A runner’s guide to the Vail Half Marathon
Vail, CO Colorado
The allure of trail running is what transformed myself from an team athlete into an endurance athlete.
Endurance, whether in team sports or individual competition, is a key component for athletic performance. On Sunday, runners will embark upon a journey that will test the limits of human endurance in the 14.5-mile, 4,020-foot elevation gain Vail Half Marathon.
The first test of your physical conditioning will come as you leave Golden Peak and begin a short but steep climb up Windsch Way. Slow and steady here. Save your energy for later in the race, and do not go out too fast.
As you approach the mountain roads, your footing will become firmer. Try to stay on the harder-packed dirt. This will give you faster leg turn-over and not stress your muscles as much as the loose dirt.
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The next two miles are a gradual climb. Use this portion of the course to relax, catch your breath, and to remind yourself why you woke up and decided to run. Remain focused on your breathing and leg turn-over, Remember to lift your heels.
As you reach Benchmark Road, your endurance will be put to the ultimate test as you begin a relentless 6-mile 3,000-foot climb. Remember that with each new step, you become closer to the top of China Bowl at 11,653 feet.
Remaining steady with your leg turn-over and focusing on your goal of finishing will be tested. However, believe in yourself and your training, and you will succeed. If your breathing is becoming too labored, keep in mind that sometimes you will be more hiking than running.
Slow down and take in the scenery. This will allow your heart rate to settle into a more comfortable range. Your reward for enduring the last 9 miles of torture awaits you as you reach China Wall and the encompassing views of Vail’s famous Back Bowls.
Vail Valley resident Ellen Miller who is a personal fitness trainer and coach for Mountain Divas at the Vail Athletic Club sums up the beauty and toughness of this course; “The Vail Half Marathon offers some of the most stunningly beautiful trail running in the nation. The beauty of running through a sea of brightly colored wildflowers on top of Vail Mountain makes the long tough climb worth it. … High-altitude trail running at its finest!”
The beauty of seeing all of the wildflowers in bloom suddenly makes you forget what you endured to reach this apex. Regain your composure, you still have roughly 5 miles to the finish. Now is the time to let your legs run freely and accomplish your goal. The course meanders past Two Elk Lodge, through Game Creek Bowl and ultimately finishes at Eagle’s Nest.
While this section of the course is not as difficult as the previous 9.5 miles, it is more technical. The loose rock and rolling profile of the single track will make your already tired quads and calves scream.
Focus your eyes ahead and stay light on your feet. When you cross the finish line, regardless of your time or place, you are all winners. Be proud of having the courage and endurance to endure what I believe to be one of the toughest trail races in the country.
For all you non-runners, the gondola is open free of charge from 8:30-930 a.m. Cheer on your loved ones.
Greg Decent writes a weekly running column for the Vail Daily.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.