Sunday, March 7, 2010

Endurance Challenge at Sunlight Mountain Resort, 2/28/10

Colorado Springs' Mike Hagen had a big day of exercise last Sunday. At 30,000 vertical feet, his summative ascent over the course of 12 hours totaled more than the vertical distance from sea level to the summit of Mount Everest. He also descended 30,000 feet in the same half-day span. What's the key to bagging this kind of vertical? Climbing a very steep hill, descending full speed, and doing it again...all on skis.

Sunlight Mountain Resort's Endurance Challenge is a 12-hour event that calls on competitors to put in as many uphill/downhill laps as they can between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Each ascent is 1,500 vertical feet--so is the downhill. Racers can compete solo or with a relay team, and they can choose from a number of locomotion possibilities. I saw people skiing (uphill with climbing skins, downhill alpine style), snowshoeing, snowboarding, hiking, and running. I didn't actually see anyone crawling, but I wouldn't be suprised if it happened. The event was top-notch, and a good purse for the winner pulled in a strong field.

I struggled a bit early on, but had a strong race overall. Climbing 28,500 feet over 19 laps was good enough for third place. I was happy to pass two competitors in the last hour and finish my final lap just eight seconds before the cutoff (after a hairy, fast, in-the-dark descent)! I had my fastest descent of the race, in the dark, due to incredible lighting by an AYUP ( system mounted on my ski helmet. As soon as it got dark, I passed people left and right due to a superior lighting system. I didn't knock out Everest, but I topped K2 by 250 feet. This effort ranks among the hardest cardiovascular events I have ever undertaken, and I couldn't have done it without help.

My dad, Mark, was an incredible one-man support crew. He had skis, gear, vittles, and victuals waiting for me every single lap, and he drove home from Glenwood in a snowstorm while I slept like a rock. Thanks, Dad! Thanks also to my friend, James Kovacs, for the great training; he was a strong competitor out there as well. Team Merrell/Akali was also elemental in providing support.

My good buddy, Bernie Boettcher, happened to be bounding up and down the slopes shooting photos. Thanks for these images, Bernie! (A couple of years ago, Bernie completed a three- or four-year streak of competing at least one running race every single weekend--wow).

Up Next, James and I will compete in the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse, a backcountry ski race from Crested Butte to Aspen on March 26th.

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