VAIL — It was just over a week ago that Emelie Forsberg found herself on the peak of Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix, freezing to the bone and waiting for a rescue helicopter that wouldn’t arrive for hours.
Forsberg, a Swedish runner and mountaineer, was with Salomon teammate and ultrarunner Kilian Jornet, when a combination of wrong turns and bad weather turned the climb sour.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” said Forsberg a few days after the incident. “I was so sure we’d do this in five hours, and so for this day we didn’t bring a down jacket. When the bad weather came, we wasted a lot of time, and with the wind, cold and stress, I thought it was risky to rappel down. It was a hard decision, and we ended up having to wait up there for seven hours.”
While it may have been one of the few times that Forsberg has had to finish an outing via helicopter, the fleet-footed runner is no stranger to pounding the trails for hours at a time. It’s all about love for the mountains, she said.
On Sept. 28, she and Jornet will be back in the mountains for more, along with a host of the world’s other top ultrarunners, this time in the alpine setting of Summit and Eagle counties for the Ultra Race of Champions (UROC).
Two titles on the line
Ultrarunning is generally defined as distances more than a marathon, and the UROC will have the marquee 100-kilometer race, a 50K race and a half marathon. The 100K is a point-to-point race, while the 50K and half marathon start and finish in Vail Village. Organizers said they expect about 450 to 500 racers to participate across all categories. The 100K trail race starts in Breckenridge, going through Frisco, Copper, Minturn and finally Vail. Besides drawing some of the top runners in the sport as the ultrarunning world championship, the UROC also has the distinction of being the final for the Skyrunner World Series, a popular European-based race circuit. It is the first time the Skyrunning final has been held in the United States.
For the race, it garners worldwide exposure and will bring not only top American runners, but an international field. It guarantees that the top Skyrunning ultrarunners will show up to vie for the final title.
“We have athletes coming from all over the world, from all over Europe, South America and the U.S.,” said race director James Gill. “For the last two years, the race has been in Virginia. We wanted to bring the race to Colorado, and we reached out to Vail. It just seems that for a world championship, the people here knew how to put on an event and that made this choice much easier. We plan on keeping the race here for the foreseeable future.”
In addition to the two titles, runners will also be racing for a $20,000 total prize purse.
Meet the champions
Spectators can expect to see the who’s who of the ultrarunning world on local trails during the race, alongside amateur runners. Among the favorites will be three-time Skyrunning Series Champion Jornet, a Spanish runner known for pioneering a hybrid of climbing and trail running.
On his heels will be Americans Sage Canaday, Max King, Rickey Gates and Karl Meltzer, among others. On the women’s side, Emelie Forsberg will be taking a crack at her longest running race so far in her career. In her breakthrough season last year, the 26-year-old runner took multiple top finishes in 50-mile and shorter races.
“I’ve never run a 100K before,” said Forsberg. “I’ve been doing shorter races for the last two years, and I started thinking, ‘Why not do a longer races? I’ve been out for that long, but I haven’t taken it to the racing scene. It’s not that different, just a long day out in the mountains.”
She’ll be joined by top women including Darcy Africa, Ellie Greenwood, Leadville 100 winner Ashley Arnold and Eagle County local Anita Ortiz.
While 100 kilometers may seem like a long distance, for many ultrarunners the Breckenridge to Vail course will seem less technical, with less elevation gain than many of its European counterparts. Top contenders said they expect the race to be fast, favoring a powerful all-rounder.
“There are so many (front runners),’’ said Jornet. “I think it is a race with a great profile for Sage Canaday. It is a very flat and runnable race, so it’s great for more athletic runners like him or Max King. Tony (Krupicka) can do a great race and same for Cameron (Clayton).”
Karl Metzler, a Salt Lake City-based runner, will arrive at the UROC following a 100-miler in Steamboat the weekend before. As he says, all eyes will be on Jornet.
“The field is stacked, and it’s going to be fast a furious from the start. Kilian Jornet is the best there is, that’s it, and it’s going to be awesome just to watch him. Sage Canaday will kill it, too. It’s too short for me – I’m a 100-mile man,” said Metzler. (He’s not kidding – he’s won 35 100-mile races in his career.) “It’s a great course for someone who can do everything.”