-Flagstaff Sky Race / Words by Kevin Geisen –

The Western Mountain Sports Trail Running Team traveled to Flagstaff, AZ this past weekend to compete in the Flagstaff Sky Race Vertical Kilometer (VK), 39K Sky, and 55K Ultra races which all doubled as U.S. Skyrunner Series Finale races. Sky running is a niche in the trail running world that involves competing in races that cover intense levels of elevation gain relative to their distance and often have multiple climbs of a thousand feet or more. The sports growing popularity meant that many of the elite US mountain runners were present, including recent World Mountain Running Champion Joseph Gray. The races presented an opportunity for Western athletes to test themselves against the “big dogs.”

Starting out the weekend on Friday was the VK. The 2.8 mile course covered 3,400 feet of elevation gain, including sections of steep scrambling and three technical descents. Finishing at 11,500 feet, the altitude added an element of difficulty as well. The Western team had smashing performances. On the women’s side the team had Kelsey Swanson in 8th, Lindsay Herman in 9th, Bob Maddox placing 13th, Ella Chavez taking 14th, and Eleanor Skinner grabbing 15th. Swanson called the race “one of the best races I’ve ever done!” The Western men were able to snatch 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th, 9th, and 14th with Sophomore Gordon Gianniny leading the way in a time of 52:02. Following Gordon in chronological order were Josh Eberly (Coach), Freshman Skyler Drakos, Junior Kevin Geisen, Junior Christian Kerr, and Sophomore Cameron Moore. Several of the VK participants also signed up for either the 55K or 39K and used Fridays VK as a warm up.

Saturday started off at 6am with a two laps up Mt. Elden for the 55K runners. The climb made up most of the first 20 kilometers for the 55K runners, and was also the first climb for the 39K runners who started two hours later at 8am. After reaching the ridgeline past the summit of Mt. Elden, both races continued down a long descent leading towards a lengthy section of rolling forest single track. With about ten kilometers left, the course began to climb again. First the orange pin flags led racers up a steep power line. After a short jaunt across the slope to the Arizona Snowbowl, the course continued to climb bringing racers up to the top of the resorts lower lift. The final segment of the race sent runners to the base of the resort before a final push towards the high point at 11,500 feet. The final climb presented the biggest challenge of the day as it followed a long section of the VK course and involved scrambling on all four limbs. At the top, racers were sent plummeting down the service road and into the finish.

Under the leadership of Josh Eberly and Bill Hibdon, along with the expert guidance of Duncan Callahan, the runners were prepared for the challenge. The Western team showed the full scope of their endurance; every muscle fiber of each runner was worked to exhaustion during the course of the race. Although he had a phenomenal performance, Christian Kerr admitted to having a short breakdown during the final climb, where he sat down to regain the energy needed to push through the last half hour. Kerr was one of a few team members that ran well enough to flirt with the top competitors. Nearly everyone agreed that the race course was the hardest of any that they had ever completed; for Maddox and Hibdon, the Flagstaff race was their furthest mileage yet. Next up the team will be headed to Arizona for the Javalina Jundred 100 kilometer and 100 mile endurance run, and then to Moab, Utah for the Moab Trail Marathon.

39K Results
8 – Christian Kerr – 5:11:07
12 – Kevin Geisen – 5:26:06
17 – Nate Maddox – 6:19:28
23 – Duncan Callahan (Coach) – 6:46:42
27 – Rich Stromberg – 7:10:43
29 – Zach Goering – 7:19:14

14 – Kendall Cox – 6:40:00
55K Results
15 – Bill Hibdon (Coach) – 7:22:28
18 – Jeshurun Small – 7:45:26
20 – Clark Thompson – 8:07:32
30 – Julian Cullumber – 9:52:23

5 – Katie Lyons – 9:02:02
8 – Kelsey Swanson – 10:18:48