Jupiter Peak Steeplechase a Serious 'Mountain Running' Race

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Dash to the top of a mountain, ring a bell, and run back down. Simple? Yes. Easy? Not so much.

The Jupiter Peak Steeplechase in Park City, Utah, follows this basic format and the race is tough.

From the starting line, it’s an 8-mile climb up winding singletrack, through forests and over a scree-covered summit ridge at 10,400 feet.

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Runners lean uphill near the start of the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase in Park City, Utah

I joined about 250 masochistic trail runners at the starting line to compete in the 2013 edition of the race last month. From the “GO!” the burn was on.

I dressed head to toe in equipment from event sponsor La Sportiva, including the Pace Shorts and Peak T shirt on my body and the company’s lightweight Vertical K shoes on my feet.

The shirt and shorts (which I opted to wear over supportive boxer briefs from Under Armour) worked well. While the 16-mile course distance was probably a little short to cause much chafing, I didn’t notice any skin soreness in the traditional danger zones.

The Peak T fits looser than the normally Euro-cut La Sportiva tops. I could have worn a size smaller than I expected, and at 5’8’‘ and 145 pounds, the medium was a little big.

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La Sportiva Pace Short

The Vertical K shoes proved to be an ultralight (6.9 oz.) and secure (big sticky rubber treads) but minimally protective shoe. The sole is soft and the tread is built in a large wave pattern. The upper is a thin, fine mesh that did a good job of keeping dirt and rocks away from my feet.

While I loved the combination of softness underfoot and excellent proprioception that the Vertical K design provided, I did find myself wishing for a rock plate, at least in the forefoot.

The shoe was awesome on dirt singletrack and super fast (but just a little too soft) for my sensitive feet when crushing over jagged rock scree.

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La Sportiva Vertical K

It did provide good toe-stub protection. I whacked rocks hard enough to almost fall twice and my feet were no worse for the wear.

After a lung-burning 3,000-foot climb to the summit of Jupiter Peak, I spun downhill and let my legs loose. Gravity took control.

Much of the descent followed winding trail through shady forest and soft footing. Here the Vertical Ks really shined.

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Steep course runs up this summit ridge to top of Jupiter Peak

I crossed the finish line in 2 hours, 19 minutes — 29th place overall. The winner, Matthew Bryne, finished in 1:50.22 at the blazing pace of 6 minutes, 53 seconds per mile.

The race left me exhilarated, spent, and thankful for those rare glimpses up from the trail, when panoramic views of the Wasatch whisked through the trees before my eyes snapped back to the trail to guide my next step.

—Sean McCoy is a contributing editor in Denver.

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