Vertical Weekend

I inevitably miss the weekend’s long runs in the early days of each week. Particularly this month, as I steadily ramp up weekly miles ahead of the Leadville 100 in late August — and particularly this week, as I still feel the weekend of the Whiteface Vertical Weekend in my legs.

I’ve tried to explain (to those patient enough to listen — so, to my dogs, mostly 😉 ) what the races were like. Both Saturday’s VK and Sunday’s Sky Race were terrifically fun, Sunday’s 25k Sky Race was a course & race like no other.

For the second year in a row, the Sky Race has been a slippery, muddy, and rain-soaked loop over Whiteface Mountain’s highest ski trails (at about 3,300 ft of vertical gain on each of two loops on the mountain plus about 5 miles and 1,400 ft of gain on neighboring mountain bike trails).

The uphill course followed the same route as Saturday’s Vertical K — 2.4 miles and 3,300 vertical feet — which meant that, with each successive runner, the trail only got more muddy, more slippery, and more…interesting.

Much of the uphill course followed the 1980 Olympic Men’s Downhill ski course, and most of the downhill run was on the Men’s Giant Slalom course. Each course has an average gradient of between 28 and 29%. For comparison, the Mount Washington Auto Road Hill Climb averages 12%, with the last 50 yards at 22%.


By far my favorite section was near the top of the climb on Cloudspin, which on its own has a 41% grade over a quarter mile labyrinth of moss-laced talus, grassy hummocks, and unyielding krummholz ready to reach out and grab unsuspecting runners whose stride gets a bit ambitious.

On Sunday’s second lap up the mountain, I got into the rhythm I’d been looking for from the race’s start. The field had thinned, and I passed only an occasional runner on the lower slopes, a few more on the start of Cloudspin, and then I was on my own in the clouds, often steadying myself against the slope in front of me — often reaching for a tenuous hold on a muddy tuft of grass, pulling on a granite slab, or high stepping across snowmaking pipes and rain-slick rocks.

This was what mountain running is meant to be.

We’re still waiting for a full set of photos from the weekend, but here’s a video from Saturday’s finish of the VK that gives a sense of the terrain.

Thanks to Ian, Red Newt Racing, and all the volunteers for a terrific race. I can’t wait for next year!



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