Independence Day Kick-off at the Dynafit Vail HillClimb

It’s July and that means trail, mountain and ultra running are in full swing both nationally and internationally! On July 2nd on the U.S. east coast, the USATF Mountain Running Championships at Whiteface Mountain in New York’s Adirondack Mountains decided the US Mountain Running Team, as Tabor Hemming and Andy Wacker captured national championship titles. While on July 4th on the opposite side of the country, in the last frontier of Seward, Alaska, the country’s oldest (94 years!), perhaps shortest (5K!) and quite possibly the most grueling mountain race (3,000+ feet gain/loss!), Mount Marathon, saw the ageless Max King capture his second title and ATRA’s very own Allie McLaughlin literally run away from the women’s field to demolish Swedish athlete Emelie Forsberg’s strong course record, as she reached the summit of Mount Marathon and back down to the finish line faster than any other women in history!

Independence Day weekend of 2022 was kicked off bright and early on Saturday, July 2, in Vail, Colorado with the Dynafit Vail HillClimb on the slopes of Vail Resort in the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. More than 300 runners lined up in Vail Village in the crisp morning air, but were quickly greeted by the intense sun rising over the eastern ridges. Participants were challenged by the 7.7-mile course, starting at an elevation of 8,150 feet, ascending almost 2,200 feet on the service roads to culminate at Mid-Vail, elevation 10,335 feet.

Janelle Lincks. Photo: Peter Malksimow.

Perennial Vail athlete, Josiah Middaugh (pictured top of page), pulled away to an early lead, only to extend it as the race progressed. He reached the finish line first in a time of 57:54, with a comfortable 32-second buffer over runner-up Rich Sanchez of Louisville, CO (58:06), and Davide Giardini of Boulder, CO (58:55). Middaugh, who is a GoSleeves (ATRA Switchback member) athlete, is a 15-time XTERRA Triathlon USA National Champion, a 6-time USSSA National Snowshoe Champion, among many other accolades and is extremely familiar with the Vail Valley, as it is his home training ground, and where he is now being legitimately challenged by his two very talented teenage sons, Sullivan and Porter.

On the women’s side, the 2020 Vail HillClimb champion, Janelle Lincks of Thornton, CO stormed out to a commanding lead and, much like Middaugh, continued to open the gap over the rest of the field as they ascended the service road until she crossed the finish line in Mid-Vail in a time of 1:02:26. Following almost two and a half minutes (1:04:55) behind Lincks was Obstacle Course Race World Champion, Nicole Mericle of Boulder, CO, who ruptured her ACL just over a year ago in an OCR race and underwent reconstructive surgery, using a section of her quad tendon to repair the damage. She was overjoyed to be back out and competing after a long recovery process. Kristin Layne of Aspen, CO rounded out the podium in a time of 1:07:18.

Lincks, who is gardener by trade and inov-8 ambassador, burst onto the scene in 2020 and felt an immediate pull to the trails after the strict training and injury issues related to track and road running. In 2021, she solidified her place amongst the best in the sport with a win at the Golden Trail Series and Cirque Series races. Recently battling small injuries and a disappointing race at the Broken Arrow Skyrace 26K, where she was the defending champion and course record holder from 2021, she seems to be back in her front-running form leading into the summer.

Although the competitive racing up front was exciting, perhaps the most impressive performance of the day belonged to that of 72-year-old Sally Clair of Edwards, CO. Clair didn’t run a PR, nor did she win her age group–although she did place second in the 70-79 age group with a time of 2:07:48–but she accomplished what no other person in race history has been able to accomplish by running every single Vail HillClimb for the past 46 years, since its inception in 1976!

Photo: Peter Maksimow.

Catching up with Clair after the race, I ask how she was able to get to the start line–and finish–every race for the past 46 years. “I don’t know, I just keep showing up year after year and keep the streak going.” Running is a method of meditation for her, “It allows me to get into the mountains and turn my mind off.”

The motivation behind Clair’s running is the group of women she trains with in the Vail Valley. They encourage each other and share a bond that only aging athletes can understand. She comes from a competitive running background and divulged to me, “When I couldn’t do it anymore, I had to find another outlet.” The streak was a challenge that she could undertake without worrying about comparing herself to her competitive past, which is often a huge mental battle for a high-caliber athlete.

Congratulations to Sally on a very impressive 46 year streak. When you are handed challenges in life, just remember her mantra, “gotta keep doing it!”

Photo: Peter Maksimow.

Women’s podium

  1. Janelle Lincks, 28 (Thornton, CO) 1:02:26
  2. Nicole Mericle, 34 (Boulder, CO) 1:04:55
  3. Kristin Layne, 38 (Aspen, CO) 1:07:18

Men’s podium

  1. Josiah Middaugh, 43 (Vail, CO) 57:54
  2. Rich Sanchez, 26 (Louisville, CO) 58:26
  3. Davide Giardini, 34 (Boulder, CO) 58:55

Complete Race Results [PDF]

More photos by Peter Maksimow.

Photo: Peter Maksimow.

The Dynafit Vail HillClimb is part of the 2022 Dynafit Trail Running Series, which consists of seven races taking place from June through September.

Dynafit is a ATRA Steep & Rocky member and Vail Rec District is an ATRA Single-track member. VRD’s Dynafit Vail Trail Running Series are ATRA Events Standards certified races for exceeding measurements in safety, well-marked courses, timely results and awards, environmental responsibility and excellent communication with racers prior to the event.

[PRO TIP: Want more Vail HillClimb coverage? Check out Tayte Pollmann’s article about the 2020 race.]