Runners of all ages and skill levels were left gasping for air and stretching extremely sore legs after the XTERRA Colorado Trail Run Series’ challenging Cheyenne Mountain Trail Run at Cheyenne Mountain State Park on Saturday.
The Cheyenne Mountain Trail Run, the first of four XTERRA races in Colorado this year, featured 5K, 12K and 24K races that tested runners’ will, determination and stamina as they battled high altitude in a picturesque mountain scene.
Even Olympian Roberto Mandje had to take a minute to catch his breath after claiming first in the 12K in 46 minutes and 48 seconds.
“The distance and the XTERRA event itself commands so much respect,” Mandje said. “I am a complete novice and I’m at its mercy.”
The 31-year-old represented Equatorial Guinea in the 1,500-meter run at the 2004 Olympic Games and is living in Boulder as he trains for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Mandje, whose mother was born in Equatorial Guinea, has lived in a variety of places worldwide while his parents were diplomats. He first arrived in the United States in 1994 after moving from Swaziland.
Despite being a highly decorated elite runner, Mandje, a three-time Road Runners Club of America state cross country champion, is new to the XTERRA series after finishing seventh last year at the XTERRA Trail Run World Championships in his first XTERRA event.
“I am fairly new to the XTERRA scene,” Mandje said. “My plan was to come in here a bit tired and get a good hard effort, especially at elevation, and then use that to set me up for next week’s XTERRA West Championships in Las Vegas.”
Colorado’s elevation has been key for Mandje’s training regimen after he moved to Boulder from New York nine years ago.
“That’s the whole reason why myself and other international elites move to places like Colorado,” said the former University of Albany cross country and track and field star. “The elevation is just something that is completely different training and racing in. It gets you stronger and gives you a psychological and, possibly, physiological boost.”
Fellow Boulder resident Brad Seng, a professional triathlete, crossed the finish line first in the 24K in 1:34:13 after climbing from fifth during the race’s second loop.
“It was a constant grind,” Seng said. “It hurt man. I think I left a lung back up there at the top once we finally leveled out.”
Denver native Shelley Nelson (1:57.28) was the first female finisher in the 24K.
One of the joys of the XTERRA Colorado Trail Run Series is that it is open to runners of all ages and skill levels. On Saturday, plenty of Colorado Springs’ own came out for a morning run and found success.
Donna Garcia (32:28), of Jack Quinn’s Running Club Race Team, was first in the female division for the 5K while Jenni Leppert took home first place in the women’s division of the 12K race in 52:48.
“I moved here from Texas for the mountains and I have always been a runner,” Leppert said. “I love the trails and the terrain.”
Simon Gutierrez, also a member of Jack Quinn’s Running Club Race Team, finished first overall in the 5K in 24:12. Gutierrez said the main thing about the race was it was an opportunity to run in a challenging, but beautiful setting.
“I love it here,” Gutierrez said. “That’s what I was thinking about in the beginning of the race. Just how nice it was to be out there. It’s a privilege.”
The next series event is the Turkey Track Trail Run on June 15 in Pagosa Springs.
Points are awarded to the top age-group finishers of each race. At the conclusion of the series, each age-group champion will receive a free entry to represent Colorado at the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship.