Including VK, 26K and 52K courses, "the mountains meet the sky" at California's Broken Arrow Skyrace.
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Established in 2016 as the first of its kind in California, the Broken Arrow Skyrace just had its second successful race weekend. California’s Squaw Valley plays host to this rugged event- a weekend of running where a Vertical K kickoff Friday morning, followed by a 26K and 52K Saturday together form the first event in the US SkyRunning Series.
La Sportiva had a full crew of Mountain Running® athletes at Broken Arrow with teammates traveling from the east and west coasts to compete and offer support to fellow athletes. Base camp was a shared house on the Truckee River where everyone met Thursday night to cook and eat together, share training tips, and rehash old race stories. Thursday evening relaxation turned into pre-race jitters as Friday morning dawned.
After fueling with a big breakfast, the team headed down to the Vertical K, a 3.1 mile hill slog with 3,100 feet gained. Throughout the weekend, La Sportiva Mountain Running® athletes-turned MC, Nico Barazza and Sarah Keyes, provided Facebook Live Updates from the course, and the VK was their first stop.
Throughout the afternoon following the VK the energy in Squaw Valley began ramping up, as more athletes arrived, picked up their packets and transitioned into race mode. At 3pm, the VK awards ceremony began where La Sportiva athlete Laura Haefeli (54:43) placed 3rd overall in the Women’s category. After a forced break from long-distance running due to plantar fasciitis, the Del Nort, CO local said the VK was “an awesome, challenging course- I’d never raced in the snow before and it was actually kind of cool. Just a really different challenge, and beautiful once we hit the top.”
Pam Smith finished the VK in 1:05:05, securing a 2nd place for the 40-49 female age group. A resident of Salem, OR, Smith’s training has predominantly been focused on roadrunning as she prepares for the 24 Hour World Championship later this summer. She admitted that “it was fun, and very different (...) to have a little bit of a lung searing workout,” after high volumes of training on long, flat terrain.
After the awards, the La Sportiva team made their way back to base camp to talk training, race strategy and what it’s like to be a professional athlete.
Starting off the Q&A, Nico Barraza took a poll of which shoes the runners had chosen to race in throughout the weekend. A wide range of responses included Pam Smith’s choice of “the Akyras, they’re a little beefier and have some grip” which she had planned to wear in the VK and 26K, to Jason Bryant’s choice of the grippy Akashas, to Laura Haefeli’s choice of the La Sportiva Mutants for their aggressive lugs adding extra bite on the snowy course.
As the athletes got to know each other more, it was interesting to hear the runners’ experiences racing in the snow. Bryant, from Elkin, NC, has been a competitive runner for almost three decades, but took up Mountain Running® in his early 30’s after his wife commented that he “charged up hills awfully fast.” The east coast runner said that local conditions force him to actively seek out snow but the texture of eastern and western snow is still different, and he’d considered using poles for the 26K. Also competing in the 26K, Kelly Halpin was more excited by the snow because the conditions would feel familiar to her hometown; “I’m super psyched because Jackson is just completely covered in snow right now.” Halpin also shared that her main training focus has been to prepare for an upcoming trip to Greenland where she will attempt to “run the circumference of the peninsula along the ice cap and the glacier- off-trail, complete adventure racing” style.
Another Jackson well versed in snow running, Meredith Edwards planned to take Broken Arrow like just another training run, as it fell in the middle of her training cycle leading up to the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. While she’s still been covering plenty of vert, Edwards shared that her training has also returned, in part, to her college running roots- the track; “what people don’t realize is that if you just run mountains, you’re going to get slow. You need to keep the turnover in your legs and when you look at a course like UTMB that’s so runnable, yet so much vert, you need to incorporate all different types of workouts and be well rounded as a runner.”
Finally, Sarah Keyes made an appearance at Broken Arrow, in full support mode as she rests in Squaw to “ease my way into the Western States crazy.” For the past two months Sarah’s “training” has taken her on a cross-country running tour that will culminate in her first Western States 100 Endurance Run on June 24, 2017.
Quiche and coffee kicked off Saturday morning and those racing took their places early at the start, while others stationed themselves throughout the course to offer competitors support. Hunkered down at the top of Squaw Peak’s Stairway to Heaven, Sarah Keyes waited to cheer all the racers on as they ascended the make shift snow stairway, crude steps carved into the hillside by hundreds of heavy legs. Reigning champion from the inaugural Broken Arrow Sky Race, Keyes knew this would be a pivotal spot to bolster the athletes spirits! While snow is always anticipated in a sky race, 70% of the 26K course loop at this year’s event was under snow, delaying the race start by one hour and causing many runners to turn to racing poles, or at the very least heavily lugged Mountain Running® shoes, like Andrew Fast’s Bushidos.
Racers filing in from the 26K and 52K jubilantly rang The Bell as they crossed the finish line. While the results were being tallied, the La Sportiva team retreated back to the house for a quick, yet well deserved dinner. The afterglow from such a big weekend set in, exhaustion-provoked euphoria, and the runners’ giddy laughter rang through the valley as the team returned (piled into a truck bed) to the awards ceremony.
The awards ceremony wasn’t a disappointment, as a slew of La Sportiva teammates had noteworthy finishes. In the 26K, (16.2 miles, 5279 feet gained and lost) Janelle Smiley, usually a ski-mo racer, showed her mountain athlete dominance by taking 2nd place for the Women’s overall (2:56:28). Jason Bryant placed 6th overall (2:39:40), and 1st in the Men’s 40-49 age group. Pam Smith also grabbed 1st in the Women’s 40-49 age group (3:17:21), an impressive performance especially considering she ran the VK the day before! Both placing 6th in Men’s and Women’s 30-39 age groups, Kelly Halpin (3:25:19) and Andrew Fast (2:59:45) rounded out the 26K results.
Two laps around the same course, (32.3 miles, 10,500 feet gained and lost) the 52K bronze winner was Nick Elson (5:11:24)! La Sportiva Climbing and Mountain athletes Adrian Ballinger and Emily Harrington also raced in the 52K. For Harrington, who placed 12th for women, Broken Arrow was her first ultra- and a stout first at that.
By the end of the night, everyone was exhausted but slaphappy, as the weekend was winding down the satisfied “we did it!” feeling settled over the group.
And while we went our separate ways after Broken Arrow to tackle a range of running goals, we are a true team of Mountain Runners.
Preview Photo & Photo 1: © AltaiCreative
Photos 2-7, & Video: © Quinn Carrasco