Summit County triathlete takes on Vail’s GoPro Mountain Games
Ask Jaime Brede about kayaking and she’ll admit it’s not exactly her first love.
To be honest, the Summit triathlete says, she only braves the Gore Creek rapids with a boat and paddle once each year, when GoPro Mountain Games rolls through Vail with something known as the Ultimate Mountain Challenge.
“I do that once a year for this race,” Brede tells me the Thursday before the UMC begins. “I’ll probably run it the day before just for grins, to see how it is, then hope for the best.”
For the past three years, the 37-year-old Brede has joined a small group of like-minded masochists to take on the UMC. It’s a two-day, four-event trek across the best Vail Mountain has to offer, beginning on Saturday with that kayak race and a cross-country mountain bike race before ending on Sunday with a 10K trail run and time trial race up Vail Pass.
Brede’s competition this weekend is tight but fierce. The UMC has long been a favorite early-season test for male athletes like Vail’s own Josiah Middaugh, a 10-time Xterra USA National Champion who won last year’s UMC by a whopping 16 minutes. (Oddly enough, kayak is also Middaugh’s unknown at GoPro. He’s much more at home on the trail.)
The men’s start list is never long, but it’s often a cross-section of the best endurance and off-road athletes in the nation, if not the world.
The women’s field is no different, though in her first two years Brede admitted there were no more than four or five competitors vying for a podium spot.
“This is one of my favorite weekends of the year,” admits Brede, who was born in San Diego but has ties to Summit stretching back to her grandfather, himself a pioneer, as one of the first stakeholders at Arapahoe Basin.
“It’s a very rare opportunity to spend so much time with like-minded, high-level female athletes, such as myself,” she said. “It’s always been a small group.”
That changed in 2014. Brede came to Vail the Friday before the event — she hadn’t even seen the start list by then — and learned she would race against Rebecca Dussault, an Olympic cross-country skier, and Shonny Vanlandingham, the 2014 women’s Xterra National Champion. Not only was it the most stacked field in UMC history, it was also the deepest with seven competitors.
Brede ended up smack in the middle at fifth place, yet she was less than 16 minutes off from the leader and only a minute away from fourth place. And this year she’s ready to climb higher and higher, perhaps even notching her first-ever UMC podium.
“Last year was so much fun with seven of us, women I’ve known and respected and competed against for years,” Brede says. “It was a blast, and everyone came away with such a good feeling, even if we were out there duking it out.”
‘Typical Colorado girl’
But first Brede has to tackle the kayak. It’s not that she’s nervous — it’s more that she’s more comfortable actually in the water. Her first foray into organized sports was on a swim team, and for 10 years she swam competitively. Fish genes more or less ran in the family: Her dad was a Navy SEAL.
“I definitely haven’t trained for kayaking,” says Brede, who makes the most of her swimming background during Xterra outdoor swims. “But I feel like swimming preps me for the water. You use a lot of the same muscles, your lats and that, and there’s a good crossover there. The challenge is the handling skills.”
Swimming gave Brede her first taste of head-to-head competition, the more formal side of the sporting world, but she had always been drawn to the outdoors. There was skiing and horseback riding as a kid, followed by rock climbing while earning a business degree at Ft. Lewis College and finally mountain biking when she moved permanently to Breckenridge in 2002.
“I grew up as a typical Colorado girl,” Brede says. “I’ve always been super high-energy, doing swim team and jumping on the trampoline and skiing. I never wanted to go to bed.”
About five years back Brede dove full-bore in the triathlon world, beginning with the off-road Xterra series. She’s now a pro, sponsored by Giant Bicycles and Primal Wear clothing through her coaching gig with the Summit County edition of The Cycle Effect, a female-only mountain biking team for in-need high school students. After 15 years in Summit, she’s fallen in love with the mountains and trails and her Cycle Effect protégés. Simply living in the mountains fuels her inner Colorado girl.
“One of the reasons I’m having a hard time leaving here is that this is the lifestyle,” Brede says. “Being active is the norm. The community really values the active lifestyle and sports — everybody walks the walk. It’s who they genuinely are and that’s who I genuinely am. It’s a natural fit.”
By now, Brede is no stranger to the demands of a multi-day, multi-stage race like the UMC. She’s finished several multi-stage bike races, including the EPIC Mountain Challenge in Pagosa Springs, and she raced in Breck’s The Fall Classic when it was a stage race.
“It has taken me a lifetime to get to where I am right now,” Brede says. “I’ve been racing as a pro for almost five years now, and with each year comes heightened awareness. It’s to the point where you can almost turn your brain off and let your body know what to do.”
But the UMC holds more than a few surprises. One is preparation: With four entirely different events — running, mountain biking, road biking and kayaking — competitors have to prep four different sets of gear. She and her peers may be pros, but they aren’t exactly MLB players on multi-million dollar salaries. Brede’s locker room is the back of her Subarbu.
“We are athletes with a lot of support, because we are pros, but we’re still mountain athletes,” Brede says. “We have to deal with logistics of two different bikes, your mountain bike and your road bike, along with the rest of the gear. That can be the most exhausting part, just prepping everything for race day.”
Can Brede predict how she’ll place this year, or is venturing a guess two days in advance bad juju?
“I don’t underestimate any of my competition at this place in my career,” Brede says of her UMC competition. “Everyone is a contender, and that’s what makes it challenging. You’re going up against World Champions and Olympians here, people who have taken their sport to the next level, so you really have to be on top of your game.”
By the time you read this, Brede will likely be on the Gore Creek start line in East Vail, ready to top her 2014 performance. But she has another, more modest goal before then.
“You just hope to stay upright,” she laughs. “If I can do that I’ll be fine.”
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