If running or biking up a 2,564-foot climb is your idea of a good time, the North Face Race to the Top of Vermont may be for you.
The race, taking place this year on Sunday, Aug. 25, travels up Stowe’s Mount Mansfield along the Toll Road. The 4.3-mile course includes a brutal elevation rise from 1,279 to 3,843 feet.
The race typically attracts around 800 athletes from around the country and Canada, according to race director Jim Fredericks, who created the event in 2008 as a fundraiser for the Catamount Trail Association. The participants encompass all ages and include Nordic ski Olympians and some of the nation’s top mountain runners.
Among the participants, there are usually 100 to 125 hikers, 150 to 200 mountain bikers, and 400 to 500 runners, Fredericks said. There is also a shorter fun run this year for kids ages 4 to 14.
Right now, all those athletes are training rigorously to prepare for the grueling climb to the peak of Vermont’s tallest mountain.
Stowe runner Moira Durnin Anderson has competed in the Race to the Top every year since its inception. A member of the Catamount Trail Association Board of Directors, she runs in the 60 to 69 age group and also helps with registration and awards.
Anderson trains with fellow Stowe runner Trina Hosmer. She says she prepares for the race “by doing uphill intervals to get used to the pain.”
In the past, Anderson has competed in running races throughout the season. But she is taking it easier this year, participating in just a few trail races and other select events.
Anderson’s training regimen has included some practice runs up Mount Mansfield.
“I do run — I call it a shuffle — the Toll Road a few times in preparation, but mostly just keep up my usual training,” she said.
Ryan Tensing-Kerrigan, 28, of Stowe, has participated in the race for three or four years. He felt ill last year and finished 23rd in his age group, after finishing second the year before.
Tensing-Kerrigan runs year-round, both on his own time and at his job. He coaches for the VTXC Race Team at Trapp Family Lodge, which involves skiing, biking, running and strength training for most of the year. He also gives local high school kids, mostly from Harwood Union High School in Duxbury, summer training to get ready for the fall cross-country season.
Tensing-Kerrigan also races in the New England Marathon series.
“I love running uphill. It is a different kind of race for sure, different type of athlete and different mechanics,” he said.
Tensing-Kerrigan offered a tip for runners who may be daunted by the Race to the Top of Vermont’s long uphill climb.
“My advice, don’t look at the whole course, just look at it in pieces,” he said.
All the work pays off when you complete the race and reach the peak of Mount Mansfield, Anderson said.
“It is a great feeling to reach the top, both relief and the elation of having made it,” she said.
Stowe’s Carrie Nourjian prefers riding her bicycle to running and has biked in all six Race to the Top events. This year, she will be competing in the 60 to 69 age bracket and says her goal is the same as always: “just to finish.”
She has finished the race every year, including one that took place the day after her daughter’s wedding.
“That was tough,” she said. “We were up all night, but we made it. Another daughter is getting married this year, but luckily it’s almost a month before the race.”
Nourjian has been preparing for the Race to the Top by doing lots of road riding. She rides all the time around town, but has also recently ridden up Rochester Mountain Road and over Middlebury Gap. Her advice to new participants: “Just ride, get some uphill training and get use to it.”
But there is a danger in training too much and wearing yourself out, said Adam Juzek, who is also competing in the biking division. Last year, Juzek finished 12th in the 30 to 39 age group.
“Last year I over-trained leading up to the race and had raced Mount Washington the weekend before, so I was exhausted and gassed out,” he said.
Juzek starts training for the Race to the Top in early spring. “I start riding late April (or) early May every year after the ski and hockey seasons come to a close,” he said. “Early base miles are key early on, and then I ramp up the intensity in early summer.”
Juzek said Stowe is an excellent town for conditioning. He also does time trials, group rides and mountain biking. He is doing five other road bike hill climbs this summer in the Bike Up the Mountain Point Series (BUMPS).
Juzek has participated in the Race to the Top every year since it started and encourages anyone interested to give it a shot.
“Hill climb racing is a highly rewarding form of the sport in many ways,” he said. “As far as the race goes, rest up, hydrate and pace yourself up the climb.”