‘Mountain’ runners control Power of Four
The Aspen Times
A pair of “mountain” runners conquered the annual Audi Power of Four 50K Trail Run on Sunday morning.
Morgan Elliott, a mountain man from Black Mountain, North Carolina, ran away from the elite field to win the men’s title in the 31-mile backcountry test that included sections of all four Aspen-area ski mountains.
Megan Kimmel, a mountain trail aficionado from the San Juans, won the women’s division — again cruising to a solo finish at Fanny Hill at the Snowmass Ski Area.
Elliott, 24, extended his arms as wings and glided under the arch in a playful finish reminiscent of an 8-year-old “flying” in the backyard, with the faint sound of bagpipes drifting up from the Scottish Festival below at Base Village.
“I’m so thankful. My body cooperated,” said Elliott, a former collegiate runner at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. “Today was perfect; I had so much fun.”
That’s 5 hours, 17 minutes and 55 seconds of trail-running fun, climbing nearly 12,000 feet with a like number on the descents.
“I had another race about a month and a half ago in Lake Tahoe, and that did not go well,” Elliott said of his first memorable red line at altitude. “It was a blowup with the altitude, totally.”
This time, the North Carolina runner drove his Subaru to Boulder, where he stayed for a week before spending a few more days in the Aspen area.
He started slowly and methodically up Aspen Mountain at the 6 a.m. start Sunday.
“I held back and stayed behind the (lead) crew up the first climb,” Elliott said.
He caught the lead group and then the two lone leaders at the bottom of Midnight Mine Road on the backside of Aspen Mountain.
He climbed with the pair for a mile and a half.
And then Elliott broke out solo.
“The race started a Mile 17,” he said. “I was happy with that.”
He continued his brisk pace, nearly identical to the pace of the 2015 winner, up and down Aspen Highlands and then up and across Buttermilk.
He still faced a climb to the Ullrhof restaurant at the Snowass Ski area before the descent to the finish at Fanny Hill.
“The last climb, I felt like crap,” Elliott said. “But I knew everybody else would feel like crap, too.”
He said he power-hiked, drank water and cruised.
“Then, I ran when I thought I could run,” said Elliott, who ecstatic when he saw the Aspen Skiing Co. finish arch. “I thought I had 3 more miles left.”
Elliott works at Foot Rx Running Asheville, a running store in North Carolina.
He came west to run in the U.S. Skyrunner Series.
“Now, I’m going to have to go to Flagstaff,” he said of an upcoming Skyrunner event.
He said that he’s still inspired by his college running teammates, who helped refine his love of running.
“My teammates in college … running with those guys,” he said of one of the strongest influences in his running career.
He proceeded to rattle off their names just like he was reading the lineup card for Slippery Rock at the NCAA Div. II National Cross Country Championships.
Cody Lind, a 21-year-old from Challis, Idaho, finished second in the men’s 50K this year in 5:31:25.
Lind finished fifth last year as a 20-year-old.
In the women’s 50K, veteran trail runner Megan Kimmel added the Power of Four title to her growing resume. She was third overall Sunday in 5:43:43.
A multiple winner of the La Sportiva Mountain Cup race series, Kimmel — a former Aspen resident — put her international racing experience to work to win the Aspen/Snowmass race and collect the winner’s $1,000 purse — same as for the men.
“Certainly, most of the ladies were all together for the first climb and descent,” said Kimmel, who first started trail running when she moved to Aspen from Denver at age 20. “Going up Highlands we started to break up a bit; moreso as the race went on.”
Kimmel found herself out front among the women and enjoyed the “training.”
“I came out here actually for a training run for a race I’m going to do in two weeks,” Kimmel said. “The race profile is very similar. I was just very excited to get 12,000 vertical gain in.”
That race will be in Zermatt, Switzerland — the Ultraks Trail race (48K).
“That was my concentration today … to prepare for that (Skyrunning World Series) race,” said Kimmel, who formerly owned and operated the legendary Mobius coffee shop in Silverton. The iconic gathering place often would feature the likes of skiing (and running) alpine legends like Chris Landry, Karl Meltzer, Scott Jurek or Chris Davenport.
Even Bob Baer, the former CIA case officer turned intelligence author. He grew up in Aspen and is a regular backcountry skier in the San Juans around Silverton.
Kimmel, now 36, won the Golden Leaf Half Marathon in Aspen when she was just 20.
She’s also a winner of the Rut 25K in Montana.
She said she’s expecting a much different environment when she races next in Switzerland, where thousands turn out for the mountain trail races.
On Sunday, she said, there was a lot more solitude than she’ll experience in Zermatt.
“There were a couple cowbells out there today,” she said, along with a couple deer who joined the women along part of the trail across Buttermilk.
Full results of the Audi Power of Four races are available on the Aspen Skiing Co. website at http://www.aspensnowmass.com.
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This past season brought with it Hailey Swirbul’s greatest individual result as a professional cross-country ski racer. But any real satisfaction she received always came when racing alongside her teammates, notably during world champs.