The Jupiter Peak Steeplechase is a 16 mile, high altitude mountain race held in Park City Utah and is part of the La Sportiva Mountain Cup Series. The race is a mixture of ski resort service roads and single track trail.
The first half of the race is grinding uphill that leads to a crushing, chin scraping ascent. The second half of the race is a downhill rush to the finish line, assuming you have something left in your legs.
Course Map and Profile
Me and Leon Pre-Race
Leon and I have quite a history together and we've shared a lot of fun adventures. I was excited to spend some quality time with him on the trail again.
I had three very serious goals for this race:
1. Finish the race on fresh legs so recovery would be easy
2. Run every step with Leon
3. Find things to laugh about along the way
As it turns out, I achieved all three goals but there were times when laughter was pretty scarce.
The race starts at 8:00 AM, which is way too late in the day. I arrived at 7:00 for packet pickup and it was already far warmer than I had anticipated. This situation was only made worse by a 15 minute delay in the start time. Annoying.
Me and Leon Headed into the Mountains
Large Field of Runners Headed Up
The race started out on a rocky dirt road and made a pretty aggressive ascent right away. We kept an easy pace and I continuously glanced over my shoulder to make sure Leon was tight on my heels. He always was.
We turned off the dirt road and started a gradual climb on some pretty sweet single track. I love running in through the aspens.
Pretty Sweet Single Track
The race continued to alternate between trail and dirt roads. The roads tended to be steeper and the trails allowed some time to regain the feeling in my legs. Nonetheless, we were constantly running uphill.
Not long into the race, it was really getting warm. There were times we were well shaded, but there was a lot of uncovered, exposed running. It was getting hot out and I started to sweat like George Zimmerman at a Jay-Z concert.
I elected to run with a single handheld filled with water and Hammer Endurolyte Fizz. The weather was supposed to be cool and comfortable. This wasn't a good situation but I couldn't do anything about that now.
Our First Big Peak in the Distance
Leon and I were grinding away on the hills and doing a pretty good job of it. Around mile 5, we were running up a steep road section that was well shaded, so we pushed the pace a bit. We hopped over to the left side of the road and started dropping runners at a steady rate. As we cruised past one laboring runner, he looked over at us and muttered "Holy Shit...". We got a good laugh out of that once we were out of earshot. We were feeling good, running strong and having fun.
At mile 7, we begin the real ascent. The first section is a brutal hike and then transitions to a hand over hand scramble to the top. This section is made worse by the terrible footing on the loose rock. There were places where staying on the mountain was difficult, let alone making upward progress.
I found nothing to laugh about at this point.
A Bit of Chin Scraping Here
View on the Way UP
Leon Grinding Away on the Climb
An uninformed runner would assume this was the peak. It wasn't. This was merely a false summit that led to the actual peak. But first, we had to run down a steep hill and make another grueling climb.
Still no laughing here...
We bombed down the hill and made another slow ascent to the top of the REAL Jupiter Peak. This climb was actually much easier than the climb to the false summit, but it still kinda sucked.
View from the Top of Jupiter Peak
No race report is complete without some misadventure. So here it is...
Once we finally reached the top of the peak, several of us continued along the trail and then dropped off the other side. This was an extremely technical downhill and the footing was terrible. We were running, skipping and sliding all the way to the bottom.
Once we got all the way down, we met a trail intersection that was unmarked. I have enough experience with this to know what we just did...
I turned and looked back up the hill, and sure enough, people were waving at us to let us know we missed the turn.
The turn we missed was at the very top of the peak we just slid off of.
There was no way I was going back up the hill we just came down. Nope. Not doing it.
I noticed a gated dirt road behind us and surmised it would meet up with the trail at some point. With very few options, we began a long ascent back to the trail.
After a tough climb, we noticed some runners crossing the road we were on. None of these runners looked familiar. Probably because we had just lost about 100 spots during our little excursion.
If I wasn't serious about this race before, I definitely wasn't serious about it now. We had no chance of getting back to where we were and we had lost a big chunk of time.
I forced myself to laugh a little...
Back on the RIGHT TRAIL
The descent went pretty well but I was feeling dehydrated and had to run at a slower pace than I had planned. I was out of Endurolyte Fizz and I refused to drink the ridiculous "sports drink" they offered at the aid stations. I was left with no other option but to drink the foul warm water they were serving. Lovely.
With a couple miles left to go, we fell in behind a young woman and followed her off the mountain. I was tempted to pass her on several occasions, but decided to just ride this out. She was clearly a slower runner, but I was in no hurry.
I regretted this decision.
As we came off the trail onto a paved road to the finish, I slipped by the woman in front of me. Evidently, she's a recovering road runner because she decided to race me to the finish. At first, I was going to punish her for her foolishness but I quickly came to my senses. I had planned to run this entire race with Leon and that was more important than making this young lady look silly in front of a big crowd (however tempting that might be). I laid off the pace and rejoined Leon for the final strides to the finish line.
Me and Leon Bringing it In
I had estimated a leisurely pace should yield a 3 hour finish time and we crossed at 2:58. This is much slower than what we're capable of, but racing was never a part of the plan.
Post Race Relaxation with my BFF
For me, this sport is largely about the pleasure I get from being out in nature and it's never better than when you can share it with a friend. I sometimes reflect on the incredible places I've been and the great memories I've developed along the way. This day just added to that bank of great memories.
I'm a competitive person, so running in a noncompetitive manner is really tough for me sometimes. I need to constantly remind myself that when I slow down and focus on the experience, I never fail to have a great experience. There's definitely a life lesson in there somewhere.
I was sad to part ways with Leon as he headed back to the east coast but I'm happy to know he'll be joining me in Leadville so he can pace me to my best LT100 finish ever. There will be a lot of great memories built during that adventure.
Jo and I are looking forward to our trip to Wyoming next weekend with the HUMR's for a little mountain running and then we'll be headed directly to Leadville for my third running of the Leadville 100 mile trail race. We hope to see some of you out on the trails!