By Kim Fuller Published in The Denver Post
VAIL — The snow has finally melted from the lower slopes of Vail, and participants in Ellen Miller’s summer intervals class are charging up the steep, mud-hardened mountain under early-summer sunshine.
“Welcome to my office!” Miller calls out to the group as they recover between sets (some leaning over with hands on knees, red-faced and panting) of uphill bursts under rustling aspen.
The rigorous sessions, which start at 7 a.m. from the Vail Vitality Center, are meant for people to get out and “pick up the pace,” which Miller says she thinks is important for everyone to do at least once a week.
There’s no choice but to pick up the pace here, where there is nowhere to go but up. Miller runs her classes through the winter and summer, sustaining a consistent group of loyal locals at every session, and almost always a tourist or two — the classes are drop-ins, and visitors are welcome to join in the high-altitude, high-intensity workout.
If you’re in one of these mountain towns this summer, check out these workouts, which you can drop in on to elevate your exercise routine.
In Miller’s Tuesday class, interval bouts last one to four minutes, and push runners, joggers and fast hikers to bring their heart rate up. The bouts add up to a total of nine to 18 minutes of work — nine when the season begins in late May, and progressively up to 18 by August and September. So classes later in the summer are tougher than those in June, but Miller always gives first-timer interval participants the option to stop or hike alongside the group after their nine minutes of work.
It sounds tough, and Miller’s reputation as the only American woman to have summited Mount Everest from both Nepal and Tibet might scare some, but she emphasizes that her workouts are inclusive.
“Anybody — at any age and at any ability level — can join the intervals class,” said Miller. “The beauty of that style class is that I keep them coming back together during the recovery.”
Miller also coaches an endurance class at 7 a.m. on Thursdays, which is meant to keep people in a lower heart-rate zone — what she calls “gossip pace.”
“The purpose of the Thursday class, in its purest form, is to encourage people to work in lower heart-rate zones,” she said. “It’s really to teach the value and the importance of working in the lower heart-rate zones, because there is physiological magic that happens in those training zones that does not happen in (higher zones).”
Stay in that conversational heart-rate zone, and the body recovers to make room for increased cardio strength and sustainable endurance, she said.
Tuesday and Thursday at 7 a.m. $15 for drop-in, $35 for full Vail Vitality Center facility and amenities. Free group runs on Mondays and Saturdays at 8 a.m. Guests to the Vail Mountain Lodge and sister properties can take classes and use the facility free. vailvitalitycenter.com
“Training up here can be great for anyone,” said Molly Mikita, owner of Vertical Runner Breckenridge and organizer of the store’s free run clubs. “Running on the trails or any hilly terrain will make you stronger.”
Mikita said the group runs offer something for all levels of runners, and they’re useful for visitors to Breckenridge, too. “The trail groups are a great way to explore and learn new trails in the safety of a group, led by someone who knows the area well,” she said.
She also offered some tips to those visiting from lower elevations. “In general, expect to train at a slightly slower pace than you would at lower elevation, plan to need and bring more water and energy fuel with you, and run with a buddy or make sure you tell someone where you will be running.”
There are runs every week for everyone, including a kids run and a Friday women’s trail-running group that lets runners explore the Summit County trails together.
Vertical Runner: Tuesdays at 5:45 a.m., speed work at Summit High School track, in Frisco; Thursday runs at 6 p.m. meet at Vertical Runner in Breckenridge (301 N. Main St.) and end at a local pub; Friday women’s trail-running group at 7 a.m.; kids running club Mondays at 5:15 p.m. Runners meet at the store or local trailheads; check the store’s Facebook page and the group run board in the store for locations. 970-423-6116, verticalrunnerbreckenridge.com
Elevation Fitness in Dillon starts its summer outdoor boot camp class at the end of June in Dillon Town Park on Buffalo Street (if weather allows). The class runs for one hour, and includes calisthenic exercises like sit-ups and push-ups, ladder drills, hurdles and sports-specific drills, like football throws and soccer dribbling.$15 drop-in. 7 a.m. Mondays and Wednesdays. 970-468-7597 or elevationfitnesscolorado.com
Aspen Trailheads, a running group launched by Aspen endurance and running coach Trey Barnes, was started last summer, but the turnout was minimal. This year, up to 20 runners and walkers, men and women, locals and tourists, are showing up at 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays at the Old Power House, on Mill Street, for a workout.
Thursday evening’s Thirsty Thursday Run is the most social of the gatherings, with up to an hour of running followed by dinner and drinking — “brews and grub,” according to the group’s Facebook page.
The Trailheads also meet on Tuesday mornings at the Aspen School District track at 6:30 a.m., and on Saturday mornings for a long and slow distance run.
“The motivation to get out is so huge,” said Lissa Ballinger, a group fitness instructor in Aspen. “As soon as you step out the door you are rewarded by amazing trails that inspire you to keep running farther.”
Carrie Jo Chernoff-Hicks, owner of Crested Butte’s Synergy Athlete gym, said that as soon as the summer weather starts, she brings her morning classes outside for strength circuits and hill sprints on Peanut Lake Road, Tony’s Trail or Green Lake Trail.
” ‘Grab a sandbag,’ I tell everyone,” she said. ” ‘We’re gonna take this class outside.’ “
Chernoff-Hicks said that a lot of visitors don’t give the elevation enough respect until they’re there in the moment working out. Their skills and strength may be apparent, she said, but the altitude has an effect.
“The uniqueness just comes from being up at 8,885 feet,” Chernoff-Hicks said. “If you are visiting, you definitely become acclimated more quickly if you exercise with some intensity. So then, when you go out and do another activity like mountain biking, you’re kind of experiencing it in a controlled environment.”
$35 drop-in fee includes a class and a T-shirt; one week unlimited for $65. 311 Sixth St., 970-349-6445, synergyathlete.com.
For a structured running experience in the area, check out the schedule at Crested Butte Mountain Runners. Drop-in runs are $5 per person. visitcrestedbutte.com/mtnrunners/