What’s better then your first mountain race of the year? Well, probably the beer you have with your friends after that mountain race, but let’s just say ‘Nothing is Better!’ I recently venture down to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, which is located just outside of Montrose, Colorado. It is the location of the Black Canyon Ascent, which is in its 41st year, and hosted by the local club, San Juan Mountain Runners. With about 2,000 feet of gain in 6 miles, this very small local race has grown in size and in competitiveness over the years, partly because of word-of-mouth and partly because Montrose has three breweries in town and they all support the race (Horsefly Brewing Co, 2 Rascals Brewing Co, Colorado Boy Pizzeria & Brewery). Maybe that is just what I, myself, attribute the growth to! Even though the race takes place on the auto road up to the National Park, don’t be deceived, these climbs are proper mountain running and you realize that after two miles. Finishing at 8,500 feet also makes you realize that.
I was invited to this race three years ago by past record holder and multiple-time champ, Simon Gutierrez, to hone our fast uphill running for races such as Mt. Evans Ascent, GoPro Mountain Games Vail Pass Half Marathon and the classic Mt. Washington Road Race. Early uphill speed translates to faster legs later in the year in other Mountain, Trail and Ultra races. I am just returning from an injury and uphill running is low impact with very high return cardiovascular system. It is good to get more bang for your buck and not destroy the body early in the season.
Multiple-time Pikes Peak Champion and record holder, Mt. Washington Champion and past USA Mountain Running Team member, Kim Dobson (aka “Queen of Uphill”), also uses this method of approach to her racing season. It seems to be serving her well, as she broke her own course record this year. As for champions, I was the two-time defending champion at this race and hoping for a hat trick, however, the night before we invited local Gunnisonian, Western State College coach and USA Mountain Running Team member, Josh Eberly, out for a beer and then to the race the next day and he proceeded to run away with the title. I had to settle for second. We now call Josh The Ringer! I guess I could be considered the Ringer when Simon invited me to race three years before. Karma is definitely at work in the Black Canyon! So much so, that this small race saw the top 5 placers as either current or past USA Mountain Team members—5th overall being Kim Dobson! It’s always fun to see big presence at a small event.
Last year the temperatures were down and a light snow graced the racers as they climbed. It was a missed course record attempt by 33 seconds, but with 41 years of history, it should be a challenge. This year we saw temperatures in the 70’s. As my first mountain race of the season, it is a good start for the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships on June 18th in Podbrdo, Slovenia. Josh will also be representing USA at the 2016 NACAC Mountain Running Champions on July 10th to be held in Guadalajara, Mexico.
I encourage you to seek out and enter local races that of been in existence for a very long time. Those are typically races that have rich history, great atmosphere and know what they are doing even if they are not be large. Hey, the race might not be large but I bet you’ll find they have a lot of character. Plus, if there is a brewery involved, you know they have a lot of character!