Eagle’s Ortiz sets American record in mountain running race
Ortiz, a 38-year-old mother of four and one of the most accomplished athletes in the valley, led her four-person American team to a ninth-place finish out of 41 teams, taking 11th individually.
“It was an incredible experience racing with that level of competition,” Ortiz said Monday night from Denver, where she and husband Mike (VRD sports director) were eagerly awaiting their luggage. “I was telling Mike, I was looking around and I can’t believe there’s this many women in this good of shape. How did I make it here? That’s the neat thing.”
Ortiz made it by winning a team selection race on June 9. She ended up winning all the U.S. selection races this summer, but didn’t expect a top-11 performance Saturday.
“I am real pleased,” she said. “I was shooting for top 25. The finish area was at the very top of a ski area, in a grassy, rocky field. You had to climb over a gate S it was really neat. There were cows and sheep all over. Ten seconds from the finish, I passed a Czech Republic gal and a woman from France. The Czech Republic runner was the only person to beat me in a race this season, so I was glad to beat her.”
Teams of four competed in the mass-start format, with each team’s top-three finishes counting toward the team total. Ortiz finished the 9.8-kilometer course in 56 minutes, 57 seconds for 11th place, the best ever finish by an American woman. Teammate Julie Bryan from Jackson, Wyo., was 34th, and Telluride’s Kari DiStefano was 37th. Fourth teammate Nikki Kimball from Vermont, a prominent Ultra racer, was 56th, but her score did not count toward the U.S. total.
DiStefano had the previous best U.S. women’s finish, 22nd last year.
The race course climbed 1,600 vertical meters. A racer from Russian won the race in 52 minutes, 16 seconds, while Italy won the team competition.
“We got there a couple days ahead to get over the jet leg,” Ortiz said. “It was pouring rain and freezing cold. But the sun came out that day, so it was awesome.
“The course was fast at the beginning, just a slight incline, then it got to be a pretty steep incline at 2 kilometers, but still was on a trail, hard-packed gravel, so it was still fast.”
Ortiz excelled in the steeper, rockier sections up top.
“That’s my best thing, that’s where I started to pick up the pace,” she said.
Ortiz, who manages to fit in four hours of training a day while keeping an eye on her 9-year-old, 7-year-old and 5-year-old twins, will compete next weekend in the Colorado Relay for a Beaver Creek team. In January, she’ll head to Italy for a World Cup snowshoeing race.
Today, she’ll savor her mountain running accomplishment. A day after finishing 11th in the main race, she won the women’s event in a more casual race, up an even more challenging course. Ortiz is targeting a return to the Igls event next year.
“I hope so,” she said. “You have to make the team every year, so I have to keep working hard.”