By Mike Maltais
“Overall pretty humbling,” is how Winthrop distance runner James DeSalvo described his first encounter with the 60-kilometer Angels Staircase high altitude endurance run last Sunday (Aug. 11), even though he finished an impressive sixth among 75 who completed the race.
DeSalvo, 37, took time away from his duties as executive director of the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association to clock a time of 6 hours, 16 minutes, 48 seconds – about 45 minutes behind winner Mario Mendoza from Bend, Ore.
DeSalvo was among the front rank of runners who left the starting line at Foggy Dew Campground at 7 a.m. sharp because he had a specific target in mind.
“I was going for that first 10 miles,” DeSalvo said, referring to the $250 prize money offered to the first male and female runners to reach the crest of Angels Staircase and go on to finish the full 60K.
For the first time in its three-year history the Angels offered prize money to its top finishers. In addition to the award for the first male and female to reach the top of Angels Staircase, overall first-place male and female competitors each received $1,000, second place $500, third place $250, and $250 for first male and female masters (40-plus).
“We ran together for the first three or four miles,” DeSalvo said of his co-leaders. “Then I looked at my watch and saw that my pace was significantly faster than what I was used to.”
DeSalvo had to decide whether to spend himself in an effort to win that first leg or throttle back to achieve a strong overall finish. He chose the latter strategy.
Danielle Micheletti, 47, of Winthrop, the only other local entrant, finished fourth in her age group with a time of 9:58:27. It was her first race of the year and her first taste of the Angels.
“I did the 23-mile upper loop with Erik Brooks a couple of weeks before the race,” Micheletti said.
That exposure helped the mother of two prepare for those difficult stretches of the course that “were very technical” including the 10-mile descent to the finish.
The Angels, acknowledged by participants as the most challenging event of its type in the Northwest, was also DeSalvo’s first introduction to a high altitude 60K.
“I ran my first 50K earlier this year at Sun Mountain,” DeSalvo said.
“I mountain biked about 75 percent of that course five or six years ago,” DeSalvo recalled.
An extreme storm of lightning, thunder, rain and wind had hammered the course and the rest of the valley the day before the race began. The residue left behind by the passing tempest included cooler temperatures and improved trail conditions for Sunday’s runners.
“You couldn’t ask for better weather,” DeSalvo noted. “The rain knocked down all the dust. Up high, temperatures were in the high 50s and low 60s. A few times when you dipped down in elevation it got a bit warm but otherwise it was mostly cool with a moist trail.”
Asked about the amount of gear he had to carry for the run, DeSalvo replied that he “prepared just about right” for the event.
“I had a small laminated map that I didn’t have to use and a garbage bag to keep me warm and dry in the event the weather turned,” DeSalvo said.
He added that the aid stations were sited such that body nourishment needs were adequately supplied.
“I might carry a little less food next time,” DeSalvo said.
And there will be a next time. Queried as to whether he will run the Angel’s again the new father of Parker James, born June 26, said he “will be back.”