Previewing the Mid-Mountain Marathon

The annual Mid-Mountain Marathon is coming up this Saturday, September 12. I am a casual road runner. I normally don’t run on trails and have never participated in a race over 17 miles. This said, I was curious to know more about the event that ushers in fall in Park City, Utah. I sat down with Executive Director of the Mountain Trails Foundation, Charlie Sturgis, who filled me in on all the details of this long distance mountain race at 8,000 feet.

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JF: How many years has the Mid-Mountain Marathon been going on?

Charlie Sturgis: We’re getting close to about two decades.

JF: How many competitors does the event able attract?

Charlie Sturgis: We have between 350 and 360 participants. We try to cap it around 400. The reason why we limit the number of competitors is because passing on a single track can be a challenge. If we had over 400 racers the race would become too congested.

JF: Considering this, how is the start organized to give the fastest competitors a chance?

Charlie Sturgis: The start of the race is on the pavement, at the Silver Lake area of Deer Valley, which gives those who really need to be upfront a chance to get there from the get-go. All gets sorted out at the start.

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JF: What level of competitors do you attract?

Charlie Sturgis: It is actually quite impressive. The men’s best times are generally just over 3 hours, something between 3:10 and 3:15 while the women’s finish right around 3:30 to 3:40. Because of the caliber of the field, the “rabbit” leading the race has to be a top notch rider.

JF: The “rabbit?”

Charlie Sturgis: Yes, we have someone on a mountain bike showing the way so the leading racers don’t have to worry about where the trail goes. You need a top-notch rider capable of staying clear of the first runner, a job not always easy to accomplish, especially in the uphill sections where the marathoners can catch up to that individual. All of the “rabbits” we have are always stunned by how fast the runners are.

JF: Where’s the finish line?

Charlie Sturgis: From 8,100 feet at Silver Lake, the course traverses Deer Valley Resort to Park City Village peaking out at 8,400 feet before descending to Canyons Village at 6,800 feet. This year’s finish will be off of the new Ambush-Holly trail at the Forum where the outdoor concerts take place, all of this adds up to the 26.2 miles course.

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JF: Are competitors coming from all over or are they mostly locals?

Charlie Sturgis: Most of them are from Utah but we get a few from other places as well. Salomon is a sponsor for this race, so we encourage them to bring some of their racers. In years past, La Sportiva showed up with their racers. Even though this race is not on any special kind of circuit, competitors find it to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing to run.

JF: How difficult do competitors find this marathon compared to other venues?

Charlie Sturgis: Most first time competitors generally underrate the difficulty of the event. The Mid-Mountain trail was originally called the “8,000-foot trail” because it was built at around the 8,000 feet. The elevation variances of 400 feet often lead people to believe that it was not very hard. There are some significant ups and downs, including a 3,800 feet elevation gain. The terrain is very rugged in certain areas and athletes must be super mindful about where they land their feet.

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JF: What advice would you give to first time participants?

Charlie Sturgis: For all of those lifestyle runners who want to get that competition off of their bucket list, the best advice is to take it easy. It’s okay to walk some sections, like the Iron Mountain area where the footing gets difficult. Catch a 20 minute break to make sure they have enough fuel left to complete the race.

JF: How many volunteers does the event have.

Charlie Sturgis: About 50 to 70 of them. If some of your readers are interested to help out, they can contact us through our website. We also try to seek out the help of the many nonprofits in town.

JF: What do the volunteers do?

Charlie Sturgis: Fifty of them staff the aid stations. We have at least 7 stations with 4 people at each. The race lasts most of the day. The course is actually closed for almost 8 hours to other users.

JF: Are emergency medical technicians on the course?

Charlie Sturgis: Yes, we have EMT’s throughout the course. The Park City Fire Department is represented too and we have Herb Lepley, a nurse practitioner from the Park City Clinic, on hand.

JF: What makes a high altitude trail marathon so unique?

Charlie Sturgis: I think it is the blend between its environment, its scenery and its simplicity. Not dealing with traffic and going from point-to-point makes it very special.

JF: Do you have any suggestions for the spectators?

Charlie Sturgis: The best areas to see the race are the start and the finish line. At either one of these spots you’ll generally find friends, family and spectators in large numbers. Anywhere in the middle of the course is very hard to find good viewing areas. So the start and finish areas are the places to be. Everyone is more than welcome to come and cheer on the participants.

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See you on Saturday!

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