2020 Blue Sky Marathon Post-Race Recap

We’ve had a wide variety of weather conditions over the years at the Blue Sky Trail Marathon, but never quite as much weather as we had for the 13th running. Indeed, we were served up a proper dose of 2020 in the form of gale force winds, sideways snow squalls, intermittent sun and a lot of cold. And did we mention the wind! But – undeterred – our runners persevered and produced memorable finishes in what was an unforgettable finish to an unforgettable year. 

Of course, we typically run the race in mid-October, but the Cameron Peak Fire had other ideas, forcing us to postpone to November. The later fall date meant that for the first time ever we welcomed our final few finishers home in the dark (amid snow squalls and plunging temperatures).

Special mention here must go to now seven-time finisher Maria Grant who emailed us prior to the race asking if she could walk the course and drop at the nine-mile after being told by her doctor that running was out of the question due to a separated ligament. Maria – as we knew she would – walked right on through the nine mile aid, ultimately finishing in the dark to cheers and cowbell as our 126th of 127 finishers, a solid 3.5 hours slower than last year. It seemed like a particularly fitting end to a season that has been all about finding ways to Get It Done and to get it done Safely.   

Maria’s was one of many wonderful stories from the pack, but we also had some pretty incredible races at the front of the field.

It was a two-horse affair in the men’s race with Jackson Brill and Tyler Fox running together for most of the first 20 miles of the course. Reports from the aid stations suggested a fast time was incoming as the two made their way through the Hunter turn and back towards the Indian Summer climb. Splits appeared to be right on pace with Drew Holman’s record setting run from last year, and coming into the finish with the seconds literally ticking down we could tell that Jackson Brill knew that he was close. He pushed and then pushed again against time and distance; finally hitting the tape with just 12 seconds to spare and setting a new standard for the race at 3:10:10. Not to be outdone, Tyler Fox kept his pedal firmly attached to the metal and repeated his second-place finish from last year, 3 minutes quicker (3:12:12) under conditions that were undeniably tougher. Rounding out a strong podium was Denver’s Michael Bolt (3:34:23).

The second start wave of the morning featured our seeded female runners, and it was Amanda Ax who took the race by the scruff of the neck, leading for most of the 26.7 miles as she made her way down to her hometown of Loveland and back. Second at the Never Summer 100km earlier in the summer, Amanda claimed her first Gnar Runners crown in a time of 4:08:11 – good enough for fifth overall. Amanda was followed home by a hard chasing Becky Hendee (4:22:41), and former race winner Meghan Spieker (4:37:39). This was Meghan’s sixth Blue Sky finish, and also the culmination of the Gnar Slam (all four Gnar races in one summer). 

In the men’s master’s category, it was local favorite Mike Hinterberg bringing home the win for Loveland, CO in 3:52:06. His was only one of four finishes under four hours, which is testimony to how tough the conditions were this year. Littleton’s Becki Lynn Bauer ran strong and steady for her master’s victory (4:57:50), while the grandmasters wins went to Heli Uusitalo (5:30:45) and New York’s Blaise Brochard (4:28:57).

All award winners took home beautiful pottery awards from local artisan Amy Hayman.


Race Photos:


Gnar Slam

This year we saw a hardy eight runners complete the Gnar Slam. This despite the challenges of two postponed and rearranged races, smoke, heat, snowstorms, fire and virus. We saw five male finishers and three female finishers. The Gnar Slam is a recognition of those runners that complete all four Gnar Runners trail races in a calendar year:

The points in the final standings for the Gnar Slam are derived as a percentage of the overall winner’s time in each race (male and female), allowing us to offer equal weighting to each race despite the difference in distance, and to rank women and men in the same standings.

Meghan Spieker came into Blue Sky with a dominating lead in the standings and her third place finish assured she finished with the fastest cumulative time and a new women’s record (32:58:06), besting the time of last year’s winner Tara Carter by 25 minutes. 

A hearty congratulations to all of our 2020 Gnar Slam finishers! It’s been a crazy journey this season and we’re thankful to every single one of you for sticking with us through all the trials and tribulations.

Volunteers

And, wow, what about those volunteers out there braving the conditions this year! You all make us look good and our runners notice. We have received so many notes of praise and gratitude for the selflessness and good spirits you showed out on course under very trying conditions to help get your fellow runners to the finish line. Thank you to each and every one of you.

Sponsors

And, finally, a thank you to our sponsors for sticking with us through a tough year. Due to the conditions of our variance approvals with the County Health Department we haven’t been able to host full post-race festivities with sponsors there celebrate with you all. But, please know that you’ve been supported along the way by a group of sponsors that continue to show their love for the Northern Colorado trail community. Please support those businesses that support your passions. Thank you Jax Outdoor GearColorado in MotionAltitude RunningJustin Liddle DMDCountryside Animal Hospital, and the Fort Collins Running Club for your incredible race support.

And also to our fantastic product sponsors: VFuelNew Belgium Brewing, and Mary’s Mountain Cookies.

The Blue Sky Trail Marathon marks the end of the 2020 season for us at Gnar Runners, but we’re already looking forward to 2021 with excitement.

Thank you all again for a wonderful season, and see you in 2020!

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Blue Sky Marathon RESCHEDULED – November 14

Due to increased activity in the southeast portion of the Cameron Peak Fire, trails comprising our course were closed due to the Cameron Peak fire on Wednesday of race week, and the surrounding neighborhoods were under mandatory evacuation for over a week.

Thank you to all for your patience and understanding as we work to set a new date for the 2020 race. As you know, it has been a turbulent last couple of weeks here in Northern Colorado, but fire activity in the vicinity of the race now appears to be well under control and we have been able to start moving forward with our permitting agencies to work on a reschedule.

In coordination with the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources, a new date of November 14 has been provisionally approved. While this date is still provisional – pending approvals from the remainder of our 10 permitting agencies – we have a good degree of confidence that we’ll be able to move forward with the date. 

Given the short notice and the need for everyone to be able to make plans, we wanted to make sure that we kept you updated with information as we have it. Please stay tuned for a more complete update early next week, including options for those of you that cannot make the reschedule date.  

Thanks again for your patience and understanding!

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Gnar 2021 – Race Dates Set

We’re excited to announce dates for our 2021 Gnar Trail Series.

While there’s still uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, our experience successfully holding safe and fun races in 2020 gives us full confidence moving forward.

In addition to our core races, keep your eyes peeled for additional announcements, as we hope to bring some tempting new offerings to our calendar next year!

Dates for 2021 Trail Races

Registration will open on December 15, 2020.

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Blue Sky Trail Marathon – Canceled

 The view from the Horsetooth Estates neighborhood, 1 mile from the Start/Finish Photo credit: Tara Carter-Radcliffe


The view from the Horsetooth Estates neighborhood, 1 mile from the Start/Finish
Photo credit: Tara Carter-Radcliffe

Due to increased activity in the southeast portion of the Cameron Peak Fire, trails comprising our course in Horsetooth Mountain Park and Devil’s Backbone Open Space closed the morning of Wednesday, October 14. 

After a full day’s firefighting and the updates the morning of Thursday, October 15 from the Incident Command Team, all information is pointing toward the closures and evacuations affecting our course remaining in place through the weekend.  Even if we could get permission to hold the race, we know it would be irresponsible to put any extra burden on first responders and public lands officials, and we are officially CANCELLING the Blue Sky Trail Marathon for this Saturday.

We know our runners and volunteers have questions regarding postponement and more.  So do we.  That conversation starts with our permitting land agencies, and they definitely have many higher priorities at this time.  We will update you once it’s possible.  Thank you for your understanding, and we appreciate your support.

This fire has now been burning more than two months, and is officially the largest in Colorado state recorded history.  If you would like to support relief efforts with donations of time or money, please check out this article from The Coloradoan.

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2020 Black Squirrel Wrap – Fire, Snow & Course Records

The start of the Black Squirrel Trail Half Marathon begun at 6:00am and finished at 8:00am. Welcome to racing in 2020. Five waves and 221 runners later, and we had everybody off to the races for a fantastic morning of racing, aided by cooler-than-average temperatures and crisp, clean air. 

Packing the start line in Wave 1 were a number of pre-race favorites, past winners and – dare we say – dark horses. While women’s defending champion and course record holder, Rachel Rudel could not make it to the start line this year, her former CSU teammate and school steeplechase record holder Janelle Lincks was there to represent. She would be lining up against Kansas Jayhawk Track alum Grace Morgan, and former Black Squirrel winner Abby Depperschmidt.

The men’s field was also host to previous winners with last year’s champ Nathan Austin on the line looking to defend, alongside 2014 winner Kory Skattum and last year’s third-place finisher Adrian McDonald. Also on the line was this year’s Quad Rock 25 winner, Justin Ricks and former Pikes Peak Ascent champ Timmy Parr. 



With light just beginning to emerge, we sent Wave 1 off to the races and charging up the Timber Trail in pursuit of our hero band of Timber aid station volunteers who had begun the climb over an hour earlier, hauling 16 gallons of water up on their backs after trucks had failed to navigate slick roads to the aid location. 

The crew waited in anticipation at the top of the climb for our lead runners, before reporting with some excitement that the lead two men – Timmy Parr and Kory Skatum – had come in locked together, closely followed by the first lady – Janelle Lincks – in third overall!

Runners encountered lingering snow up high on a sunny morning

The intermediate split times were fast and course records appeared to be in danger after just a half hour of racing.  Meanwhile back at the start with the sun making its way above the East Valley hogbacks, Wave 2 had been sent off up the hill and we were busy getting ready to start Wave 3. As it would turn out, one of our dark horses for the overall placings would be laying in wait in that middle wave.

From the Arthurs West aid station at mile 8.3, the texts coming back to the start had Timmy Parr with a two-minute lead over Skattum and still on – or near – course record pace. Adrian MacDonald and Florida’s Jacob Banta had moved to third and fourth with lead woman Lincks still blazing the course in fifth overall. 

Janelle Lincks at Arthurs West on her way to the win and course record

As we awaited the winner at the finish, Parr came into sight right on cue with Wave 4 lined up and ready for their 7:30 start. It was a fitting 2020 scene, and one of the highlights of a wonderful morning. The assembled runners erupted in rapturous cheers, witnessing the end of a journey they would begin in less than 20 seconds.

Ultimately, Parr would end up just 40 seconds off Stephen Pretak’s 2016 course record, posting only the second ever sub-1:30 finish in race history. Skattum was unable to close the gap on Parr in the valley, but his second-place finish of 1:31:42 was still the fourth fastest time ever on the course and six seconds quicker than his 2014 winning time. The fight for third was a close-run thing between Macdonald and Banta, with Macdonald holding on for a repeat third-place finish (1:35:24), just 20 seconds ahead of his pursuer.

Timmy Parr approaches Arthurs East on his way to the win and second fastest time in race history

With four runners in, it was just another 40 seconds until the performance of the morning came blazing through the finish line. Not only had Janelle Lincks put a major gap between herself and the rest of this year’s women’s field, but also between herself and an eight-year history of women’s finishers, besting Rachel Rudel’s impressive 2019 record by over six minutes.

Janelle’s time of 1:36:26 looks stout enough to having some staying power. It is especially impressive when you consider that the second place finish of Grace Morgan (1:47:43) was the fifth fastest of all time.

And that wave 3 dark horse we were talking about earlier? Well, Christine Cummings’ coming-out party was equally as impressive. In her first competitive race in 10 years, Christine’s third-place time of 1:48:21 was just 38 seconds off Morgan in second and good enough for sixth fastest all time.

The impressive performances did not end there. In our 50-59 age group, winner Craig Person (1:45:43) punched his way into the record books by lowering Tony Dragan’s 2016 age group best by a minute (and besting his younger 2017 self by close to nine minutes!).  On the women’s side, Wyoming’s Cinthy Carson (2:10:54) retained top honors in the 50-59 age bracket after winning in 2019.

In the masters (40-49) division, we saw wins for Anna Wickersham (2:10:53) and Justin Ricks (1:41:08). The 60+ division wins belonged to Teri Rylander (4:11:18) and Steve Wood (2:20:52), and in the Under 40 division, it was a win for Abby Depperschmidt (1:55:39) and Jacob Banta (1:35:44). 


Gnar Slam Update:

  • Nine runners have battled through the madness of the 2020 season with finishes at Never Summer 100km, Quad Rock 50, and Black Squirrel. They have just the Blue Sky Marathon left to complete for Gnar Slam glory.
  • Meghan Spieker continues to lead in the overall standings, followed by Brandon Cooper and Derrick Searle.
  • All finishers receive a special award at the end of the season, plus a free entry into Quad Rock 2021

Overall, we saw a total of 221 finishers (103 women and 118 men) and we congratulate each and every one of you for a job well done. Supporting our runners was a wonderful crew of 40+ race volunteers.

We thank you all – runners and volunteers alike – for making the morning a special one, and we hope to see you back in 2021 for the ninth running of the race.

Let’s hope that in 2021 we can all share the same start line and breathe clean, smoke-free air! 

Thank you volunteers

And thank you also to our fantastic sponsors for sticking with us through a tough year. We appreciate the many years of tireless support you have all shown for the Northern Colorado trail running scene.

Thank you to our top tier sponsors:

Thank you also for contributing support from: 

       

Generous product support from: VFuel, New Belgium & Lamar’s Donuts

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Runners overcome tough conditions at the 2020 Quad Rock Trail Races

More than any other race we put on, the weather seems to play a prominent role at the Quad Rock Trail Races. After having to postpone this year’s race from May to mid-August, we were counting on the day being a hot one. What we weren’t counting on was the addition of heavy smoke from the Cameron Peak Wildfire, which broke out just two days before the race. But in a year of constant challenges, our runners took it in stride and forged on, albeit at a slower-than-usual pace and with a higher-than-usual drop-down rate from 50 miles to 25 miles.

Overall, we saw 86 runners start the 50 mile race and 123 start the 25 mile race for a total of 209 runners on course. Of the 86 runners that started the 50 mile race, just 37 completed the full two loops for a 43 percent finisher rate. A total of 156 runners finished either the 25 mile race or the first 25 mile loop of the 50 miler (all are included in the final 25 mile results).

Race Action

In the men’s 25 mile race, a group of three set the early pace and challenged for the win. At the Horsetooth Aid Station at Mile 10.3, it was Grayson Lowe leading Adam Merry and (newly minted master’s runner) Justin Ricks into the aid station, each a minute apart. By mile 17.5 at Arthurs Aid, with one climb left to go, there remained just one minute between first and third. On the climb up Howard, it became a two-horse race between Merry and Ricks, with the latter making the final move of the morning and going on to win in 3:47:15. Merry would finish a close second (3:49:43) with Lowe holding on in third (4:00:36).

Justin Ricks breaking it open in the 25 mile race

In the women’s 25 mile race, Sophie Anders and Christy Aish got out at the head of the race, rolling through the Horsetooth Aid Station at mile 10.3 together. The duo would remain locked through to the Arthur’s Aid Station at mile 17.5, with a final climb and descent left to decide the 2020 winner. As in the men’s race, experience won out with master’s runner Aish opening things up by over 5 minutes in the final 7.5 miles. Christy’s time of 4:20:41 was good enough for both the win and a new master’s record. Anders would hold on comfortably for second (4:26:07), with 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier Jennifer Masamitsu rounding out the podium in 4:39:03.

Christy Aish on her way to the 25 mile win.

Masters (40-49) wins in the 25 mile race went to Westminster’s Shad Mika (4:10:33) and Edwards’ Lauren Warkentin (4:42:21). Our grandmaster’s (50+) winners were Rich Hall (6:13:16) from Boulder and Jennifer Wang (6:25:42) from Fort Collins.


The 50 mile race was defined by some very tough running conditions, which led to perhaps our highest ever drop rate. Nonetheless, there were some remarkable performances out there and especially so from the women who would end up claiming first, third and fifth places in the overall standings.

Addie Bracy on her way to an overall win in the 50 mile race

Two-time winner and defending champ Addie Bracy came into the race as the clear favorite on the women’s side and she didn’t disappoint. After finishing third overall last year, Bracy went a couple spots better this year by winning the race outright in a time (8:54:23) that was just three minutes slower than her 2018 best on the course despite much tougher conditions. She now holds three of the 10 fastest times on the course.

Second in the women’s race and third overall was Colorado Springs’ Hannah Osowski. Coached by Bracy, Osowski ran a similarly paced race to Bracy making it to the 25-mile turn 15 minutes behind and just over 40 minutes adrift at the finish (9:37:23).

Splitting the two women was overall men’s winner Brady Poskin from Kansas City, MO, our first-ever flatland men’s winner of the race (9:16:32). Brady assumed the lead after overtaking Chris Rom on the way back to Arthur’s and after Alex Nichols dropped from the race. He would hold on comfortably from there to the finish.

Chris Rom, also a Bracy-coached athlete, followed Osowski home in fourth overall and second in the men’s race in his first career 50 miler (9:54:13). He would be followed home for fifth overall and third women by Vail’s Marina Hand (10:26:59). Rounding out the podium spots in sixth was Fort Collins local Brandon Cooper.

In the master’s division, it was another Fort Collins local, Derrick Searle (11:17:46) taking home top honors with Wellington’s Paul Nielsen (13:27:41) claiming top honors in the 50+ division. On a tough course on a tough day, we didn’t see any women’s finishers in the 40-49 or 50+ divisions.


Trail Work Day

As part of our mission to promote responsible use of the public trails we are granted the right to race on each year for Quad Rock, we host an annual post-Quad Rock Trail Runner Trail Work Day. This year’s work day is scheduled for September 19. If you’d like to be added to our volunteer trail work mailing list to learn about these and other upcoming trail work opportunities, please visit our trail work page.


Thank You

 

The Towers Aid Station Team

We can’t say it often enough, but thank you volunteers. Your passion and dedication to your fellow runners is what makes our races so special. We owe you all a huge debt of gratitude, and especially so this year with so many adverse circumstances and conditions to deal with. Thank You!

And to our amazing sponsors, thank you!

Countryside Animal Hospital

Fort Collins Running Club

With generous product support from: VFuelNew BelgiumMary’s Mountain Cookies, and BoBo’s.

We look forward to seeing you again in 2021. We’d also love to see you later in the year at one of our shorter events.

On September 12 we’ll be hosting the 8th running of the Black Squirrel Half Marathon in Lory State Park, followed October 17 by the 13th running of the Blue Sky Marathon, Fort Collins original and only Trail Marathon.

And remember, if you finish all four events in the calendar year you become a Gnar Slammer and receive an end-of-season award in addition to free entry into the 2021 Quad Rock 25 or 50 mile race.

Thank you all!

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