Mt. Evans Ascent a rewarding way to start the season |

Mt. Evans Ascent a rewarding way to start the season

SUMMIT COUNTY – Some people feel throwing themselves into the fire is the best way to train, and what better way to do that than throwing themselves up a 14,000-foot mountain in a running race early in the season?

The annual Mt. Evans Ascent begins at 8 a.m. Sunday and takes runners 14 1/2 miles from Echo Lake up to the summit of the 14,265-foot peak along the highest paved road in North America.

“It’s a challenge,” said Dillon resident Tike Maez, 41, who will be competing in his fifth Mount Evans Ascent and has done several marathons and other difficult high-altitude running races, including the Pikes Peak and Breckenridge Crest marathons.

“Most of it is uphill, and after you hit Summit Lake, you’re over 11,000 feet, and that’s when the hard run really starts,” Maez said. “I enjoy it because you get to get out and see things from the top of the mountain.”

The YMCA launched the race in 1971 with about 30 competitors. Local adventure racing champion Danelle Ballengee took over event organization in 1996 with her company, I’m Crazy Events.

“It inspires a lot of people to get out there and start their early season training,” she said. “A lot of people don’t take it super seriously, they just get out there and have fun. The majority of the people use it as a good, hard training day – an opportunity to get some high-altitude running. It’s good camaraderie, too. To be honest, I wouldn’t keep organizing it each year if it weren’t for the great feedback I get from the runners.”

The record time for the race, which draws racers from all over Colorado as well as a few national and international competitors, is 1 hour, 46 minutes. Summit County resident Bob Cottrell did the race for the first time last year and said his secret is clearing his head of expectations beforehand.

“What’s ironic is, this race took me nearly three hours, and I’ve done some marathons in about 3:20,” Cottrell said. “It was harder than I thought it would be. I don’t think I’m greatly ready for this particular event. I won’t bring any big expectations.”

There are four aid stations along the course, which, despite gaining almost 4,000 feet, has some forgiving sections.

“It’s a real gradual climb,” Ballengee said. “You don’t hit anything super steep. Right in the middle of the race, there’s a couple sections where it flattens out and almost goes downhill. The higher you get, the harder it gets. You have four hours; you can walk most of it as long as you’re walking fast. Most people do a run/walk combination.”

About 200 competitors turned out for last year’s event. Ballengee said some competitors enter the race to see if they can handle running at high altitude to prepare for races such as Pikes Peak and the Breck marathon, both of which take place in August. Cottrell said the race is good preparation for trail-running because it prepares his legs for uphill without dealing with obstacles presented on a trail run or race.

“In some phases, I found myself more efficient walking,” he said. “I passed some people attempting to run up the steeper sections. You want to shorten your stride but you want to maintain the same tempo. It makes a fun race for this occasion because you don’t have to worry about the trail, and passing people in (narrow) sections. It is definitely a quad burner and a calve burner.”

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