Headline: Running with Blondie Vucich
At an age when many people begin to slow down, longtime local Blondie Vucich did just the opposite. She developed a new passion in her life.
She began running.
Vucich, born Karen Murphy in the small New England town of St. Johnsbury, Vt in 1949, moved to Vail, via Denver and Boulder, in 1972.
Like many Vail residents, she came up to the mountains to spend a winter in a ski town before returning home. And, like many, she never left, working numerous jobs to keep her in the up-and-coming Town of Vail.
“I did a number of different things at first,” said Vucich. “I taped drywall for a year, then I waited tables at Pistachio’s (now Vendetta’s), where I met my husband. I worked for the Humane Society and ran my own retail business selling lingerie. I was also a dental hygienist for the only dentist in town at the time.”
She married her husband Tom Vucich in 1977 at the Vail Chapel. That marriage, combined with her hair color, is how she got the name she goes by today.
The two continued working a variety of jobs to support themselves and to make enough money to buy a house and call Vail home permanently.
She began running in her mid-40s. Initially, the sport provided her with a source of exercise for the body and mind.
“My fitness was already pretty good,” said Vucich. “I had been cycling a lot, riding up Vail Pass regularly on my bike with my son (Peter, now 15) in a Burley Trailer in tow.”
As she continued racking up the miles running on her own, with friends and in local competitions, the challenges that presented themselves in running initiated a change in her approach to the sport. She began to take things a little more seriously.
“At first, I would run the Vail HillClimb and feel horrible and not do that well,” said Vucich. “Then I thought, “If I train for this I might feel better.’ After that, the HillClimb led to the Piney Half (Marathon), and some of the other races in the Vail Running Series. I didn’t run my first marathon until I was 48, after a friend encouraged me to do it.”
Getting such a late start, it would have been hard to predict the amount of success that Vucich has had in her short running career. However, she credits her late start for keeping her fresh and “feeling great.”
“I’m not broken down from a lifetime of running and training,” said Vucich.
This year has been a banner year for the local runner, now 54-years young. She won the 50-59 year-old-age group in the Vail Hill Climb and the Vail Half Marathon, as well as the 50-54 year-old-age group in the Pikes Peak Ascent, a hill climb of more than 7,000 vertical feet. Her season was highlighted by an 11th-place finish in her age group at the Boston Marathon, crossing the finish line in 3 hours,34 minutes.
Pretty impressive considering that that group consisted of more than 500 competitors. She also discovered a newfound secret to success at a pre- marathon seminar.
“I went to a running workshop before the marathon,” said Vucich. “I asked (professional marathoner) Greta Weitz what her drink of choice was on the course. She said she liked flat Coca-Cola. So, at mile-21, at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill, Tom handed me a little bottle with flat Coke in it. I don’t know if it was mental, but it felt like rocket fuel and just propelled me to the top.”
Mike Ortiz, race director for the Teva Vail Mountain Running Series, has become accustomed to seeing Vucich propelling to the top.
“I’ve known Blondie for over ten years now, and she always finishes near the front, regardless of age group,” said Ortiz. “She’s always out training, and she has a really great attitude towards the sport and life. Attitude affects the way you run, and that’s why she’s so strong.”
While competing is an important part of running for Vucich, it is obvious in talking to her that the time she spends on the trail with friends is the most valuable to her.
“I think I run for my head as much as my heart,” said Vucich. “We have a group of women who run Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It’s a very diverse group of women with a wide age range. The running group has been as supporting and uplifting for me as the competition. Relationships with friends and family have a lot to do with the strength I find when running.”
Setting goals for one’s self and having fun trying to reach those goals is something Vucich would encourage everyone to do. Especially those of us fortunate to live in such a special place like Vail.
“Living in Vail, where there are so many places to choose from when running, it’s amazing,” said Vucich. “You have to keep pushing yourself and raising the bar for yourself. It’s also important to have fun taking care of yourself and doing something you love. If you don’t reach the goals you’ve set, try again. If you do, set new ones.”
David L’Heureux is freelance writer based in Vail.