Trans Rockies Run comes to Vail | VailDaily.com

Trans Rockies Run comes to Vail

The TransRockies Run has quickly become one of the nation's top ultramarathons. It started Sunday in Buena Vista and rolls through Vail Thursday and finishes in Beaver Creek Friday. Photo by Kevin Arnold/Courtesy TransRockies

VAIL – Hundreds of the world’s heartiest souls – and soles – are competing this week in the world’s toughest trail run, mostly because it’s their idea of fun.

The TransRockies run is a six-day stage race from Buena Vista to Beaver Creek, called by National Geographic “the most spectacular and difficult trail run in the country.”

The pros are running for $20,000 plus glory and honor. The rest are running for glory and honor and bragging rights that they spent part of their summer vacation running the TransRockies Run, and because this is fun.

The course is 113 miles with 18,000 feet of elevation gain. Every inch is above 7,500 feet, where the air is as rare as the number of people willing to do this.

Local long distance specialists Katie Mazzia and Mary Beth Ottley of Eagle, and Marian Cartin are running it. So is famed ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes.

Local long distance legend Anita Ortiz is injured and is sitting this one out. She and Mazzia were last year’s top women’s team. Mazzia ran solo in the women’s open division this year, a three-day event. She finished third, ending her trek in Camp Hale on Tuesday.

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Backcountry boogie

The field started Sunday in Buena Vista and will wind its way to Beaver Creek for Friday’s finish, over mountain trails that bighorn sheep shy away from. Along the way they run up, down and around – mostly up.

For example, stage two sees them run over Hope Pass, where there is actually very little hope, making it possibly the least aptly named stretch of trail in this spiral arm of the universe.

About Hope Pass. That stage is 3,617 feet of climbing over 13.5 miles – straight up above treeline then down a technical, rocky descent. Both the TransRockies Run and the Leadville 100 traverse the infamous Hope Pass. As you fall yet again and scuff your knees, remember you’re doing this for fun.

Even “Ultramarathon Man” Karnazes was sucking wind.

“When we got to the aid station at the top of Hope Pass, a volunteer asked if I needed anything? ‘An extra lung would be nice,'” Karnazes said on his blog.

From Leadville they ran to Camp Hale, up and over to Red Cliff via the scenic route, to Vail today, then Vail to Beaver Creek for Friday’s finish.

Six days in the sun

Lots of trail running events cover the distance in one day, sort of a forced march to the finish, except no one’s forcing anyone to do this because, remember, you’re doing this for fun.

The Leadville 100 does it in one day. So does the Western States 100 from Squaw Valley to Auburn, Calif.

Ultramarathon runners consider it an opportunity to run 100 miles in one day. They really do. They see opportunity in places the rest of us think there should be a tram.

Mazzia and Cartin are regulars on the ultramarathon circuit. Mazzia is a defending TransRockies champion, winning the women’s division last year with Ortiz as her teammate on Team Beaver Creek Super Fly.

Ortiz is injured, but she went out in a blaze of glory. She smoked the Western States course earlier this summer in just over 18 hours, finishing 9th overall in a field of more than 230 runners.

“I always said I’d never do a 100-miler, but people said if I tried one I’d be hooked,” Ortiz said. “It’s like running to Denver. For me, it’s knowing how far you can push your body. It’s a huge feeling of accomplishment.”

Doin’ it with Dean

If you asked real nice and got lucky, you could have won a turn to run with Karnazes through one of this year’s TransRockies stages. He’s the author of the bestselling book “Ultramarathon Man,” and has earned the right to call himself that – or pretty much anything else he wants.

Karnazes has won the Badwater Ultramarathon, the Vermont 100-miler, and has 11 silver buckles for completing the Western States 100 in less than 24 hours.

He’s best known in athletic circles for running 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days.

Beth Risdon, 43, won a slot. She’s a runner and a writer with the Longmont Times-Call and stuck to Karnazes like glue through stage two.

“I will be trying to act like I’m not tired as we head up the first 7-mile stretch which goes from 8,000 feet to 9,300 feet,” Risdon wrote before the race.

After the stage, she was still excited.

“I only heard from the race about three weeks ago,” she wrote. “You should have seen me the day I found out. I was just incredibly excited, and he was so great to run with.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.