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Jupiter Peak Steeplechase

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On Aug. 7, I woke around sunrise, laced up my trail-running shoes, and got to the start line for one of the more challenging events I’ll do this summer. Now in its third year of existence, the La Sportiva Mountain Cup combines 10 of North America’s top trail-running races into a series and awards $25,000 in prize money at the end. In Park City, Utah, I ran one of the toughest events on the La Sportiva circuit, the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase.

Based out of Park City Resort, the Jupiter Peak event includes a 15+ mile route and more than 3,000 feet of elevation gain. It begins at about 7,000 feet and tops at its namesake summit at 10,000 feet on the bald tip of Jupiter Peak. You gotta run back down, too, so half the event is a knee-pounding descent from the mountaintop back into the valley below.

The air was crisp at the start line. About 300 racers lined up in the bright sun. At “Go!” the pack chugged off, pounding uphill and quickly around the corner into the woods. I breathed hard and could feel my pulse beating in my head. Coming from Minnesota, I’d had only two days to acclimate to the mountain air.

But the race went well. I kept to the front one-third of the field for the ascent. I paced myself about right for an anticipated 2.5-hour run. On top, I paused to take in the view — and snap a few photos — of the Wasatch Range all around. An epic day!

Breathing hard on the final ascent, about 20 runners had passed me by. Now on the downhill, I let loose. I wanted to make up some time — my pace heading up the mountain was about 12 minutes per mile — so I gave in to gravity more than usual and let the force pull me downhill fast.

On my feet, appropriately, I wore a pair of La Sportiva shoes. The company’s Crosslite shoes, dubbed a low-profile neutral lightweight shoe with aggressive lugs, was perfect for the course. I wore a prototype hydration running vest from Salomon. A SPOT device to track my route and a GPS wristwatch would help me keep pace.

Down and down, for more than seven miles I ran. The trail plunged straight on double-track near ski trails, and it twisted on single-track in the woods. “On your left!” I shouted a dozen times, passing runners.

My pace was fast going down — I passed by at least 30 people — and I came into the finish stretch about physically done. My watch, the Garmin 310XT, blinked a GPS distance read-out of 14.8 miles. But wasn’t that the finish line ahead a few hundred feet? Either my watch or the listed course distance was off.

I sprinted into the finishing chute, 15.1 miles blinking on my wrist. The race course was a smidge shorter than anticipated. Cheers. Relief. The race was done. I was feeling good, I was whole. I took a long gulp of sports drink at a booth and then went to collect my time.

2 hours, 43 minutes, 37 seconds. I had picked up my pace substantially on the downhill. The time — one that I felt was the result of one of my best footraces ever! — netted me a respectable 87th place in a tough field of competition. I was happy with the top-third-of-the-pack result.

Conclusions? The La Sportiva Mountain Cup is a blast. The Jupiter Peak Steeplechase, a course that winds and climbs and tags two nearby summits, is an epic course. Next year, maybe I’ll come out a couple days earlier and get used to that thin air. I’ll kick it up a notch for what is one of the country’s coolest high-alpine running events!

—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com.

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