Xavier Thévenard’s 2018 Hardrock 100 Disqualification

On early Saturday, July 21, 2018, during the 2018 Hardrock 100, the run organization announced the disqualification of participant Xavier Thévenard via its website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed. Here is the announcement:

“We were made aware that runner Xavier Thévenard was given aid outside of an aid station. After careful consideration, investigation of the facts, and conversations with the affected parties, it was confirmed that Xavier was met at a roadside two miles outside of Ouray and given ice and water. The decision has regrettably been made to disqualify Xavier from this year’s Hardrock. Our rules protect the integrity of Hardrock and the values of fairness and sportsmanship for all participants. While the violation was clear and substantive, we do not feel it was made with malicious intent, and invite Xavier to join the lottery for future Hardrocks.”

The purpose of this article is to elaborate on this story via a fact timeline and interviews with the three main participants in this incident, the Hardrock 100 race director Dale Garland, Thévenard, and the witness who reported seeing Thévenard violate the event’s rules, Tony Russ.

Timeline of Xavier Thévenard’s 2018 Hardrock 100 Disqualification

  • Friday, July 20, 2:47 p.m. — The race organization’s timing volunteers record that Thévenard arrives to the Ouray aid station, mile 43.9 and his stay as two minutes in aid. iRunFar field team reports the same.
  • Friday, between 2:49 p.m. and 5:13 p.m. — Thévenard travels the 8.9 miles and 4,000-plus thousand feet of climb between the Ouray and Engineer aid stations. [Editor’s/Runner’s NoteBryon Powell, here. As someone who also ran the race this year (albeit it a few hours behind Xavier through the relevant section), I hope I can provide some neutral context based on my own water use between the Ouray and Engineer aid stations. Throughout Hardrock, I routinely ‘dip’ from natural water sources along the course. There is one natural water source between Ouray and the Bear Creek Trail (BCT) overpass, the Uncompaghre River about 2.4 miles after the Ouray aid station, or roughly half a mile before and 300 feet below the overpass. However, this is one if not the only flowing water source on the course that I won’t dip from due to its relatively low elevation (and the inherent risk from animal-feces runoff) and acid mine waste (the river was literally half yellow when I passed it). This year, the low snowpack and early snowmelt meant that all the small springs and creeks above the BCT switchbacks were completely dry. The first ‘drinkable’ water source I encountered was 5.5 miles after the Ouray aid station at the first crossing of Bear Creek. This is 2,400 net feet above the Ouray aid station, with a higher cumulative gain due to the undulating trail along the Uncompaghre. It took me one hour and 40 minutes to reach the creek. It was a warm afternoon and I and others I encountered were out well before this water source. There were plentiful water sources between the first Bear Creek crossing and the Engineer aid station.]
  • Friday, after 2:49 p.m. — Bystander Tony Russ witnesses and documents Thévenard and his pacer standing at the back of the open trunk of their crew car in the parking lot at of the Bear Creek Trailhead, mile 46.6. Russ tells iRunFar after the event that he witnessed Thévenard drink water and his crew do something with Thévenard’s pack, and that the incident lasted for three to four minutes. After the event, iRunFar reviews the photos Russ took, which corroborate his witness account. Russ reports what he observed to Garland at the Ouray aid station. After the event, the race organization reported to iRunFar that they began their investigation at this point.
  • Friday, 5:13 p.m. — The race organization’s timing volunteers record that Thévenard arrives to the Engineer aid station, mile 51.8, and his stay as two minutes in aid.
  • Friday, 6:33 p.m. — The race organization’s timing volunteers record that Thévenard arrives to the Grouse Gulch aid station, mile 58.4, and his stay as seven minutes in aid. iRunFar field team reports his stay as 8 minutes. The race organization reported after the event to iRunFar that they spoke with Thévenard’s crew for the first time at this aid station as part of their investigation. iRunFar did not witness this interaction.
  • Friday, after 6:33 p.m. — The race organization reported after the event to iRunFar that they were recontacted by Thévenard’s crew, who wished to update their answers to questions asked of them by the race organization.
  • Friday, 10:02 p.m. — The race organization’s timing volunteers record that Thévenard arrives to the Sherman aid station, mile 71.9, and his stay as six minutes in aid. iRunFar field team reports the same. The race organization reported after the event to iRunFar that they spoke with Thévenard here, asking him one question. iRunFar witnesses this interaction, which was brief and involved a written question asked of both Thévenard and his pacer in French.
  • Saturday, July 21, 3:24 a.m. — The race organization’s timing volunteers record that Thévenard arrives to the Cunningham Gulch aid station, mile 91.2. iRunFar field team reports the same. The race organization reported after the event to iRunFar that: they spoke with both Thévenard and his crew for 15 to 20 minutes; that Thévenard and his crew answered in the affirmative when asked a series of questions about if outside aid was provided at the location reported and if they had read and understood the rules of the race listed in the Runner’s Manual; and that they told Thévenard he was disqualified and he had the option of finishing the course as an unranked runner, but that Thévenard opted to leave Cunningham Gulch in his crew’s car. iRunFar witnessed that this meeting from a distance, but did not hear what was discussed in it.
  • Saturday, before 4:23 a.m. — The race organization posts notice of its disqualification of Thévenard to its website and social-media feeds.
  • Saturday, 4:23 a.m. — iRunFar receives a phone call from the organization confirming Thévenard’s disqualification.
  • Saturday, 6:25 a.m. — Thévenard makes a public statement on in Facebook page where he admits he took outside aid from his crew at the Bear Creek Trailhead, but that he disagrees with the severity of the penalty he received for it.
  • Sunday, July 22, about 10 a.m. — iRunFar interviews Thévenard. The transcript of the interview is shown below.
  • Sunday, July 22, about 1:30 p.m. — iRunFar interviews Garland. The transcript of the interview is shown below.
  • Sunday, July 22, about 3:45 p.m. — iRunFar interviews Russ. The transcript of the interview is shown below.

Interview with Hardrock 100 Race Director Dale Garland

iRunFar: Xavier [Thévenard] was officially disqualified at the Cunningham Gulch aid station[, mile 91.2]? Is that where it was made official?

Dale Garland: Well, he was presented two choices at Cunningham. He was presented with the choice to drop out and be treated as a dropout at Cunningham or to continue onto Silverton as an unofficial finisher if he wanted to finish the 100 miles.

iRunFar: [The organization] disqualified him there, saying, ‘You’re no longer a part of the race. You can’t go to the finish and contest it?’’

Garland: Correct.

iRunFar: He was disqualified for taking aid at the Bear Creek Trailhead[, at mile 46.6]?

Garland: If anybody looks at our updated Runner’s Manual, if you look on our Executive Rule Summary, it’s Rule Number 5, which is that runners won’t stash supplies along the course or receive aid outside of 400-foot area around an aid station.

iRunFar: You were made aware of [Thévenard’s possible rules violation] by a bystander?

Garland: I was made aware of it by a spectator who from my gathering of information was innocently taking pictures and following Xavier as he went up the Bear Creek Trail.

iRunFar: Being a fan?

Garland: Yes, being a fan, and in his picture taking he came upon Xavier and his pacer taking aid from a crew car at the Bear Creek Trailhead.

iRunFar: And they photographed it?…

Garland: He did… After that, he shared that with several people, friends primarily or acquaintances. He didn’t come directly to us. It was based upon the recommendations of his friends in the running community that he presented that to us.

iRunFar: So he explained what he saw and showed you the photo, and it was clear that this was not in the rules?

Garland: Correct.

iRunFar: So discussion was begun among the organization then?

Garland: Correct. Every year we’ve formed an infractions committee to handle any kinds of protests or infractions that are brought to our intention. It’s not the purpose to go out and look for things, but should something happen, we want to have a system in place to deal with it.

iRunFar: You brought [the report] to the committee and there was a period of discussion about it?

Garland: Correct. I think there are two things that maybe have a bearing on what some people perceive as the timing of things. One was was catching up with Xavier and his crew at a point they could talk. The other point was, in conjunction with that, finding an interpreter who could speak French so that we understood each other. Finding this in Silverton on a Friday afternoon was pretty tough.

iRunFar: The rumor is that [the organization] approached Thévenard’s crew for the first time at Grouse [Gulch aid station, mile 57.4] and then approached him at Sherman [aid station, mile 71.9]?

Garland: Yes, we sought clarification because we knew that the next place his crew could be was at Grouse. By the time we contacted his crew and asked that they stay and arranged for a translator and everything, he had already taken off [from Grouse, and] the next place we could actually engage him was at Sherman. Those were places where we could not only engage him using our Ham radio system, but also that we could have a French translator.

iRunFar: So it was basically, ‘We have received this report. What do you have to say?’

Garland: Yes, and we asked four simple questions of his crew. We asked him one simple question trying not to lead or corner or trap him or them. After that, we gathered that information and took it back to Silverton where we were recontacted by his crew stating they were uncomfortable with some of their answers and wanted to revisit some of their answers… We formed the committee again and in that process determined that asking him… with the gravity of the potential situation, we decided it was better if we asked him more than one simple forward question to get his side of the story. That’s when, again, trying to find a translator…

iRunFar: So [the organization] gathers information in a couple different locations. You make a cursory decision or…

Garland: We made a cursory decision before we went into Cunningham. The decision was [going to be] based on what we heard from him at Cunningham.

iRunFar: You had a conversation that lasted several minutes with him at Cunningham.

Garland: Fifteen to 20 minutes with a French translator. By then, the conversation and the answers to the questions had changed dramatically on behalf of both him and his crew.

iRunFar: He ultimately said [that he took the aid and that he understood the rules]? He posted afterward on Facebook and then what he said to iRunFar [on Sunday after the event] was that he agrees that he did take aid and he violated the rules, but he also says he thinks the punishment was crueler than the violation.

Garland: Correct.

iRunFar: I am wondering what you and the rules committee thought about [that statement of Xavier’s]?

Garland: Yes, that’s a topic of discussion, and to be honest, we’ve never had to deal with this.

iRunFar: Are these the first two disqualifications ever?

Garland: Yes, we had no template or metrics to do that, so we really had to come up with what we thought was an appropriate penalty. We did talk about a time penalty, but without any kind of a template or understanding of what that might look like, it seemed to us it would be a very contrived amount of time without deliberation and without looking at other models. So then a lot of people said, ‘Well, then why did you feel a need to take such an action…’ But we felt it was in the best interest of our event and the best interest of Xavier to not have this play out at the finish line.

iRunFar: The hard decision you had to make with Xavier and the additional one [about Dima Feinhaus’ disqualification]… I hear people saying, ‘In the past Hardrock might have been a little more lenient or open… Unintentional muling by pacers, like somebody carrying a water bottle for awhile.’ Is this…

Dale Garland: Is this the new Hardrock? No. In the case of Xavier, we were presented with evidence that we decided we had to do something… Both of those situations were lose-lose situations. In the case of [Dima], it was reported that somebody went off course. We went over that it was a closed course and if you go off course, there are consequences. In my understanding… these are pretty accepted norms that you only accept aid at aid stations, and if you go off course, you return to the point where you left the course. In that sense, I don’t think we’re really breaking much new ground here. We’re just abiding by what we have stated publicly in our runners’ manuals.

Interview with Xavier Thévenard

iRunFar: How do you feel about the choice of the race [organization] to disqualify you?

Xavier Thévenard: I don’t think that [the decision] was appropriate for what we did, it was only a sip of water, it feels disproportionate in comparison. We should really mention that there was a woman sharing sweets on the first summit [after the KT aid station, mile 11.5]. You could just open your hand and she’d give you some, it was considered outside the zone. Today, how many runners grabbed small things outside aid stations? You’d need to put judges everywhere and it doesn’t make sense… In all European rules, it’s one hour maximum [penalty] but you don’t disqualify someone after 145 kilometers… I wonder what the organizers would have done if we had gone through Cunningham without going through the aid station. Would they have disqualified me?… I think that they lose a bit of credibility with everything, this disqualification is disproportionate for a sip of water. We had just ran 145k and 21 hours. We are three hours ahead of Jeff [Browning]. I think that [Jeff] feels uncomfortable about all this. Everyone feels uncomfortable.

iRunFar: Where did you exactly receive aid? What was the aid that you received for being disqualified? Was it at the Bear Creek Trailhead? And what happened there?

Thévenard: After Ouray, after the tunnel, yes it is giving aid but we have to mention that there were people after Ouray that sprayed water on me as well. It was not considered external aid but it could also well be. We have to put things back in context, and sometimes it just doesn’t make sense. The disqualification is too harsh in my opinion. Yes I did take water 2k after Ouray, but someone, that I didn’t know, sprayed water on me beforehand [between the aid and where the incident happened]. 

iRunFar: Was it your crew [at Bear Creek Trailhead who aided you]?

Thévenard: Yes, but it wasn’t planned. We didn’t even think about it. I didn’t even think about doing something bad. I had too many things to manage with the pain, it didn’t cross my mind one second. For me, I wasn’t cheating, I wasn’t thinking about the fact that they could disqualify me for this. It’s unreal. I could have taken water from the river and it would have been the same. I did something that wasn’t in the rules. I didn’t even think about the fact that I was outside the zone, I didn’t want to cheat, it wasn’t intentional, it was on the moment but the disqualification is too strong after so much investment. It’s not even clear. If they had told me that they’d add an hour to my time, it would have been okay to me. 

iRunFar: Do you think that you’ll ever try to come back to Hardrock?

Thévenard: I am a little disgusted… With the amount of investment that I gave.. This race is great. It’s a great 100 miler. The organization is super friendly and relaxed compared to European races. There is a paradox that I don’t understand between the general atmosphere and the penalty that they gave me. I am ahead of the race but I don’t consider that I am a top runner. Mistakes happen to anyone, top runner or not. These are labels that we put on people. I am neither a top runner nor an average runner, we’re here to run and spend some time in the mountains. There are limits that we give to each other but I think that this [the penalty] goes out of context.

iRunFar: I don’t know you too well, but what I have seen is that your spirit, personality, and character seems very close to Hardrock’s spirit.

Thévenard: I think that I will never understand. It’s inhumane, with all the training pain, the project, the race. We’re blocked at 145k and 21 hours! We hurt everywhere. Give me one hour but don’t disqualify me. We didn’t hurt anyone, we have to put things back in context. We didn’t cheat, there was no intention to cheat.

[Editor’s Note: Thank you to Jean-Francois Geiss and Eric Gras for their assistance with translations.]

Interview with Witness Tony Russ

Tony Russ: …I was out there, and [Xavier Thévenard] passes me, and I was like, ‘Yeah, dude, you’re winning Hardrock!’ I just wanted to see what a leader does at a point in the race like that, so I followed him…

iRunFar: This was on the trail up from Ouray as you go up next to the Uncompaghre [River]?

Russ: You go down to the Bear Creek Trailhead above that highway.

iRunFar: Right, you do that weird trail to get up above the highway to Bear Creek.

Russ: Yeah, you do that pull-off of [Highway] 550… I was planning to get out there before anyone else did to walk my dogs… When he passed me I was like, Oh, cool! I’ll just follow him a little bit back up to my car. Then I got up and saw that and I was disappointed and got really quiet and didn’t really say anything… I went to my car and called my friend and went, ‘Check the rule book for me.’ …It just felt wrong when I walked up and saw it. That’s why I took pictures…

iRunFar: Just explain what you saw. You were going behind [Thévenard] on the trail and you came up into the trailhead parking lot?

Russ: It was pretty easy to follow him… So I was keeping my dogs behind him at a respectful distance. That’s why in all the pictures he was a little bit away. Then I just popped up. As soon as I saw the top of the car and saw what was happening, I pulled my phone back out… This seems wrong. I even took those pictures and didn’t get close because everything felt weird to me at that point…

iRunFar: Were they already at the car when you came up into the parking lot, or [was Thévenard and his pacer] walking to the car?

Russ: Yeah, they were already at the back of the car.

iRunFar: And the car was open?

Russ: All I saw was Perrier… The last picture I put on Facebook was him actually drinking the Perrier…

iRunFar: What was your estimate on the amount of time they were standing there with the crew?

Russ: Three to four minutes. I had time to go call my friend. I started a video.

iRunFar: What did you do, disappear from view?

Russ: My car was across the highway, and I went to go put my dogs away.

iRunFar: You actually ended up walking past them and they saw you?

Russ: Yeah, they knew I was back there the whole time. I was talking to my dogs. I was not quiet. I was not sneaking behind them by any means. They knew I was back there. That’s what I told Dale [Garland]… They weren’t sneaky. I think I remember them laughing. They weren’t acting sneaky or malicious or anything…

iRunFar: To review what you saw, by the time you came up to the parking lot, [Thévenard and his pacer] were already at the car. The two women were out of the car and in the back with them?

Russ: Yeah, tending to him, I think, messing with his pack and doing whatever.

iRunFar: They were ‘messing’ with his pack?

Russ: Oh, yeah…

iRunFar: Did he take his pack off?

Russ: It didn’t look like he took his pack off. I only walked by briefly, so I only saw so much. That’s about it… Then I went down to Ouray still pretty much planning to tell people but still not really knowing if I should tell that aid station or if I should just, like, wait and go to the [race headquarters at the Silverton] gym at some point when I come back. I talked to a couple people, and then I saw Jamil [Coury], and I was like… I just need to do whatever he tells me to do.

iRunFar: You told him what you saw, and he said, ‘You need to contact the race?’

Russ: Yeah, I showed him the pictures, and he was like, ‘Yeah, you need to go tell Dale right now.’ …Then I told Dale because he was in Ouray right then… He was like, “Alright, this sucks, but this is why we have a rules committee. We will all talk about it.”

A Call for Civility from the iRunFar Team

We recognize that the confirmed rules breach by Xavier Thévenard and the decision by the Hardrock 100 run organization to disqualify him are contentious in their nature, and we expect that comments about it to be contentious, as well. However, we also recognize that through difficult conversations like this we as a community can learn, grow, and help define our identity. So, though we welcome discourse on iRunFar, we do require it to be civil and in adherence with our comment policy. Comments which do not adhere to the comment policy may not be published. Thank you.

Meghan Hicks

is the Managing Editor of iRunFar and the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.' The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.