Redemption for America’s Uphill winners
The Aspen Times
Aspen’s Brian Johnson was looking for a good workout Saturday morning when he found redemption at America’s Uphill.
Johnson, an Aspen Highlands ski patroller, won the 27th annual edition of the climb up Aspen Mountain, finishing the 2.5-mile ascent in 48 minutes, 53 seconds.
“This one was big for me because I was so physically and mentally challenged this winter,” Johnson said with the early morning sun washing over Mount Hayden and Highland Bowl behind him. “I’m just so grateful I could come out and do this.”
Johnson, like women’s winner Jennifer Mendez of Aspen, foreshadowed his victory with a win at Ajax in early December at the annual Summit for Life night uphill.
Johnson won that race, the same 3,267 vertical feet, in 50:12.
In between his victory in December and his victory Saturday, Johnson was sidelined with a badly broken arm which drastically changed the winter for the Highlands patroller.
“It’s been a very, very challenging winter for me. But you have to deal with the cards you’re dealt. Unfortunately, they weren’t dealt very well this year,” said Johnson. “I’ve never had this kind of a physical challenge. This race was a lot of motivation for me.”
And the firm course conditions were perfect, he said.
“It was very fast, great footing,” Johnson, 45, said. “I think skis or shoes, it didn’t matter today.”
Runner-up Greg Strokes, on skis, backed that theory.
He finished in 49 minutes, 36 seconds.
“I’m thrilled. I’m just so thrilled,” winner Johnson said, keeping an eye out for his 12-year-old son Caden Klein, who would finish in 1:04 — good for 48th in the field of 185 uphillers who entered Saturday’s event at Aspen Mountain.
“He’s done Buttermilk. But this is his first time on the big mountain,” proud father Brian Johnson said. “He was up before the alarm this morning; it was like Christmas morning.”
Jeremy Duncan of Carbondale finished third Saturday.
He also finished in under 50 minutes — 49:53.
The course record, set by legendary endurance athlete and mountain runner Matt Carpenter, is 41 minutes.
Mendez, too, won with running spikes in the 27th edition of America’s Uphill, sponsored by Aspen Parks and Recreation and the Ute Mountaineer.
“Smooth, fantastic; the weather was awesome,” said Mendez. “The footing was good. It was pretty stiff. We were definitely blessed by the weather.”
She said she just tries to go out and beat her previous best time every time she heads uphill.
“I think I beat my time from the night race,” she said, beaming. “This is a great way to end the season.”
She won the women’s division in 57:44.
Mary Cote of Basalt, 50, was second in the women’s division.
Carrie Horn of Aspen was third.
Mendez, an Aspen physical trainer, promptly headed down the mountain after Saturday morning’s race to join her husband as they prepare to open their mixed martial arts studio.
“This event is so great for the community,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of family, a lot of friends, and it couldn’t be a more beautiful day.”
For full results, visit utemountaineer.com.
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