Reigning Squaw Mountain Run champion JP Donovan of Incline Village does not mind being the one to beat when the 32nd edition of the race returns this Saturday. But then again, he might not be, he said.
“It's always kind of fun to have a target on your back, but I wouldn't say that I'm the only one with a target on my back,” said Donovan, 25, who explained how last year's runner-up, Galen Burrell of San Francisco, recently defeated him soundly in the Montrail 6K Uphill Challenge, which essentially followed the same course up Squaw Valley. “He smoked me too. It wasn't close. He got me. So did some other guy (Rickey Gates), but I don't think he's going to be there.”
In last year's Squaw Mountain Run, Donovan and Burrell ran themselves ragged trying to reach the High Camp finish line first, which Donovan achieved in a time of 29 minutes and 52 seconds. Burrell was second in 30:14 and Michael Collins of Carnelian Bay third in 30:21.
“It was pretty awful. We pretty much destroyed each other,” Donovan said after the race, which is sponsored by Salomon and is part of La Sportiva Mountain series.
While those top contenders battle it out for the win, however, hundreds will take a more leisurely approach to the annual fundraising run, which is put on by the Auburn Ski Club and benefits their Junior Nordic ski programs and the Tahoe Forest Cancer Center. Some 540 people participated last year, and organizers expect better than 600 this year.
They have the choice to run or walk the 3.2-mile course up Mountain Run, which covers 2,000 vertical feet from the base area to High Camp, at 8,200 feet.
“Many parents hike with their kids, choose to push a stroller or carry infants as an added challenge,” said event organizer Sally Jones. “People also do the event each year to celebrate life following personal struggles with cancer or in memory of a loved one who may have been less fortunate.”
Participants vary vastly in age, from the single-digits on one extreme to the always-spry Del Wichelman of Oakland, who at age 88 was the oldest finisher last year (he came in 422nd place in a time of 1 hour and 15 minutes). Wichelman, now 89, is slated to run again on Saturday.
The Squaw Mountain Run also offers a guided “flower walk” at High Camp on easy, rolling terrain — with a free ride up and down the hill on the tram. All participants, whether running, walking or flower hiking, receive a souvenir beer mug, beer or lemonade, snacks, and a tram ride back down. They'll also be entered in a raffle with a chance to win prizes donated by local businesses and ski areas.
Awards for the uphill competitors will be given for top three places in five-year age categories.
Register online at www.squawmountainrun.com, or on race morning between 7:30-8:30 a.m.