Consider gaining nearly 4,000 feet of elevation during a 14.5-mile ascent up one of Colorado’s legendary 14ers, but not in a car, rather while racing some of the top mountain runners in the country during the Mt. Evans Ascent which will be held on Saturday, June 14, 2014.
This annual event has a finish line at the 14,264-foot summit of Mt. Evans in Evergreen, Colorado. A sold-out field of 500 runners will line up at the start line in Echo Lake – elevation 10,600 feet – at 7:30 a.m. this Saturday.
Many of these runners will be hoping for a finish before the cutoff times, others will be vying for a coveted spot on the U.S. Long Distance Team. The top U.S. male and top U.S. female at Mt. Evans will earn an automatic berth on the 10-member team which will compete in the WMRA World Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge to be hosted by the Pikes Peak Ascent on Saturday, August 16, 2014.
“I believe this is the best field since I have been involved with the race,” said race director Darrin Eisman who has worked with the race for 15 years, first as race timer and for the past 10 years as director. “We have an amazing group of front runners, including Mario Macias (a 32-year-old Mexican citizen living in Steamboat Springs) and Stevie Kremer (a 30-year-old resident of Crested Butte), and I would not be surprised to see new course records for both men and women.”
The pair will have strong competition from Boulderites Jeffrey Eggleston, 29, Andy Wacker, 25, Jennifer Valentine, 32, Deanna Ardrey, 31, as well as 25-year-old Zach Miller and 35-year-old Peter Maksimow, both residents of Manitou Springs, who finished second and third respectively to Joseph Gray at the Vail Pass Half Marathon on June 7.
Also in contention will be two hill climbing veterans and past winners of the Pikes Peak Ascent, Brandy Erholtz, 36, Evergreen, and Simon Gutierrez, 48, Colorado Springs. Nuta Olaru, 43, Longmont, will test her mettle in her debut mountain race and, with a third-place finish at last weekend’s Garden of the Gods 10-Miler, shows she is in top road racing shape. Past champions Geofrey Terer, a Kenyan citizen living and training in Colorado Springs, and Brian Folts, 27, Lakewood, will also be in the mix as will Monica Folts, 27, Lakewood. The top elite flatlander will be Jason Bryant, 41, who lives and trains in Elkin, North Carolina.
For a little bit of past history, Eisman provided the following, “The race dates back to 1971, and has seen some amazing athletes run to the summit, including Pat Porter who flirted with the course record but never matched John Bramley's time set in 1977. Matt Carpenter set the existing men's course record in 2008, finally surpassing Bramley's mark, which stood for 31 years. Two years later, Glenn Randall also dipped under Bramley's time, but fell short of Carpenter's record. Many people believe that Macias's performance in 2011 would have been a course record run, were it not for the steady 30-50 mile per hour headwinds on that day.
“On the women's side, J'ne Day Lucore's 1990 course record stood for 18 years before being broken by Olympic Marathon gold medalist Naoko Takahashi in 2008. Since then, the course record has fallen two more times and is currently held by Kremer - the only woman to dip under two hours for the ascent.”
Asked about his expectations for this year’s race Eisman said, “I don't really go into a race with any expectations, other than giving the runners a great experience. We have a great crew, and get some amazing support from Alpine Rescue and the local ham radio club. That pretty much guarantees that everything will run smoothly.”
According to Eisman, this year may be a memorable one because Colorado received a great deal of late-season spring snow. The road just opened to the summit on May 31, and there are reports that lots of snow is still on the mountain. (Eisman was heading out for reconnaissance on the mountain post-interview to check on the conditions.)
“Weather is always the biggest factor, and can really change the race,” said Eisman, “Back in 2011, we had 50 mile-per-hour winds, in 2009, we had dense fog that almost forced us to finish the race at Summit Lake, and in 2004, a snowstorm blew in that forced the evacuation of all runners on the course.”
While weather can certainly pose a challenge to runners, the course is no walk…or run…in the park. Says Eisman, “I think the most challenging part of the course - especially for first time Mt. Evans racers - is from 11 miles to the summit. The grade stays the same, but the effects of the elevation start to kick in around that point. What makes it especially difficult, though, is that you can see the summit, and it looks so close, but the switchbacks make it feel like you are never getting there. It's probably more challenging mentally during that final three miles than it is physically.”
In spite of the inherent challenges of a race such as this, the interest level to participate remains high. “In recent years we have seen a big increase in people wanting to do the race,” said Eisman, “This year, we had our earliest sell-out ever (mid-March).”
Race start time is 7:30 a.m. The road will remain open to vehicular traffic and spectators can drive to the summit – after paying the toll – to watch their loved ones finish, but must begin their drive up the mountain prior to the start of the race, and may not stop or park anywhere in the first three miles of the run.
In addition to the two team spots up for grabs, there will be prize money awarded to the top three overall male and female finishers – $300, $150, $100 respectively, and there are bonus dollars for a course-record setting performance. The fastest male and female masters finishers (age 40+) will also win a $100 cash prize. Finisher awards and age group prizes will be presented near the start line at approximately 11 a.m.
If you didn’t get into the race this year, stay tuned for details on the 2015 event which is typically held the second or third Saturday in June. “I set our date with the Forest Service the week following the race,” said Eisman, “and we'll announce it as soon as it is approved.”