MILLAU, France — Trail running has always given a sense of freedom to Titusville native Jared Hazen. And running has always been his passion.
After graduating from THS in 2013, Hazen packed up his bags, and went west. While running in Colorado, he was chosen to be on Team Colorado, and the word about the young runner out of Pennsylvania traveled quickly.
Last year, Hazen traveled to Millau, France, representing the United States in what is considered by thousands to be, according to its website, the greatest trail running festival in France.
Thousands of runners from around the world register to race in the 76-Kilometer (48-mile) ultramarathon, part of a festival that lasts three days.
The Great Trail of the Templars, or Grand Trail Des Templiers, is one of the most prestigious ultramarathons, taking runners through some of the most scenic routes the French countryside has to offer.
In 2015, Hazen finished in 24th place, out of about 2,500 runners.
A lot of things have changed in the past year, and Hazen made that evident, as he made the trip back to the mountainous race course to compete this year.
“Last year, when I ran it, I was at the end of a long season, and I was just super tired starting the race,” he recalled from his last trip to Millau. “This year, I was really fresh, because I haven’t raced in so long, and had a really long, big training block before.”
“Fresh” might be an understatement.
Hazen was a whole new runner this year.
Two Americans finished in the top-10, in a section of results owned by the French.
Spanish runner Miguel Heras took first place, finishing the 48-mile course in 6:45:12, and four minuets behind Heras, the Titusville native crossed the finish line, taking second place.
Hazen finished the brutal course in 6:49:42, and proved to a field of the world’s best runners that he’s part of the gang.
For several miles, Hazen was in the lead, with the No. 1 spot, running trails he’s only been on once before.
“I was very fit coming into the race,” Hazen said. “Some highlights would be getting to lead for several miles of the race. It was super exciting, and the French are a very enthusiastic race fans.”
Representing your home nation can weigh in on athletes sometimes. But in the weekend race, Hazen wasn’t bothered a bit by the pressure.
“I wasn’t thinking too much about repping the US this year,” he said. “I really ran this race for me. I wanted to go big, and prove to myself that I can throw down with some of the best in the world.”
He not only competed with some of the best runners from around the globe, he blew them out of the water.
“It was weird to be on the starting line, looking at some of the top talent from around the world in ultrarunning, and thinking to myself: I could beat all of them,” Hazen added.
He almost beat all of them.
Aside from the terrain being a little different than Hazen’s usual trail runs, the climbs of the French mountains were the biggest task the 21-year old took on.
“The hardest part of the course is definitely the last 10K,” he said. “There are two really big and incredibly steep climbs and descents.”
In that final 10K, Heras pulled away from Hazen, and took the lead.
“It was especially hard for me because I haven’t done much mountain training in the past year.”
The race started at 6 a.m., forcing runners to use headlamps for the first couple hours.
The six-hour time difference meant that Hazen would start around midnight, our time, and finish in the early hours of Sunday Morning.
But even with the time difference, and with Hazen being half-way across the world, he still had his faithful local fans — his parents.
“It was incredible,” Jared’s father, Carl, said.
He woke up in the middle of the night to watch Hazen race, and he was everything but disappointed.
He followed along online, as his son maintained the lead for a large portion of the race, and watched when Jared ran across the finish line, carrying the flag of his nation, in red, white, and blue.
“It was incredible,” his father repeated.
Lohr can be reached via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.