Dan Simoneau finds all sorts of different activities to help his nordic skiers stay fit during the summer and fall.
But the nordic director for the Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation says that running uphill is the purest measure of fitness.
One of his skiers, 16-year-old Jeffrey Bert, is taking running uphill to a new level. Later this summer, the Summit High junior-to-be will travel to Italy to compete in the Youth Skyrunning World Championships.
Skyrunning, as defined by the International Skyrunning Federation, is mountain running at an elevation of higher than 2,000 meters (about 6,562 feet) with an incline of more than 30%. The sport was founded in 1992 by a group of mountaineers in the Italian Alps and now, according to the ISF, has more than 50,000 racers across 65 countries.
This type of trail running intrigued Bert while he was running during the past couple of summers to stay in shape for nordic ski season.
“Every camp we do, we do an uphill run as a test,” Simoneau says of his nordic teams. “And Jeffrey’s been helping me to find the hardest climbs. Going uphill is just a pure measure of fitness. What’s your aerobic capacity? Jeffrey and I will sit there with a map, ‘OK, where do we have big hills and where are the trails?’ He knows them all. He’s run them all.”
A member of the MBSEF nordic team for five years, Bert has competed in the Junior Olympics in cross-country skiing the past two winters. He started venturing out on long training runs of 13 to 15 miles during the summertime and attended the Max King Trail Running Camp the last two summers. The camps, operated by the renowned pro runner from Bend, were held near Mount Hood in 2017 and near Lake Tahoe, California, in 2018.
“That was an amazing opportunity that I got to be a part of,” Bert says. “I just had an incredible experience. It was a really enjoyable camp to just start my interest in trail running.”
Bert has finished three ultramarathons — races that are longer than the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles. This past weekend, he placed 16th out 171 finishers in the 13.3-mile Mt. Ashland Hill Climb in Southern Oregon He was 16th out of 311 finishers in the Smith Rock Ascent 15-mile run on May 19. (Bert competed in cross-country as a freshman at Summit but did not continue as a sophomore, he says, because he wanted to focus on longer-distance trail running.)
Bert applied to compete in the Youth Skyrunning World Championships, to which participants pay their own way. His application included his results from various races as well as a few essays and a recommendation from King.
Situated in the Apennine Mountains, L’Aquila, the site of the world championships, is about a 90-minute drive from Rome. Bert is set to compete in two races at the world event. The first, set for Aug. 2, is a vertical kilometer, which includes 1,000 meters of elevation gain over a distance of less than 5 kilometers. His second race, set for Aug. 4, is a 15-kilometer run through similar terrain. The events feature extremely technical trails.
Bert says he found out about skyrunning through a friend of a friend on his nordic team.
“And then just looking it up online, I realized it took my strengths and it was something that I could go with,” he says. “It’ll be some brutal competition, but I’m really excited for it because it’s what I’ve been training for.”
The young runner says he has spent much time training at Smith Rock State Park near Terrebonne, where typically he can find lots of elevation gain without any snow. As the snow melts in the Central Oregon Cascades this summer, he plans for additional training runs up South Sister, Mount Bachelor and Tumalo Mountain.
Bert’s father, Mike, is a commercial pilot. The family — Bert, his parents and his sister Heidi, 14 — has enjoyed hiking and backpacking trips at various places around the world. During these trips, Bert has headed out on long trails runs in countries such as France, Switzerland, Chile, New Zealand and the Australian island of Tasmania.
“It’s amazing for training, and you see such a variety of trails,” Bert says of traveling.
Bert’s family plans to make the trip to Italy to watch him race and then travel around Europe afterward.
“We just love traveling and love seeing the world,” Bert says.
Sports medicine is Bert’s long-term career goal. He says he hopes to attend college in a mountain town where he can continue to pursue nordic skiing and, of course, trail running.
“He’s just an aspirational kid when it comes to doing stuff,” Simoneau says. “He just wants to be better at whatever he does. It’s pretty cool. Whatever he chooses to do, he’s going to be really good at.”