: a race in which people riding horses jump over fences, water, etc.
: a race in which runners jump over fences or water.
I just want to be very clear about this...the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase is not a mud run or obstacle race! There were no fences or water hazards to jump over and I didn't see a single horse! Not even an army surplus cargo net to climb!
This is a 16 (ish) mile trail race that starts at the base of the ski areas in Park City and immediately heads up (UP!) for the first 7 or 8 miles before looping back toward the finish line at the resorts.
I say "16 (ish)" and "7 or 8" because I don't wear a GPS, so I never really know where the hell I am.
They Tell me That People Sometimes Ski in Park City, Too. Weird.
I very rarely run short distance races like this. It's easy for me to forget there are serious differences between the ultra running community and the general trail running community. It's not a bad thing, I just find myself being reminded that differences exist.
For instance, the start line at an ultra is pretty low key, with people chatting so carelessly they sometimes don't notice the race has started without them. In contrast, before this race started, the parking lot was full of runners doing sprints to warm up for the start. I considered doing the same thing, but then remembered I really don't give a crap. I figured I would warm up somewhere in that first 8 mile climb.
I was here to run, not to race. To be totally honest, I don't even know how to properly race these distances. Everything is different! Pacing obviously, but fueling is different, too. I've spent years conditioning my body to run kinda slow...and very far. It's not easy to change that.
The race started at 8:00 (I know! The day was half over already!) and we started the climb on a service road before hopping on to some pretty sweet single track.
Heading for the Hills!
Typical Park City Trail. Very nice! Can you believe they let people ski here?
I had run this race last year, but I had forgot how runnable the first several miles were. We're averaging about 450 feet of gain per mile on the way to the peak at 10,400' but it never really felt daunting. I won't lie, I was hoping for more hiking and hardcore vert!
Somewhere above Park City
Like all races, the field was sorting itself out for the first few miles as people found their rhythm. I had planned to lock onto runners that I perceived to be running at a slow and easy pace because I wasn't in a hurry and was hoping for a consistent effort, not a mad dash up the mountain.
I latched onto a runner that was the perfect candidate to pull me up the mountain. He was the ideal balance of "Not a Bad Pace" and "Damn, I Should Pass this Dude!". He motioned for me to come around a few times (probably because he could feel my breath on his neck) but I declined, telling him I was right where I wanted to be. After the 4th wave around, I started to feel bad, so I lurched passed him. As I cut back in front of him, my left foot caught one of those invisible objects on the trail and I went down like a ton of bricks. It was one of those falls that you never see coming, you just realize it happened after you're already on the ground.
I was content laying there on the side of the trail, looking up at the sky. It was a gorgeous day and the weeds I had landed in smelled really nice. I probably got up because runners kept asking if I was ok, and I got tired of waving them off, telling them I was, "Great, just chilling in the weeds".
You Can See Why I Fell! Gnarly Trail...
And THIS Dude! I Dunno What It's All About...It's Just There.
Somewhere around mile 5 (totally guessing, here), I was churning uphill, staring at my feet with my mind somewhere else when I looked around and realized I was all alone. There was nobody in sight and it was dead quiet. Fortunately, I've experienced this enough to instantly realize that I somehow got off course. This isn't even remotely unusual for me so I wasn't fazed by it. I don't know how I manage to be so consistent when it comes to getting off course, but I have a special ability for it. I got lost in a 5k road race once. That's really hard for normal people to do.
I spun around and enjoyed some downhill running until I found the course and fell back in line, even deeper in the pack.
The climb began to get steeper and I settled into a hike before rounding the corner and seeing the climb to Jupiter Peak. This climb sorta sucks.
The Steep Stuff
The "trail" to the top is loose and hard to get decent footing. It's not a well defined route, so runners were meandering all over the face, trying to find the best route. Let's be honest, unless you find an escalator, there isn't an easy route.
View Near the Summit
Aid Station at the Top with Rock Music, But NO BEER. Ugh...Not an Ultra...
After the first summit, we bomb down to a saddle, cross a ridge line and make another tough ascent to the top of Tri-County Peak. Most people that haven't run the course aren't expecting the second peak. Disappointment abounds.
Leaving Tri-County Peak, I point my shoes downhill and enjoy the benefit of gravity. The rest of the trail is almost entirely smooth single track and easy running.
Love the Aspens
Around mile 12 (we've established by now that I really have no idea what mile I may be at), I was well into my rhythm, once again focusing on the trail and the guy in front of me as we ran down a rocky jeep road. I noticed a narrow trail shoot off to my right, but paid no attention to it. Several minutes later, I could hear a large group screaming for a runner that had gone off course. I immediately assumed somebody had turned down that narrow trail I had passed. The screaming continued, so I stopped and looked back up the mountain. Way up the mountain! Yeah...I was the dude they were screaming for. As it turned out, the narrow trail I totally SAW and IGNORED was the course. I tried to yell for the runner in front of me, but he was wearing earbuds and never heard a word.
I started the LONG climb back up the mountain and got back on course.
As you might imagine, my level of "Give-a-Damn" had dwindled down to nothing. However, I had a beer cooler at the finish line, so there was still a good reason to keep the pace up.
I could see the ski resort as I made my way off the mountain but we were running down shallow switchbacks, so my progress was painfully slow. When I started to encounter hikers, I knew I was pretty close. Most hikers in Park City don't venture too far from the Mercedes.
The trail emptied out onto asphalt and I cruised across the finish line.
Despite a hard fall and two diversions from the course, I still had a good time. The course is fun and beautiful, it was a gorgeous day and I logged the training run I came for.
Most importantly, I ran easy enough to avoid the need for any recovery time. I have several big mountain races coming up soon, and I need to stay fit and ready for some big climbs at high altitude.
El Vaquero Loco in Afton, Wyoming next weekend! Twice as long and three times as hard, and most importantly, it's ten times more scenic!
Thanks for following along!