Wissot: No rocking chair for these old folks
I ran the Vail HillClimb over the July 4 weekend. It’s not the first time I’ve run it. Counting the number of race T-shirts in my closet, it looks like I have 13 times. That means I missed 30 other times, because the race celebrated its 43rd running this year.
The race begins by the Covered Bridge in Vail Village and takes the runners up mostly Forest Service roads for 7.7 miles to just below the gondola in Mid-Vail. The altitude gain is a little over 2,000 feet. I said mostly Forest Service roads for a reason. This year, because of the road construction taking place between Eagles Nest and Mid-Vail, the last half mile or so took place on singletrack.
I’m not much of a runner to begin with, and the singletrack is to me as Kryptonite was to Superman: my worst nemesis. I just need to look at a tree root and I’m guaranteed to trip over it.
But I digress. This column isn’t about me. It’s about the 14 other men and women in my age group (70 to Death) who joined me on the climb that day. These 12 septuagenarians and two octogenarians were there to prove that the young at heart don’t need to be confined to a comfy chair reading a nice book. Doing something physically hard is not only for the young of body.
Having said that, please let me make it clear that there is no beneficial health reason for a person over 70 to be running up a hill at altitude. Running does not increase your life expectancy. Some of the greatest marathoners in history did not make it out of their 60s and 70s. A brisk walk in a park or swimming laps in a pool done on a regular basis offers older people many of the cardio benefits needed to remain healthy.
I should note that not all 15 of us were running up the hill. Some of us definitely were and I’ll get to them in a bit. But the majority of us, including yours truly, chose other means of locomotion. Many ran the flatter portions of the course, of which there were precious few, and walked or hiked the hills. Others felt they had a better chance of getting to the top by dispensing with running altogether, and simply walked the entire distance.
Me? I opted for fast walking, though in my case using the word “fast” is debatable, and then when the climbs got steeper and steeper, switched to lumbering my way up. I was fortunate to be feeling good because when I’m not, lumbering can quickly turn into stumbling, or worse, bumbling aimlessly around like a man lost in the desert searching for a water hole. A very disturbing sight indeed.
I am happy to report that all fifteen of us made it to the finish line. Some much faster than others. A big shoutout, therefore, to Richard Katz and Frank Kunkel. Richard finished in a scintillating time of 1 hour, 19 minutes, 4 seconds, and Frank followed behind in 1:35:46. I’d rather not report how far behind them I was. Let’s just say that Richard and Frank had time for a quick shower and a light lunch before returning to watch me finish.
I don’t know either of these gentlemen. But I sure do admire their running talent and training ethic.
On the distaff side (I’m hoping that word has something to do with women because I sure liked using it), kudos to Peggy Nicholls and Gail Scoby, who finished first and second, as well as to the three other women in their age division who also made it to the top.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention three outstanding age-70-plus male runners — Tom Edwards of Gypsum, Jim Mykleby from Leadville and Marlin Smickley who lives in Edwards.
Tom and Jim are stalwart competitors, have run the course many more times than I have, and are usually standing at the finish line ready to greet me each year.
Marlin is no stranger to readers of this paper. He was written up a year ago at this time in the Vail Daily because he celebrated his 80th birthday on the day of last year’s race. He was back at it this year and for local runners is seen as an inspirational treasure.
In fact, I’d like to close this column by telling you that when people ask me if I’m going to run next year’s hill climb, I will answer in the affirmative. The way I see it is if Marlin can do it at 82, I sure as heck can muster the motivation to do it at 75.
It’s how us runners think.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is it our time management skills that need a little work, or is the enemy time compression?