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Chris Fisher was intent on turning the month of October into a life-changing experience.
A year after placing sixth in the virtual Max Vert Challenge organized by the Cirque Series trail running races, the 26-year-old trail runner, hiker, skier and peak bagger from Breckenridge, Colorado, quit his property management job to maximize his chances of going big this time around. And, wow, did he ever go big.
The Max Vert Challenge is an extension of the virtual racing world that emerged last year when in-person events couldn’t be held. Basically, it’s about logging as much uphill volume as possible and seeing where you stack up with like-minded upwardly mobile trail runners and hikers.
Last year, Noah Brautigam, a 31-year-old geo analyst from Salt Lake City, put up some eye-popping numbers, racking up 342,213 vertical feet (and 485.8 miles of linear feet) while doing laps of 8,299-feet on Grandeur Peak in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains. That not only topped runner-up Robert Steffens’ impressive effort of 305,146 feet, but it also established a new world record for most vertical feet gained in a month.
But last month, Fisher destroyed Brautigam’s record by logging an almost unfathomable 400,246 vertical feet (and 538.1 linear miles). Fisher’s vertical gain translates to close to 76 miles, or going up Mount Everest more than 13 times.
“Major props to Chris for his feat,” Brautigam said via text from Sweden, where he now lives. “That’s a huge number. I didn’t attempt it this year. The hills aren’t really conducive to max vert here in Sweden.”
What’s even more amazing is that Fisher averaged 13,347 vertical feet and nearly 18 miles on his feet every day for 30 days. (He took one day off during the entire month.) His biggest day included about 18,000 feet of vert, but he also had 10 days with 16,000 feet or more and only five or six days in which he logged less than 10,000 feet.
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But it didn’t come without its pitfalls. During that time, he suffered several sprained ankles, fascia tears in his quads and calves, tendinitis in one of his feet and pain in his knees.
“Getting 400,000 feet was my goal to start out with and that is what I wanted, so I made sure to make it happen, despite a lot of challenges,” Fisher said. “It was a big cycle of pains and aches in different parts of my body every day. It was a rough month battling my body, but I kept working through it and the pain went away. I went to bed exhausted very night, though. Sometimes I would do some foam rolling, but often I would just take a shower and go to sleep.”
Fisher racked up a hearty 253,000 vertical feet in last year’s Max Vert competition, but he said he didn’t’ get serious and truly inspired until midway through the month. He wound up bagging a lot of high peaks in and around Breckenridge and summiting nearly two dozen mountains in the process. But he was intent on making this year’s outcome different, so much so that he quit his job.
He started this year’s contest by doing laps on a small but steep hill in Breckenridge, but after about a week — and a trip to see a physical therapist for some dry needling to ease pain in his knees — he packed his car and drove to Utah with the idea of literally following in Brautigam’s 2020 footsteps on Grandeur Peak. Crashing in a friend’s condo not far from the trailhead, Fisher spent 7 to 10 hours running and hiking up and down sections of the same trail every day for the final three and a half weeks of the month.
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When he started his repeats on Grandeur, he would run/hike the entire 4.7-mile trail with 3,238 feet of gain all the way to the summit. He estimates he summited the peak 20 times in the first week, but then he developed a faster and more efficient strategy, doing repeats of 800- to 1,000-foot segments of the trail.
Fisher said he started every day by loading up with 2,000-calorie breakfasts from a local bakery, then stayed hydrated and well-fueled by drinking water and Gnarly Nutrition’s Fuel2O Endurance Nutrition.
He said he lost about 10 pounds overall, but also added a lot of muscle and gained a lot of fitness. For the month, he logged about 200 hours of moving time, an average of about 6 hours per day.
“It was different every day, but the last few weeks of putting in big vert, it was mostly done on small laps,” Fisher said. “I knew every footstep, every rock. My feet would land on the same exact spots every time on the way up and every time on the way down. I got to know that section of the trail pretty well.”
Fisher logged a lot of trail time with a friend, Tyler Valovic, 22 ,who wound up second in the Max Vert Challenge with 303,097 vertical feet (442 miles) and was part of a family that collectively logged more than 730,000 feet of vert for the month. Tyler’s dad, John Valovic, 55, finished eighth with more than 200,000 vertical feet, and his mom, Monica Valovic, 54, was the top woman and 11th in the final standings with 185,386 feet. Rami Alhamara, 52, of Colorado Springs was third overall with 294,821 feet gained.
Fisher wore a singular pair of Salomon Speedcross 5 shoes almost every day. He actually bought a new pair with two days left in the month, but after two laps on the trail he said his feet were hurting so badly that he switched back to the original, well-worn pair.
“There’s almost no tread left on the old pair and they’re ripped to shreds, but they feel great,” he said. “I just didn’t want to feel the pain I was feeling in the new shoes, so I put the old pair back on and kept going.”