Fort Collins’ elite runners help each other dream bigger


AnnMarie Kirkpatrick has lived and trained in Fort Collins since 2009.

She’s seen a lot of elite-level riders she competes against both locally and nationally come and go.

Many are moving south to Boulder, where there are dozens of coaches, training groups and support services for distance runners. Some go even further south, to Colorado Springs, where they can access the services of the US Olympic Training Center, or to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they can still train at altitude with warmer weather, less of snow and a significantly lower cost of living.

Others move to the Pacific Northwest, joining sponsored teams in Seattle, Portland or Eugene, Oregon.

Kirkpatrick is here to stay, however. She and her husband, Ryan, are raising their family here, and she started a new job in January with the city of Fort Collins promoting active modes of transportation. She has enough flexibility to complete her training runs which total 90 to 100 miles per week and to travel to half a dozen races across the country each year.

So she took it upon herself to launch an elite team of local runners.

“We live in an incredible area to train in, and there just wasn’t the support of an elite training team,” Kirkpatrick said. “We wanted to change that, so the founding members had this plan to build the support system and then be able to attract and retain riders who wanted to stay in that area and train at a high level.”

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The Front Range Elite team, which started in 2019, now has 11 members and a handful of local sponsors and runs weekly and monthly races to which other riders are invited to join.

“This group has been so positive,” said Audrey Suttor, a nationally ranked runner who moved to Fort Collins from Michigan with her husband last fall. “They welcomed me right away, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that. Having that positive energy around me is super motivating. I love it.”

Kirkpatrick, 40, runs in the elite division of the Cherry Blossom 10-mile Run on Sunday in Washington, D.C., and a 50k race on April 23 in Madison, Wisconsin, which will earn a spot on Team USA for the World Championships. world 2023 to the winner.

A handful of other team members plan to run the Horsetooth Half Marathon on April 10. Kirkpatrick was a frequent participant and won the local 13.1 mile race in 2018.

Another Front Range Elite runner, Sophie Seward, 25, plans to run Grandma’s Marathon on June 18 in Duluth, Minnesota, and a 50k race in New York next spring, also trying to secure a place in the 2023 World Championships. The former Western Colorado University runner, originally from Indiana, is a doctoral student in the Department of Health and Exercise Sciences at Colorado State University.

Cora Davies, a 25-year-old graduate student at CSU, and Suttor, 28, are training for the Boston Marathon on April 18.

Sophie Anders, 29, a former Texas A&M runner, won the Behind the Rocks 30K trail race last weekend in Moab, Utah, and finished fourth on Feb. 20 at the Austin Half Marathon in Texas.

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“All distances, all terrains; I will,” Anders said after Front Range Elite’s weekly “7 to 7” group workout, a 7 a.m. 7-mile run along the Spring Creek Trail, starting and ending at the Raintree Athletic Club. .

Team members also run together at other times of the week, but usually only in groups of two or three at a time, depending on their specific training schedules.

The team members all have their own coaches, who give each of them individualized workouts, Kirkpatrick said. But they share them in group chats and on spreadsheets, looking for opportunities to practice with other team members for a game or an entire practice session whenever those plans overlap.

“We all work and have different schedules, but if we can line up, we just like doing it together,” said Grace Morgan, 26, a former University of Kansas runner who moved to Colorado a while ago. four years and works for the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment.

More often than not, the workouts they can do with others are longer runs, where “the miles fly away when you have other people to share them with,” said Suttor, an occupational therapist.

It’s not just the miles that members of the Front Range Elite team share. They motivate and inspire each other in a way that only teammates with similar struggles, aspirations, and goals can.

Both Kirkpatrick and Seward competed in the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials and hope to reach the tougher qualifying standard of 2 hours, 37 minutes or faster for the 2024 Olympic Trials. Seward has a lifetime record of 2:33 .23, while Kirkpatrick is 2:37.51.

So the new standard — which only 15 U.S. women had reached as of March 8, when U.S. Track & Field last updated its qualifying list — is within reach.

And, they hope, within reach of some Front Range Elite teammates as well.

Anders and Jenna Bensko have also run marathons under 3 hours, and Suttor finished at 3 a.m. last year on his first attempt at the 26.2-mile distance.

Members of the Front Range Elite running club head to Spring Canyon Park in Fort Collins, Colorado on Wednesday, March 30, 2022.

Although they open up these weekly “7 to 7” runs to anyone who wants to join – and also have a 2-mile walking group for those who can’t keep up – their team is not a club for runners. occasional. Fort Collins has several.

Front Range Elite is a team of serious competitors pursuing significant achievements.

“We all help each other dream bigger,” Kirkpatrick said. “We all have pretty high goals and want to accomplish a lot. But as we worked together and really built the support structure, we want to see it continue to grow for future generations but also for ourselves.

“I think we’ve been allowed to dream bigger than we might be on our own.”

Kelly Lyell reports on CSU, high school, and other local sports and topics of interest to Colorado. Contact him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter @KellyLyell and find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/KellyLyell.news. If you are a subscriber, thank you for your support. If not, consider purchasing a digital subscription today.

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