Summit runners finish Grand Traverse ultramarathon near Crested Butte
DILLON — It was long, technical hikes and climbs in the Gore Range this summer that helped Dillon resident Nathan Simkowski finish as the fastest Summit County resident at last weekend’s Grand Traverse trail run in and around Crested Butte.
The Grand Traverse wasn’t the 39-year-old Chicago native’s first ultra run as he raced in the Run Rabbit Run 100-mile endurance race last year in Steamboat Springs. But unlike many other mountain athletes, Simkowski, who works in property management for Keystone Resort, said he doesn’t prefer to “train.” In the two years since he broke onto the ultra scene, he’s stayed in tip-top mountain shape by bagging difficult-to-reach peaks in the Gore Range.
“That’s a much better way for me to avoid burnout and to stay sane,” Simkowski said. “… Peak Q had tried it twice before. The Gore is a pretty small mountain range as far as base to the tops. I used to live in the Tetons, and they are much more significant mountains in terms of relief. So the tendency is to underestimate these mountains quite often. You can forget about how rugged the terrain can be. The trails are not 100% perfect out there. The route finding is not the easiest. The ridgeline from Peaks Q, R, S, T is just spectacular. That ridgeline, it frazzled me by the time I was done with it.”
It was recent experiences like these that led Simkowski to finish the modified 43.5-mile course in 10 hours, 20 minutes and 24.3 seconds, good enough for 39th place overall. But to Simkowski and Summit’s top female finisher, 18-year-old Grace Staberg of Silverthorne, the course felt longer. When the course reached the final aid station, well after it climbed to and turned around at Star Pass, Staberg said she and other racers surrounding her glanced down at their watches that said they’d already gone 43 miles.
In the end, Staberg said the race was closer to 46 or 47 miles. She completed the loop within Gunnison County in 10:43:41.68 — good enough for 49th overall and 22nd among women. Staberg, a member of the Summit Endurance Academy and U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association program, was the only female runner 18 or younger.
For Staberg, it was her first traditional race since she competed in the Power of Four ski mountaineering race in Aspen right before the COVID-19 shutdown canceled the remainder of her international racing season.
“I thought this course was a lot harder than previous years,” Staberg said. “I feel like normally you get to the top of Star Pass, and the only other climb is Taylor Pass then descending into Aspen. This year, the climbing was pretty evenly spread. There was climbing all throughout the course. It made it a bit more difficult. Also because it was lower in elevation, mostly down below tree line, it felt really hot this year.”
Simkowski described ultra racing as “a different game” and “a different way to push yourself” compared to the technical backcountry hikes and climbs he lives for. Still, it was gratifying, and he felt really good once he returned to the finish line in Crested Butte, he said.
“The heat was pretty miserable,” Simkowski said. “But … when you finish in a time (that) you don’t necessarily expect to finish in, you can’t help but be happy. I was pretty pumped at the end of that race to be done.”
“The awareness (technical backcountry hiking and climbing) gives you is huge,” Simkowski added. “So for me, personally, it’s a game changer. … You can run (in an ultra race) more comfortable and not worry about falling because you’ve been in worse places. I think that’s huge for me when I get out there in those races, to have that behind me.”
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