VAIL - With a chairlift rolling just steps away, more than 100 people started out their Sunday morning by running up Vail Mountain.
The Vail Uphill race, one of the final events of the Winter Mountain Games, is an unforgiving battle against one's personal endurance. Add in the fact that it began at 7 a.m. in cold, snowy weather, and the event just seems flat-out cruel.
Paving the way for the entire field was Vail resident Josiah Middaugh, who finished at Eagle's Nest with a time of 32:35.10 - about 15 seconds faster than second-place finisher Travis Macy, of Evergreen.
Middaugh, who also won Saturday's 10-kilometer cross-country snowshoe race, said with a half-hour uphill race, there's not really any time to be tactical or strategic.
"You've got to go as hard as you can go from the start and just hope you can hold on, so that's what I did," Middaugh said.
While Macy said Middaugh "owns the Rockies" when it comes to these kinds of races - Middaugh won both events at last year's inaugural Winter Mountain Games, too - even someone who wins as effortlessly as Middaugh struggles a little bit.
"I enjoyed about 10 percent of it - the rest is pretty much pain," Middaugh said. "It's going right at the limit there and seeing if I can hold it."
Taking the top spot for the women was Grand Junction resident Kim Dobson, a summer mountain runner who said she had never raced on snow until Sunday.
"It was awesome. It was hard," Dobson said shortly after making it to the top. "It's like your heart is maxing out the whole way and you're just gasping for air, but it was beautiful."
Dobson could feel the burn in her lungs after she caught her breath. The pain didn't stop her from calling the race "a lot of fun."
"I'm kind of a strange person in that way - I like to suffer," Dobson said.
Ultimate Mountain Challenge
Sunday morning's uphill race was the final of three events for the Ultimate Mountain Challenge, a three-day race that tested athletes' physical and mental abilities. It began Friday morning with sunshine and relatively warm temperatures at the Vail Nordic Center, followed by a Saturday morning ski-mountaineering race up and down Vail Mountain for more than three hours. Finding enough energy leftover from such grueling events was tough for some of the athletes Sunday morning.
"This is actually one of the harder events just because you're so tired already from the weekend," said Jen Gersbach-Venzara, the second-place Ultimate Mountain Challenge finisher for the women's professional division.
Gersbach-Venzara chose to skin up in Sunday's race, a choice many Ultimate Mountain Challenge competitors made due to some fresh snow overnight on Vail Mountain. The snow didn't amount to much - some reported half-an-inch or so on the trail on the way up - so many athletes chose to run in regular running shoes.
That's how Inge Perkins made her way up the hill to finish first for the women's professional division. It was the right decision, she said, because she's a strong runner.
Perkins said her most difficult time during the challenge was Saturday's ski-mountaineering race.
"Yesterday was really hard. It was definitely a challenge mentally because it was so cold, but it was fun," Perkins said. "I really liked (the Ultimate Mountain Challenge). I've never done any multi-day-long races before. It's something I've wanted to do for a long time, so I'm glad I got to do it."
Reigning Ultimate Mountain Challenge champion Brian Smith, of Gunnison, picked up his second win in the event this year, a welcomed reason for celebration Sunday morning as he crossed the Vail Uphill finish line.
"It feels good," Smith said. "This (Uphill) is such a brutal event, but it's short. You just keep your head down and keep plodding along and you'll get there."
Smith, who ran in running shoes, used ski poles Sunday, something he didn't do in last year's race. He was glad he did because they provided leverage on the steep sections, he said.
"I've never run with poles before, but when you're going uphill - straight uphill - it makes a huge difference."
The second- and third-place Ultimate Mountain Challenge finishers Stephen White and Mike Kloser, respectively, skinned up the hill Sunday. Kloser said he might have been faster in his shoes, but there's no way to know for sure.
White woke up in the morning and saw the snow coming down and thought about more than just the race - he thought about what he'd be doing after the race.
"With the snow coming down, I thought about skiing powder down (the mountain) at the end."
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.