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Ultimate Mountain Challenge proves extreme

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL – As one Teva Mountain Games announcer put it, he’d rather give a friend the registration money and get hit in the face with a sledgehammer for two days than attempt the Ultimate Mountain Challenge.

The Challenge – an uphill, road bike time trial, a 10K trail run up and down Vail Mountain, a kayak down-river sprint or stand-up paddle surf sprint, and a cross-country mountain bike race on Vail Mountain – is the ultimate test of athleticism and endurance.

The kind of athletes up for this challenge are people like Kelley Cullen, of New Castle, who said she was “looking forward to the hill climb” within minutes of finishing the 10K trail run. She hadn’t even caught her breath back yet.

Cullen won the Ultimate Mountain Challenge for the women. She knew she was on the right track after Saturday’s kayak race, her weakest event.

“I thought, if I stay in my boat, a win might be possible,” Cullen said. “Finishing top three (overall) was my goal.”

Sari Anderson, who finished second overall for the women, was surprised at how tired she was after Sunday’s 10K, the second-to-last event in the Mountain Challenge. It still wasn’t clear after the run whether she or Cullen would end up on top overall.

“(The 10K) starts out on the flat road and then it goes straight up the ski area and I didn’t have the legs for that today,” Anderson said. “After mountain biking yesterday and running a 50K (trail run) last weekend, it was just relentless. I think I’m a little more spent than I thought I was going to be.”

Anderson had just one hour to calm down from the run before she began the uphill time trial.

“I’ll be warmed up at least,” Anderson said.

Gretchen Reeves, who came in third overall, struggled on the trail run and lost a lot of time. Anderson said Reeves has been running and riding really strong, but she just didn’t run quite as well as Cullen.

“I think I’m just a little beat from the cross-country race yesterday,” Reeves said. “I ran as best as I could, and you know some days that’s all you can do.”

On the men’s side, Josiah Middaugh and Travis Macy headed into Sunday’s 10K trail run neck and neck. Middaugh ran strong and felt a boost of confidence after the race.

“I’m feeling pretty good. I was pretty much tied with Travis coming into this event and I think I put a little bit of time on him, so I’ve got a little bit of a buffer,” Middaugh said.

Macy agreed that he just didn’t have the speed he normally has on the downhill part of the run.

“It’s never over. Something could happen on the time trial – a mechanical issue,” Macy said. “I feel pretty strong on my bike – just got to go out there and go as hard as I can for 10 miles up the mountain. We’ll see.”

Macy felt confident that Middaugh was his only real threat, as the two had a good gap over the rest of the competitors after Saturday’s events.

“But that said, you know, you can never ease up,” Macy, who ended up finishing second overall, said. “A technical issue or a flat tire or whatever. With these races, you think it would be spread way out, but it really comes down to seconds, so you can never ease up.”

Middaugh ended up in first place overall for the men after coming from behind after the first event, the kayak down-river sprint. Middaugh chose a sit-on-top kayak for that event, which is slower, but safer, he said.

He knew he could make up some time with the run, though, which is his strongest discipline.

His strategy for the overall win was simple – just do each event one at a time and try to be as competitive as possible in each race.

“It worked out,” Middaugh said. “Every event was tough – the mountain bike race, the trail run and the time trial were just suffer fests.”

But Middaugh suffered through it and came out on top doing what he loves most – competing.

“It’s all about pushing your limits, testing yourself,” he said. “It’s just the thrill of competition.”

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at lglendenning@vaildaily.com.


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