Aspen teenager is king of the hill

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

There were some familiar faces at the front of the 18th annual Aspen Summer Uphill race. Runners and bikers alike tackled Aspen Mountain in near-perfect racing conditions Saturday morning.

Three valley locals won their respective divisions. Lucas Franze, 39, won the men’s running title with a time of 54 minutes, 56 seconds. Megan Lund Lizotte took the women’s division in 55:23, and Keegan Swirbul, 17, won the biking portion in 49:53 — a new course record.

And what a course they tackled.

The description of the race says it all: a gain of 3,200 vertical feet with the finish line at 11,200 feet in elevation.

Proceeds from the race and an auction after the competition go directly to the Aspen High School cross-country team.

Chris Keleher is the Aspen High School cross-country coach and race director. Keleher said that not only has he never won the race, he’s never even competed in it.

“Are you crazy?” he asked jokingly. “This is one tough run.”

The first competitor across the finish line was Swirbul, one of the top young cyclists in America. Swirbul gained national attention when he won the Power of Four mountain bike race in Aspen this time last year, passing Lance Armstrong in the final stages of the race.

Armstrong won the 2012 Summer Uphill but did not participate this year.

Swirbul hadn’t competed in the Summer Uphill since he was 13, but he said he remembered a few key details about the race.

“It was bloody hard,” he said. “This course is really steep.”

The lanky blond dominated the cycling portion. Even after posting a new record on the course, the Aspen High senior looked like he could keep going up another 3,200 feet.

“Conditions were great today,” Swirbul said. “The ground was tacky, so there wasn’t much slipping. When I got within 10 minutes of the finish, I knew I had to push for the record. I’m pretty happy with the results.”

Franze and Lizotte led the runners up the mountain from start to finish. Franze has competed in the Uphill more than a dozen times, but this was his first win in the event.

“I’ve been close before,” he said. “It really depends who shows up on race day. There are so many good athletes in this town.”

Franze said the key to his top showing was training hard early in the week and taking it easy for a couple days before the race.

He also said it helps having someone like Lizotte running with him.

“Megan sets a great pace,” Franze said.

Lizotte was happy with her finish. Several bystanders commented how effortless she makes running look.

“It may look effortless, but it’s not,” Lizotte said. “I’m glad I’m fooling somebody.”

Lizotte said the Aspen Summer Uphill is one of her favorite local events because she simply loves running this particular course.

“The grade here is steep enough where I can run pretty much in one gear,” she said. “It’s a comfortably hard grind. How’s that for a description?”

In two weeks, Lizotte will compete at the World Mountain Running Championships in Krynica Zdroj, Poland.

Keleher said the 2013 race was a complete success with a solid turnout.

“Things went very smooth today,” he said. “We have lots of great volunteers and had perfect weather for the competitors. It seems like everyone is having a great time.”