Uphill racers climb to victory | AspenTimes.com

Uphill racers climb to victory

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times

Bryan Cook reached deep into his closet for a special throwback look for Saturday’s 20th annual Aspen Mountain Summer Uphill.

Cook, a cross country ski coach with the Aspen Valley Ski Club, pulled on his high school junior varsity running jersey and then climbed to victory, ascending Ajax in 54 minutes, 30 seconds.

A minute and a half later, Megan Lund Lizotte glided across the finish line just below the gondola station with her own throwback victory and a look into the running future.

Lund Lizotte, the former longtime Basalt resident and professional runner, won the women’s division for the fourth time in the community uphill that is a fundraiser for the Aspen High School cross country team.

A prep standout in Basalt and a collegiate star at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, Lund Lizotte lives now in San Diego as she extends her running career. She’s headed to Italy next month as a member of the U.S. team that will compete in the World Mountain Running Championships.

“This was a good excuse to fly out here, see my family and have a good hard race that mimics the worlds course,” Lund Lizotte said after Saturday’ win. “It was perfect.”

She said the course for the World Mountain Running Championships is similar in elevation profile to Aspen Mountain.

“But we won’t have the altitude in Italy, which is fine,” said Lund Lizotte, who is coming off a road marathon at the end of July in Eugene, Oregon. Attempting to reach the Olympic qualifying standard, she came up just short and aggravated a hamstring strain in the process.

Still recovering, she said she was encouraged after Saturday’s workout as she looks ahead to worlds.

“I’m pleased with the way it went today,” she said. “I ran hard.”

Colleen Oakes, 11th overall, was the second finisher in the women’s division.

Lund Lizotte was second overall to the lanky Cook, the transplanted Wisconsin Nordic ski racer who won his first uphill race Saturday.

“Yes, this is my JV cross country jersey from my freshman year in high school,” Cook said of the vintage green-and-white jersey with “Hodags” in printed letters across the front.

“I broke it out for today’s uphill … broke it out to support the Aspen High School cross country team,” said Cook, who moved to the area to coach cross country skiing. He’s a former competitive Nordic racer who’s moved into the uphill running scene.

“The jersey still fits and hopefully, I’m a little faster than I was as a freshman in high school,” said Cook, who started running as cross training for his winter ski racing.

“I joined the cross country (running) team. And we had a really fun, great group of kids,” he said. “I loved my coach. I thought it was a really great experience.”

And it helped his cross country ski racing, too.

“It helped my ski racing; it helped me learn to be a teammate,” said Cook. Zach Sonoga finished second among the men in 57:19. Ben Dodge was third.

Bill Boughton was the first finisher in the mountain bike division, topping Aspen Mountain in 1:11:06.

The race was organized by Chris Keleher, Aspen High School cross country coach.

Team members were on hand Saturday to help with start and finish operations as well as the awards ceremony.

For the curious, the Rhinelander High School Hodags are named after an animal from Wisconsin folklore. A creature, as reported in 1893, was found near Rhinelander, and it had “the head of a frog, the grinning face of giant elephant, thick short legs, set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur and a long tail with spears at the end.”

The Hodag is the official symbol of the city of Rhinelander as well as the mascot for the high school, which added to its athletic legacy Saturday: Cook is the first Hodag ever to win the Aspen Mountain Summer Uphill.