Take 5: Molly Mikita with Vertical Runner Breckenridge
It’s funny how moving to the Rockies can lead to a new love affair with sports.
For most of her life, Molly Mikita was a competitive swimmer, born and raised in the lake-dotted plains of Minnesota. She swam and coached competitive swimming through college, and, like many high-level swimmers, she was burnt out on pools and chlorine and early-morning practices by the time she graduated.
But, like many high-level athletes, Mikita couldn’t completely drop out of the fitness world. Racing and competing are just in her blood. At 29 years old, she moved to Summit County and picked up running to fill the pool-sized hole in her workout regimen. The sport brought new challenges — burly trails, brutalized ankles and, of course, the lung-busting altitudes in her adopted hometown of Breckenridge — but, it also brought new prospects.
In 2013, Mikita opened Vertical Runner on Main Street Breck. It’s a store for runners, by a reformed runner, with gear tailored specifically for trails and roads only found in the mountains. She boasts 15 years in the retail management industry, so while running hasn’t always been her sport of choice, she knows the ins and outs of the best gear for Summit County.
Along with outfitting Summit’s running population, Vertical Runner is also heavily involved with the wildly popular local trail running series, not to mention several trail marathons and half marathons held on Breck’s high-altitude trails, including the Breck Crest race on Aug. 29.
Now 37 years old, Mikita rarely has a chance to race anymore — it’s one downside of owning a business built around the sport you love — but she and her shop are fixtures in the local running scene. With the summer running season coming to an end, the Summit Daily News sports desk chatted with Mikita via email (She was manning the shop solo that day) for her thoughts on the Breck Crest, cool-weather running and staying fit during shoulder season.
Summit Daily News: This past weekend was the Breck Crest, one of Summit County’s only trail marathons. What’s the toughest part about running 26 miles on uneven ground?
Molly Mikita: The Breck Crest marathon is actually 23 miles, but it is very tough — do not underestimate it! I think the toughest part about the Crest is that so much of the elevation gain is in the first 6 to 7 miles, so you have to be careful not to burn yourself out early on. It is an incredibly beautiful course, one of the best in Colorado, in my opinion.
SDN: I imagine owning Vertical Runner is almost like Jeff Westcott at Maverick Sports — organizing events for everyone else really cuts into his personal race time. Do you spend more time running the shop than actually running?
MM: I don’t get much time to race or train as much as I’d like these days, but it’s OK. I stay very busy with the shop, our teams and events. I’ll jump into a race last-minute if I can, but I’m not as competitive as I used to be. That’s been an adjustment, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything! It’s great to just be out there whenever you get a chance.
SDN: Fall is definitely in the air. Where are you running this time of year?
MM: This is my favorite time of year for trail running, with the cooler temps and the beautiful fall colors. I’ll be out in French Gulch a lot, as it’s my backyard and the trails are gorgeous. But, you can’t go wrong, really, on any trails in Summit County. We are very fortunate here.
SDN: Talk about exercising in the unpredictable shoulder season between summer and winter. How can runners prepare for anything autumn throws at them, whether on the trail or on the rec path?
MM: Autumn is a great time of year to keep trail running, even if your races are done for the year. Keep that fitness you’ve worked so hard to build up over the summer months. Plus, it’s beautiful out. It’s cooler out and generally drier. It maintains your fitness from summer and gets you ready to be strong for ski season. And, also, trail running in the winter is amazing as well, so keep going all year-round.
SDN: Lungs and legs aside, what is a mountain runner’s most important asset? That could be anything: Socks, shoes, nutrition…
MM: Shoes always play a big role in giving you confidence on our rough terrain, in keeping you injury-free and so on. But, yes, having the right nutrition and hydration is important. And, one that’s almost always overlooked is cross-training and injury prevention. Little things like foam rollers and compression socks can go a long way to keeping you healthy and out on the trails.
SDN: Speaking of nutrition, what’s your go-to meal or snack before a race?
MM: If it’s a longer race, I’ll do a slice of toast with some peanut butter, or a banana. But, for shorter things, maybe just some fruit, or a pack of energy chews a little before the race.
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