The Cirque Series has been on my bucket list ever since 2017 when I saw them for the first time. The idea of running all the way up to the peak of a mountain, and then back down seemed crazy. But at the same time, I couldn’t help wanting to throw my hat in the ring on race day. Well, on Saturday, September 7th, my “wish” came true. Holy Sh!t… this was the toughest single event I’ve ever done, including the Grand Teton, and it was worth every, single, painful stride.
The mapped race was 8.7 mile course with 3,566 ft of climbing. Starting from the base area, climbing up the cirque to the summit of Hidden Peak, then down to the saddle before climbing up to Mt. Baldy, followed by a steep descent into Mineral Basin, through the Peruvian Tunnel, and ends with a scorching downhill sprint to the finish line.
When I signed up for the race, in early July, I was still in the middle of the mountain biking race season. So I wasn’t able to start training for this race until August 1st, giving me just over a month to train. A period of time that I soon realized was not enough. 3 to 4 times per week, I was running the trails here in Park City and climbing up to as many peaks as my body would allow. I knew I was never going to be able to run such a steep course (especially near the peaks), but I wanted to train hard enough to run most of it. This lead to me training every week at Canyons Resort, simulating this exact course by running from the base, straight up the steep ski runs, up to the ridgeline, and then back down again. That got me into pretty good shape, but did not prepare me for this race.
Race day came quicker than expected, and before I knew it, I was sitting in the Snowbird Parking lot filled with the pre-race jitters. After signing in, and walking around the vendor village a few times (scoring some free lulu lemon shorts), the race was finally about to begin. My buddy Kyle and I planned to run together, and when the gun went off, we shot out the gate like bats out of hell. Positioned towards the front, just behind all the real runners, we started our climb up the winding service roads. Admittedly, I was feeling great. Kyle and I were passing groups of runners on the way up. The superman energy quickly faded when I looked down at my watch and saw I was pushing a heart rate of 175bpm… on a pretty cruiser portion of the road. This was a big red flag! My max is somewhere in the 180+ region so I was redlining.
I had gone out way too quickly and feared building up lactic acid this early into the race could lead to me bonking. Kyle started to put some distance between us, as I tried to settle into a hike/run pace that I could bring my heart rate back down. I pushed myself up the roads for the first two miles, where the climbing was moderate and I knew I actually had a chance of jogging this part. Then we crossed over into the Peruvian Gulch and things started to get steep, especially once we got onto the Peruvian Ridge Trial. My legs, by this point, felt like they were filled with cement. I was full-blown hiking at this point, and could barely get a few jogging steps in where it was possible.
This was a bummer, I was feeling terrible at arguably the most epic part of the race. Running up a narrow spine that overlooked all of Little Cottonwood Canyon as we approached Hidden Peak. Luckily, the crowd started to build near the summit and I was getting more and more motivated, especially after passing the cowboy with the bullhorn turning stoke levels up to 11. Eventually, I made it to the top, where a race official told me I was in the 74/500 position. That motivated me even more to sprint down the descent that dropped you down to the shoulder before climbing back up the ridge to Mt. Baldy. This climb was much more manageable and not nearly as steep as the previous climb was.
From here, it was all downhill, or so I thought. We dropped off the backside of Mt. Baldy, into Mineral basin, on a super-steep trail. Fortunately, the previous day’s rain turned the dust into inches of thick brown dirt allowing you to sprint down it without loosing footing, and descending more like a technical ski line than a run. I was able to pick off a few runners here, until we reached the poorly marked traverse across the boulder field. My legs had no juice left in them to keep up a descent pace without the help of gravity. Luck for me, this was about to change as we crossed through the tunnel that connects Mineral Basin to Peruvian Gulch.
This marked the part of the race where it was going to be 100% downhill from then on. This is what I had been training for, opening up my stride and letting gravity take my downhill as fast as possible. We hit the service roads and I just opened my stride (trying to avoid as many of the large rocks as possible), and picking up the pace to around 7min/mile. The vertical feet began to tick away and the base area started to come into view. I knew I only had under 2 miles left, and that’s when my body started to shut down. My mind was telling me to go, go, go; while my body was screaming for me to stop. I was in so much pain and honestly didn’t know what I should do.
I hit the last part of the trail, that took you from the main base area, to the finish line in just under a mile. I was so close, so I pushed, giving it everything I had, and was able to run across that line to receive my finisher’s medal just before almost passing out. Court found me immediately to congratulate me which I desperately needed. Then ran into Kyle to see how his race was (turned out much better), and then found out our buddy Pete also ran it. Unfortunately for him, he got there late and started in the very back of the 500 runners, but finished only shortly after I did. I ended up coming in 28th out of 445 for the sport division with a time of 1:53:13, achieving my goal of sub-2hrs and 8 places off my goal of coming in top 20. Not too bad, in my opinion, I couldn’t have been more stoked.
So, yeah, this race was definitely the most exhaustive effort I’ve ever put into something… and I can’t wait for the next one!
My name is Zachary Kenney and my passion is to tell stories that will hopefully motivate you to go live a more adventurous life through photos, videos, and written. My content ranges from mountain climbing, bike riding, wold traveling to cabin life and gear reviews. Currently based out of Park City, UT.