Trail running was supposed to be an afterthought for Anita Ortiz this summer.
"Last summer was so disappointing because I didn't run that well," Ortiz said. "I wanted to find another focus but didn't want to give up competing because that's part of what keeps me going."
Heading into the spring, Ortiz began training for "Ultra" running races that, unlike the trail running races that usually are 10K, go anywhere from 50 to 100 miles or more.
But the 43-year old Ortiz unexpectedly found her second trail running wind.
"I ran in the Teva Mountain Games (last month), won that, and said, 'Maybe I'm back into shape again,'" Ortiz said.
After the Teva Games, Ortiz figured she'd head to the U.S. Mountain Running Championships in North Conway, N.H. on June 24.
Ortiz, who didn't specifically train for the race, topped all American women, finishing in 49 minutes, 5 seconds to earn the national champion title. With the win, Ortiz earns a spot on the U.S. Mountain Running Team " her record fifth " which will compete in Switzerland this fall at the World Mountain Running Championships.
"It was one of those fun surprises," Ortiz said.
Ortiz missed making last year's team, but was on it the four prior years. This year,
Ortiz ran a smart race, finishing a minute ahead of the next closest American.
"As I've gotten older, I realized I need to start slower. I paced myself in back of the competitive field of women," she said. "Once I'm warmed up, I can kick it out."
The world championships in September may be Ortiz's swan song to competitive trail running, although she'll get a bit of an encore while there.
"I'm old enough to do the masters (race) also," Ortiz said.
In the meantime, Ortiz continues to train for Ultra's, her first of which will come at the end of the month. The 50-mile race outside of Seattle will be about double her longest solo race.
"I ran the Fruita Spring Desert Ultra, and it was barely over marathon (distance)," Ortiz said. "I did great " I was seconds overall, for both men and women, and I thought, 'I can do this.'"
While trail running requires a mix of speed and endurance, Ultra's require strong endurance.
"I've only gotten better as I get older," Ortiz said of her endurance.
Another reason Ortiz is switching to Ultras is that she won't have any expectations.
"I won't have course records or know how well I used to do at (certain) distances," she said. "It's all new."
For training, Ortiz runs 25 miles on one day and then has four days where she runs 16 miles or more.
Ortiz will be running in Sunday's Vail Hill Climb " to start her day.
"A friend of mine who is doing the Ultra with me and I are going to do the hill climb, and then we're running 20 miles afterwards," Ortiz said. "It's our warmup."
After spending his spring on the track, Battle Mountain's Jonny Stevens couldn't wait to hit the trails.
Stevens had to wait a bit, though.
"We try and take two weeks off, but I took three off because I am upping my mileage a lot this summer and wanted to be well-rested," Stevens said.
The competition at last week's U.S. Trail Running Championships in Steamboat Springs probably wished Stevens had taken a little more of a break. Stevens won the junior division, coming in at 59:58, more than a minute ahead of the next junior runner.
"It was cool to go out there and run with everyone," Stevens said. "I like trails so much more than (the track)."
With the title, Stevens has a good chance of being named to the U.S. Mountain Running Team, which he made last year, but gave up his spot after learning he had a stress fracture in his foot. Stevens was on the team the year before that, however.
Battle Mountain's Tony Crisofulli came in fifth at 1:05.25. Both Crisofulli and Stevens were part of the Battle Mountain boys cross country team that won the 4A state championship in 2006.
In addition to training for the upcoming cross country season, Stevens still finds time to hit the ice with his teammate on the hockey team.
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or email@example.com.