François D’haene is the 2021 Hardrock 100 champion. Leading the race from start to finish, D’haene steadily built his lead to a full hour ahead of second place by the end, finishing in 21:45:50, breaking former course records — the counterclockwise and overall records, both set by Kilian Jornet. In the following interview, we talk with François about what went right with his race at Hardrock, how much lower the Hardrock course record can go, and what his goals are for later this year.
Read our Hardrock 100 results article for more on how the race played out.
François D’haene, 2021 Hardrock 100 Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here, with I’m with François D’haene, after his win at the 2021 Hardrock 100. Hello François.
François D’haene: Hey.
iRunFar: You’ve now experienced all of your first Hardrock, how was it?
D’haene: It was even more better than I expected.
iRunFar: Yeah? What did you enjoy about it?
D’haene: I think everything was very nice and of course the result is so good and my time was just incredible, I was not thinking about that when we discussed. But now everything was very nice, on the start the people here, the community and the event. It’s not so big but it’s, like we say, a family event and very well organized and for me it’s like a mythical race that I really want to, I want to do that and now I did it and even I win it, I was so lucky. I’m very, very happy about that. It wasn’t one of my bigger of my career to come here because I like this chain of place of events so now I did it, so I’m so happy.
iRunFar: Normally I would ask at the end of the interview but you just said it’s checked off, you’ve done it. It’s not your last Hardrock is it?
D’haene: I hope not. You know it’s not easy to go there and especially this year with COVID-19 and everything, at least I did one, at least I finished one and I’m so happy about that. I just want to assimilate it, enjoy it. We’ll see what I can do in the future but no matter, I’m just happy to have it. It’s so nice.
iRunFar: You ran an incredible race.
D’haene: Not so bad.
iRunFar: Not so bad. It was incredible in that just ever so slowly you just kept running faster than the course record, little by little. You are very consistent and even all day, did it feel that way to you?
D’haene: Yeah, I don’t want to start too fast because I know with altitude and everything, will be very much harder than normally. So I start with other people and then, yeah, may be like slow to just be able to continue to the end so I say, okay I have to find my own pace otherwise it’s not my pace and I don’t feel comfortable. So I go just ahead and they just follow me for five minutes but during 10 hours. So it was nice because here’s when your eyes are not a lot of trees so you can really see each other, not very fast. So you can wait together and then I met [my pacer] Jim [Walmsley] at Grouse Gulch.
iRunFar: In Grouse Gulch, yeah?
D’haene: It was very nice to run with him and we joke a lot, it was very nice having him as a pacer, I don’t know if he pace a lot but he was very good at it and I really enjoy a lot I think both. So then when I started running with him it was a different race because there’s more people in the race and it’s not just you and Dbo [Dylan Bowman] and Ryan [Smith] and Julien [Chorier] or something. So it was different and we said, okay now we have to think Telluride so we go together to Telluride and it was very nice. And then I was with Dakota [Jones], it was an incredible night too. Very like reconnaissance, grateful. I’m very grateful that they made it with me.
iRunFar: And if you looked on paper it looks like you are alone in control of the front of the race the whole way, but even in Telluride you are asking, how far to Dylan? He was on your mind yeah?
D’haene: I feel okay with my body, with my feelings and my pace. I know that I can do it to the finish but it was just surprising I think for me and for DBo, that I was one hour 30 minutes ahead of Kilian Jornet’s time on that way. So I was thinking, maybe I’m too fast, it’s not normal. But on the other way, DBo is just five or 10 or 20 minutes behind me so what’s happened? Because we are together, very ahead of the race so it was a bit stranger. I was wondering, hey my body may be made mistake, maybe I’m too fast, that’s what I was asking a lot.
iRunFar: Did it give you may be more confidence because Dylan was right there, it wasn’t just you making a mistake or a bad choice?
D’haene: Because it was us, okay may be if I’m not true, he’s not too.
iRunFar: It’s confidence but also, I must run fast still.
D’haene: It was very nice and I’m happy that he was there because we might have to push more so it was good.
iRunFar: So you think having both of you run fast made you run a lot faster?
D’haene: Yeah, it’s true.
iRunFar: It’s not just a time trial.
D’haene: Exactly. He’s a nice guy, I think it’s really nice because you can race a lot during the year, like two, three, four races even more. Me it’s in my opinion, I don’t think it’s good because it’s very hard you know, a 24-hour run. It’s for the first time then some people run 45 hours, even more so than your feet is bigger and for your body, for your stomach everything. So I choose to run just two or three races and DBo is perfect example, because he was very good in The North Face 50 Mile Championships San Francisco, he was very good on the Western States 100 and fast race and now he decided to focus on that one and he don’t waste too much. Just focus on that one and I think he did a very good race there so it’s just a perfect example to show people that we don’t need to make too many races. We have to have some big, big motivation and then we can make some very big things.
iRunFar: All of the front of the field here, I mean now Ryan Smith doesn’t race a ton, Julien is very, I will do this and this. And good.
D’haene: Yeah, that’s what I want to say, it’s better to continue and do it for a long time.
iRunFar: Take pleasure in the mountains for decades.
D’haene: Like you say, enjoy your day, yes I will try to.
iRunFar: And you did, yes.
D’haene: I did. I did.
iRunFar: Did you have any points during the race when you weren’t enjoying or you had trouble or difficulty?
D’haene: Yeah, because in Sherman it was very warm. I sweat a lot and I said, I don’t like that one it’s a bit like the Western States 100, you sweat a lot.
iRunFar: And it’s only mile 25 or 30, 50 kilometers.
D’haene: And then like 45 minutes later it was cold at Handies and I was very, frozen from everywhere.
iRunFar: You had no jacket?
D’haene: I have a small jacket but no, because I was very wet so I want to dry. It’s not raining a lot but it was very cold. So for me it was a moment because in my stomach was a bit sore and so it took me like two hours, it was I think for me, I think my pace is not so bad but it asked me a lot of questions in my mind and everything so I have to focus, eat, drink and it will come back. So take me like top of Handies to Ouray it was…
iRunFar: But it was hot early and then you’re also at the highest point, you’re at 3,300 meters…
D’haene: Okay, calm, take it easy and you will make it.
iRunFar: And that’s a skill, how do you do that? You had that before where you have a difficult point and you just calm?
D’haene: Yeah, you have to.
iRunFar: Is it, am I done or is it something I can correct?
D’haene: I was a bit cold, that’s why may be your stomach is like that so now you have to run, you have to drink, you have to eat, you have time and it will come back. Think about it, think about it and then you come back.
iRunFar: In total do you think the conditions were good for fast times this weekend?
D’haene: Yeah, I think, but I like when it’s difficult conditions so maybe for me right to race to the other, maybe it could be better for me worse conditions. But for the time I think, yes it was good conditions. I was able to run in t-shirt all through last night so I think it’s comfortable.
D’haene: Yeah it’s comfortable. It was a bit cold but just in T-shirt was okay. And yes there’s not too much snow but I think in descents you can go faster and easier because I know how to ski. I don’t know if there’s no condition made the race faster but I’m not sure. But I think, if I put that time then the condition were okay. Of course.
iRunFar: And before the race we talked and you are saying, you knew what the course record was for this direction. Were you even thinking about the overall time?
D’haene: Never. I don’t even know the time because I don’t focus, it was my first experience here so I was not thinking about that. I just want to finish it.
iRunFar: Kilian Jornet’s time in this race direction you had as a reference, but not overall. Before the race he also talked about how you like to be incremental to make a time, a first time and then be better each time. Do you think you can run even faster than 21:45 at Hardrock?
D’haene: I think because it’s my first experience here, I’m sure I can make something better, yes about the food about how I race, about all my equipment and now I know how it works with the aid station, with the pace everything so for sure I can be better on some points but now your body has to be better too. It’s two different things but yes, of course experience it’s a big thing.
iRunFar: Is at 21.5 hours? Is it under 21 hours? What is possible for you or someone here?
D’haene: For my pacer, for both of my pace or I think they will make sub-20 one day I hope.
iRunFar: And maybe you will come here and join them?
D’haene: To pace them, yeah. We have to turn okay. I don’t know but everybody say that the other way is much faster and I think it’s possible because I know that Engineer and Camp Bird, I know how it was that way so I can imagine the other way, yeah, yeah, exactly. So I think it can be 21-something possible but you know your legs have to be ready.
iRunFar: Competition, conditions.
D’haene: And for me, and to be honest, time in ultra-trails, it’s something nice we can speak about that but I think it’s not the most important thing. Each year it could be very different.
iRunFar: What is the most important thing, what’s the most important to François D’haene?
D’haene: Just to be there and finish it and race with the other competitors is even more important than the time that you will put because if I want to do it alone and just a time, I can do it every day. And here it something different with the community.
iRunFar: So the experience with the other people, the shared experience? Will you do have another race coming up. UTMB.
D’haene: I don’t want to think about that today. I mean yesterday not. But yes, it was my challenge for the year so to try to make two races in six weeks and not too small races, two big races. But now you know when you made it well and I feel good, it’s even more easier to think about the next one.
iRunFar: You have confidence, you know you are strong?
D’haene: Yeah and no pressure.
iRunFar: If you make it to Les Contamines and you’re like, I’m done, what can someone say?
D’haene: It’s okay. It’s even easy for me because I have no pressure now. And I just want to enjoy it and be happy to be there and to meet that American runner here.
iRunFar: How do you think your pacer might do?
D’haene: I hope they can do it but I know their ability and I know they are very fast on some very shorter race and they have to conserve it so it’s hard for them to be the best on 100 miles and on marathon. It’s hard. But even if he’d don’t win this year I think he will one another year for sure.
iRunFar: Oh yeah?
D’haene: Yeah. I’m sure.
iRunFar: Well congratulations on your amazing Hardrock, it was inspirational.
D’haene: Thanks for your job.