitely never complained about anything on his body.
iRunFar: Was there any point where you thought about maybe you should push the “Go” button and try to gap Kilian a little bit?
Schlarb: No, at that point, I was just really happy to be doing this with such a cool guy. We were talking about my ski tour around Ski Hardrock. We were talking about some of the lines he had done. He’d come a few years back to Telluride in December and we were talking about some of the names of the chutes. “Yeah, I’ve done that one. I’ve done that one.” Emelie’s [Forsberg] recovery—we were talking about that. She’d done Mont Blanc. That kind of stuff. It was like a true fellowship and friendship.
iRunFar: For the mere mortals among us, were you talking on the uphills or were you mostly saving that for the downs and flats?
Schlarb: That was happening earlier in the race. Once we got in and it was dark, we would complain about the road sections together, but when we were working, it was true work.
iRunFar: So going up Sherman you weren’t chatting away? Or Little Giant?
Schlarb: No. We were encouraging each other with little pep talks. “Good job, Kilian. You’re so amazing.” He’d say, “Good! Bravo!” It wasn’t the long-winded, “How’s life at home going?” No.
iRunFar: How did it come up? Did it come up for you guys to finish together?
Schlarb: Yeah, because the race is so long, you can’t talk about running in together 30 miles out because something could happen. You don’t want to commit to that with another athlete. I knew at some point it was going to happen. We were at Cunningham and we were leaving the aid station, and Kilian is like, “Do you want to go ahead? Go, if you want to go faster by yourself.” Another moment in my life, right? I said, “No, no, Kilian. You can probably go faster.” It was one of those, “Oh, no, after you.” “Oh, no, after you.”Kilian said, “It would be wonderful and it would make sense for us to finish together if you want to come with me and join me.” I’m like, “It would be an honor. It would be great.” It was perfect. It was the right thing. Nobody compromised. Luckily, we were both running a pace that we were happy to go with each other.
iRunFar: Did you guys back off the pace, not to an easy point, but did you guys set a good, efficient, comfortable pace then knowing that you were going to finish together rather than dogging it to the…?
Schlarb: No, we didn’t. We didn’t. What happened was that we got to the top with 7.5 miles to go and were going down Arrastra Gulch, and my pacer knew some splits. I told Kilian, “Let’s run together,” but one of my hero goals of the past is Kyle Skaggs’s time of 23:23. That was a record that lasted for many years. I would love to beat that.” I told Andy, “Hey, you know the splits. What do we need to do to get under that?” Kilian said, “Yeah, it would be good. Let’s do that.” So we started to really bomb downhill. We were running six-something pace. It was fast. Maybe it was seven, but it was super fast. We were moving really quick. Then our pacer, Andy, said, “You know, you might be able to go under 23 hours.” Kilian said, “Yes, we must.” It was the first time I actually saw his, “We are going to do this.” “Okay, yeah we are.” We even met up with Emelie over at the ski area, and she was like, “What are you guys doing?” The same reaction you had. Oh, you’re running in together, there’s no need to be killing ourselves. She’s like, “You’re sprinting through town! What are you doing?” We only had a couple minutes, so we just pushed, pushed, pushed all the way through. We grabbed hands, and kissed the rock. I said, “You kiss one cheek of the ram, and I’ll kiss the other.” That was how it went.
iRunFar: Did you guys do three-two-one-kiss?
Schlarb: No, luckily we were holding hands, so we didn’t have to coordinate the kiss.
iRunFar: It was implied what was going on. What was the highlight during the race?
Schlarb: Gosh, just the accomplishment of being able to run under-23 hours with Kilian, that aside… I’d never seen Island Lake during the summer. I purposely didn’t run there during the summer, because I wanted to just have that wow factor, that Christmas gift on race day. I’ve been up there twice skiing, but it’s not that impressive of a spot when you’re skiing. It’s beautiful, but the lake is just some snow with a mound in the middle. So that was truly one of the most awe-inspiring, beautiful spots, but it also accompanied one of my most proud moments of bombing down Grant-Swamp with a whole crowd, slew of spectators. I think I heard someone chanting, “USA!” Both Kilian and I were standing next to each other on top of the pass, and Kilian is world famous for his descending, and I beat him down. That was…
iRunFar: And you came out in one piece.
Schlarb: And I didn’t hurt myself, and I ended up catching him later. That was probably my most proud moment, but I will say, my quads were my limiting factor for the rest of the race probably because of that. But to sprint down and beat Kilian down that scree field…
iRunFar: A little pride before the fall?
Schlarb: Yeah, yeah. He probably wasn’t giving as much effort as I was…
iRunFar: But you got him.
Schlarb: I got him. I beat Kilian in a scree field descent. That was a highlight.
iRunFar: So you’ve got Hardrock under your belt. Tomorrow you fly to the Alps.
Schlarb: Yes, it’s off to Europe. I won’t run for maybe 7-10 days but start hiking and walking and get into the Alps and get used to that different kind of terrain. I have the fitness. What is 23 hours mean at UTMB?
iRunFar: Something faster.
Schlarb: I think it means something pretty good. So, I just need to take this fitness and be confident in it to not push too hard in the next six weeks at all and just maintain.
iRunFar: Hay is in the barn. Just get some specific fitness?
Schlarb: Recover. And as you say, get some specific fitness. It’s a little more running. I’ll do that the two-week block that I have. Two-week recovery, two-week taper, two weeks of a little bit of work.
iRunFar: So you’re not going to overindulge?
Schlarb: No, I spent three months in the Alps two years ago with my first UTMB run, and I know that running too much in those super steep mountains is not a great idea before the race.
iRunFar: So you’ve been fourth at UTMB, but with a gap up to the win. Does this give you the confidence to, Yeah, I can maybe really actually win this thing?
Schlarb: It gives me butterflies right now. I always have dreams and goals, but when you have some evidence that maybe something is really truly possible in the near term, you know…? We’ll see.
iRunFar: Xavier has two titles, and you beat him here. Kilian has a couple, and you ran with him.
Schlarb: It’s a little bit apples and oranges. This is the San Juans. It’s high alpine.
iRunFar: There’s a lot more walking here, I’m guessing.
Schlarb: Yeah, I try to be absolutely as humble as I possibly can. I’m going to go out there and take this fitness… I wasn’t counting splits… just being told at Sherman… I probably will do the same at UTMB. I’ll go on feel and effort.
iRunFar: So you’re not going to be rushed by…?
Schlarb: No, I’m not going to be going for 21 hours or going under course record. It will be effort and feel and then in the latter half of the race it will be, Who’s in front of me, or who’s not in front of me? Who’s behind me?
iRunFar: For now, congratulations, and really enjoy and soak up the win here.
Schlarb: Thanks. Hey, congratulations to you and your second finish. Nice work.
iRunFar: I guess you’ll come back and try and become a “True Hardrocker?”
Schlarb: Yeah, well, I’ve skied it the other direction. Yeah, I don’t think I can turn down a free spot in Hardrock.
iRunFar: See you back here in a year.
Schlarb: Sounds good, Bryon.