VAIL, Colorado - It was Day 3 for the Ultimate Mountain Challenge competitors - as of Sunday at 7 a.m., just 35 or so minutes and 2,200 vertical feet stood between them and the end of a fitness-filled weekend.
No one could catch up with Josiah Middaugh, of Vail, though, in Sunday morning's uphill. Middaugh wasn't competing in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge but did compete in Saturday's snowshoe race at the Winter Teva Mountain Games.
"You could see him (ahead), but you couldn't catch him," said Marshall Thomson, who finished second overall in the Ultimate Mountain
A weekend culminating with an uphill, which began in Lionshead and finished at Eagle's Nest and beginning with Nordic skiing and a more than four-hour ski mountaineering run up and down Vail Mountain, proved tough but not too tough for this field of competitors.
Athletes such as Sari Anderson and Janelle Smiley on the women's side could be heard talking about how much fun they just had running straight up Vail Mountain. They hadn't even caught their breaths back yet they were talking about how awesome the run was.
Anderson finished first overall in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge, and Smiley finished second.
"It was a good weekend of racing," Anderson said.
Anderson is exactly the kind of athlete who would describe a 30-minute Nordic ski sprint, four-plus-hour ski-mountaineering race and a 35-minute steep uphill sprint as a good time. She's dedicated, competitive and insanely fit.
Anderson, a former Vail resident, finished second overall in last summer's Ultimate Mountain Challenge at the Teva Mountain Games. And while she enjoys the summer games, Anderson said winter is her new favorite.
"Ski mountaineering is just my favorite thing right now, and to have only one race a day is like heaven," Anderson said. "In the summer games, you have four races over two days, so with this, you have a lot more recovery time, so it's a little more relaxing."
Relaxing - not the word most people would use to describe the Ultimate Mountain Challenge but a great way to visualize the type of athlete it takes to compete in such a challenge. They're all similar in that this kind of physical challenge is what they live for - they enjoy every second, even when it hurts.
Mike Kloser, of Vail, finished third overall for the weekend and complained of his current fitness level - this is from a 52-year-old guy who made the top three in a grueling competition.
Brian Smith, the first-place finisher for the men in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge, said you can never count Kloser out of any race.
"The old man - holy cow," Smith said, joking with Kloser after Sunday's uphill.
Smith said the uphill was hard and that he wasn't getting a lot of grip with his feet. He wished he would have used a bigger shoe and ski poles, but he was happy with where he ended up.
"I was able to stay right in the top 10 with the guys," Smith said.
He tried to gain on Thomson, who stayed ahead of him throughout the uphill. Smith had more than four minutes on Thomson from the Nordic event, so he had a cushion, but he didn't let that slow him down. Thomson knew on Saturday that the gap was too great to make up in a 35-minute uphill. It didn't mean he wasn't going to try, though, he said.
"It was steeper than I thought," Thomson said of the Vail uphill run. "I ski it all the time - it's different when you run up it, though. It was super fun; I just have to work on my Nordic and maybe I can catch Smithy."
The duel on the women's side was definitely between Anderson and Smiley over the weekend. Smiley couldn't quite catch Anderson in Saturday's ski-mountaineering event, and the roles reversed for the uphill.
"I knew (Anderson) won the overall, so I just wanted to take this one, so I did," Smiley said. "I was motivated."
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.