It was another stellar summer morning with mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-60s (after a little rain in the days before) and a near-full corral of runners began the 12-mile, 3,400 vertical foot trek to the top of Mt. Werner. The race website: (http://runningseries.com/races/mt_werner_classic.php) claims the course actually climbs 4,775' because of the multiple uphill and downhill sections along your way to the summit. I read once that a 1,000' climb is like running an extra mile. To call this race a challenge is no understatement.
I arrived early enough to see neighbor and friendly runner Bronwyn Rittner in the parking lot and walked down to the registration tent. Because I registered early enough, my race number was pre-printed with my name on it. I thought that was a cool, classy touch for the Race Director to think of. I did a little warm up running with local speedster, Harry Niedl (ended up finishing 3rd, 1:49:45) and let him know my plan was to start really slow and save as much as I could for later. My only goal was to beat last year's time of 2:06:04.
At the start, I stayed true to myself and started slowly, settling in with a pack of runners as we headed up Right of Way towards the bottom of Thunderhead lift. From there, we got on the dirt road up to snowmaking, instead of taking the single track. This was a detour from last year's course due to a mudslide that happened in the spring. As we approached the first view of the valley from the top of Bashor Bowl, I ran with Roy Cardwell from Vail, who I met at last year's race and we talked for a bit. Roy's running the Leadville Trail 100 in a couple of weeks. We got to talk for a while after the race, too, which was really nice. He says he'll be back next year. I hope so. We passed the first aid station at the Snowmaking Building and hopped on the Valley View trail to do the first section of serious climbing (of course, I say this after we have already grunted our way up a solid 7-800'). The weather was so nice and cool in the shady aspens. I ran with the two women's leaders (Nancy Citriglia and Kelly Bedell) for a little while, then pushed ahead once we got near some of the downhill sections. I caught Duke Barlow from Breckenridge just before the climb up Moonlight but he passed me as I hiked up a steep section and then got away from me. I was relieved once the course got to Duster because I knew that we had a relatively tame climb to Rendezvous on a mile plus dirt road. Nancy Citriglia of Winter Park was now the women's leader (went on to finish first in 2:03:46) came on strong here and passed me on Duster. At Rendezvous, the course runs down a dirt road to the bottom of Sunshine Lift and then, begins the gnarly 2ish mile climb to the summit on Pete's Wicked Trail. I was able to see the two runners in front of me on the occasional switchback, so even though I really started to feel beat, I had a goal in mind of staying somewhat close to them. I couldn't quite find a rhythm on the climb. Pete's is a pretty technical trail with water, rocks, logs, a bit of everything. And it's relentlessly steep. I checked my watch at one point and I had been running for 1 hour and 38 minutes, so I ate a Honey Stinger gel to give me a boost. It helped a little but, if not for the amazing wildflowers and the jaw-dropping view at the top of Sunshine Liftline, it would have felt like a bit of a death march to the summit. Once within sight of the top of Storm Lift, I was able to get my second wind, ready for a 2.5 mile downhill run to the gondola. Local runner, Mike Hlavacek, was at the summit aid station with some encouragement and a pitcher of water or margarita. Your choice. I thought he was joking at the time but found later that Nick Sunseri (local running stud and winner of this year's race in 1:41:19) and Roy had both taken Mike up on his offer. (Not for me, thanks.) On the descent, I just went for broke and clipped off my fastest downhill effort my legs could take. First, I passed a Chevy Suburban and, eventually, caught Nancy as I cruised down Storm Peak Challenge but she still managed to stay close behind me. Less than a mile from the finish, I see Eddie Rogers (Steamboat) running in Vibram Five Fingers and I really want to catch him at the end. I definitely had pace on him and I was feeling good. That is, until he saw me chasing him and kicked it down another gear. The final 400 yards or so of the race is another unforgiving dirt road climb up to the gondola and I was completely gassed. His strong stride indicated that he had more left than I did. He finally disappeard around a bend just before the finish and I did all I could to end with a smile.
Yes! Another wonderful time running a great race and I even PR'd the course with a time of 2:03:34 (Shooting to go under 2 hrs. next year and I managed to keep my top 10 streak intact by finishing 8th because a couple of real fast guys didn't run today.) I stuck around for a while, ate a little food and talked about trail running with a few of the other runners. It was a super beautiful day and I was glad to hang out at the top of the gondola with a bunch of people who had just run the same, awesome course. Everyone was just really in sync and friendly, so the event had a really positive vibe. Great time. The Race Directors, Emily Conjura and Cara Marrs, did an incredible job of putting on a Zero Waste Event. The course was well-marked and well-managed. I'm already looking forward to next year. This race is definitely a Classic.