It’s more than a HalfMarathon
By definition, a half marathon is 13 miles, 192.5 yards and that is usually on a relatively flat road course.
The Teva Vail HalfMarathon? Well, it goes big.
Sunday’s race took runners 14.5 miles up (up and up) from Golden Peak and across the mountain, finishing by the gondola.
An extra mile and change isn’t too bad, I guess. After all, when the first nine or ten miles of the race are uphill, it takes a little extra time to get down.
In case you didn’t get that, for about 10 miles, racers climbed about 3,400 feet. Demoralizing? Maybe. Worthwhile? Totally. But the only way to really understand how enjoyable (in its own special way) and how gratifying it is, you need to labor through all 14.5 miles of it for yourself.
When I asked the Vail Recreation District’s Brian Doyon how the course was, he emphasized the awesome views from the top of Vail Mountain. I took his word for it, and thought it would be a great race to try.
Brian was right ” the views were outstanding. Getting to the views was another story, however. I didn’t really know what I was in for, and some of the fellow competitors seemed to be in the same boat (like the couple who was arguing over who convinced whom to race). We made our way up the jeep track that started from Golden Peak, winding around the eastern front face of the mountain, turn after turn, climb after climb. There were some advantages to the route we took, like how you couldn’t really see the top of the trail, so you had no idea quite when it ended.
There were signs at each mile mark, although I could swear that I ran two miles to get from mile three to mile four and two-and-a-half to get from four to five. I would very much like to thank the racers on whose heels I dragged myself up the mountain, but I only know what your shoes look like.
Finally, after an entire playlist on my iPod, I made it to the third aid station, around mile 9, where the views emerged from the tress and you could see snow-capped peaks for miles. ‘Could.’ I was concentrating on not passing out.
I’ve always been amazed and awed by the number of world-class athletes living in our County and the state. But when I entered a race with some of them and get to see them in action, I gained a newfound respect. (Note: By see in action, I mean see them stretching at the start and in the finish area, breathing easy).
During the long climb, I thought about a lot of things to try and keep my mind occupied. I translated phrases into Spanish. I tried to solve simple math equations. And then I wondered how the heck some do some of the racers make it up the mountain so quickly? And how do they do it on a consistent basis, weather training during the week or every weekend at a race (or two in some cases). Mostly out of respect for them, I told myself I couldn’t stop.
When I crossed the finish line and limped over to the results sheet, I had no idea how the top runners had done, but got my laughing face ready to see how they had crushed the course that crushed my spirit.
Bernie Boettcher, 44, had come in at 1 hour, 48 minutes and 14 seconds ahead of Peter Williams, 46, 1:50.05 and Andy Ames, 44, 1:51.10. Then there was Anita Ortiz, 43, who topped all women at 2:06.27. The funny thing is, Ortiz is training for longer races, like 50 and 100-mile ones. So this was kind of like a warmup for her.
Setting up a half marathon is no easy endeavor. Setting one up on a mountain for about 200 racers? That’s commitment. The Vail Recreation Department doesn’t have to organize a half marathon, but I think I speak for all the racers when I say thanks. Yeah, I got my butt kicked, but I don’t think there are too many chances to pump down a singletrack on the edge of China Bowl and Sunup Bowl through wildflowers in a competitive setting. Heck, we even got to rappel down a rocky cliff. There were five aid stations ” which usually isn’t the case for national half marathons with a field of thousands of runners “, plenty of support staff, including Search and Rescue, physical therapists to realign your body and plenty of food and fluids at the finish line.
And as Mike Ortiz, the executive director of the VRD, explained at the post-race awards, the entire trail running series came about thanks to the late Lyndon Ellefson, who suggested to Ortiz that there were plenty of great trails on which to run. I think we all owe a debt of gratitude to Ellefson for giving us a chance to experience just how beautiful the mountains can be in the summer.
During the awards, Ortiz called out the names and ages of top division finishers. Having seen race results before, I recognized some of the names. But when I heard that 58-year-old Blondie Vucich ran the race in 2:39:33, or 67-year-old Jim Romero came in at 2:44.41, and then I saw them walk up without a hitch in their gate, collect their prize and sit back down, I smiled thinking, that when I grow up, I want to be just like them.
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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.