Vail, Colorado: August 21, 1999
[Altitude Chart] [Results]
This is Pat Norwil calling from Vail, Colorado, home of the second annual Vail Ultra 100 off-road mountain bike race. This high altitude, fast-paced lung buster lured 450 riders from 32 states, England and Canada. Homeboy Mike Kloser, riding for Beaver Creek Resort, took the men’s title at 7:28 and some change. Boulder’s Michelle Grainger of Team Specialized finished in 9:17, setting a new course record and beating Muffy Ritz’s 1998 time by nearly a half hour.
I didn't realize that Muddy Pass was just a warm-up for the big, mind-boggling climb up June Creek. This was the last big climb: 3,600 vertical feet. That’s when the local boys showed why they let me get away from them. My oxygen-deprived brain clicked in about halfway down to the Vail Valley checkpoint three, as the stony, rain rutted descent kept my mind in check. We had 30 miles to go after passing through checkpoint three and a 3,600-foot, wind-sucking, leg-quivering climb up June Creek awaited my nagging body.
The relentless climb took the spring out of what was left of my legs and I watched the local boys come up one by one, mentally counting off the finish spots my lowland legs were giving up: eighth, ninth, 10th place. I slowly watched them ride by, leaving me to stew in the virtues of training at altitude. The welcome relief of Muddy Pass and a 20-mile, 2000-foot, rolling descent was short-lived. Pouring rain turned the red sandstone road into a tire gripping, mud slinging, interval session. I was constantly looking over my shoulder for hardened "valley boys" looking to make my life more miserable.
The last 10 miles ticked off painfully slow, but luckily most of it was downhill. I just put my head down and grinned and bared the remaining uphill sections. I was just trying to hold on and keep my 12th place status in tact to the end. Highline Sports & Entertainment put on an awesome race, the checkpoints were well manned and provided lots of encouragement. The Vail Ultra is definitely world class. From now on, I’ll be training at elevation.
Pat Norwil, MountainZone.com correspondent