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Red Card Roberts

In horse racing, the Triple Crown is considered the greatest accomplishment of a Thoroughbred’s career. There is no greater achievement for a horse and its jockey than to win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.

In fact, it’s such a difficult feat that only 11 horses have ever held the title of "Triple Crown Champion" in the long and storied existence of the series. And it’s been 34 years since the last horse took home the honor.

It’s been said there is no race series more agonizing, more impressive or more prestigious than the Triple Crown.

But Park City resident Annie Hoover might just disagree. She is one of only two people to have completed all seven runnings of Park City’s version of the Triple Crown, The Triple Trail Challenge (TTC). It’s a series of three races — The Jupiter Steeplechase, Park City Marathon or half marathon and the Mid Mountain Marathon — spaced about two weeks apart.

The series just wrapped up its seventh year with the Mid Mountain Marathon on Saturday. Ann crossed the finish line in less than five hours. When asked if there would be an eighth TTC, she said, "I can’t stop doing this series unless Eddie does."

Ann is talking about Eddie Knapp, the only other person to have done all seven TTCs. "It’s a painful tradition for us to do this, but we have a pact: if he’s in, I’m in."

This three-stage race begins with the Jupiter Steeplechase, on a 16-mile course that rises roughly 3,500 feet from Park City to the top of Jupiter Peak, then to a nearby summit, then back down. "People are on their hands and knees climbing to that summit," Ann said.

After a two-week break, runners switch to the relatively easy Park City Marathon or half marathon (they can choose which one to run). Running either 26.2 or 13.1 miles at altitude is not considered "relatively easy" anywhere else on the planet. But it’s arguably the easiest stage of the TTC series. "It’s pretty flat and since it’s mostly on pavement, you just have to run. You don’t have to mentally be on, looking out for roots and rocks that can be your undoing on a trail race," Ann noted.

The Mid Mountain Marathon caps off the series, on 26.2 miles of single-track trail from Silver Lake Lodge at Deer Valley Resort to The Forum at the Canyons. "I had always thought the Steeplechase was the hardest of the three TTC races, but man, on Saturday, I was convinced it was Mid Mountain," Ann said.

But for Ann, Mid Mountain also the most magical. "My mom died five years ago, the same week as this marathon. She was a fiber artist and incorporated nature scenes into her work. This race always reminds me of her art. There’s a lot of alone time on this course and I use it to reflect on her life and her art. So it’s a very, very special course for me. Thinking about her helps me forget about the physical pain I’m in during that race."

While the race was grueling, Ann says the hardest part was right before someone said, "Runners, take your mark."

"You’re standing at the start line, wrapped in your sweats and warm. It’s 40 degrees and dark out. And you know you have to strip down to your race clothes. It takes a lot of guts to do that, because you know you’re going to be freezing for a few miles. But you also know as soon as that sun comes up, you most certainly don’t want to be running in your sweats!"

Those who finish the TTC receive a coveted jacket, with patches for each completed race. "Wearing that jacket makes all those punishing races worth it. It’s a sign of your accomplishment," said Ann.

And it’s far better than a bag of carrots — which is what the horse that wins the Triple Crown goes back to the barn with.

If you have a story idea for Red Card Roberts, please e-mail her at sabordog@aol.com.

Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, public-relations guru and globe-trotting thrill seeker. In a former life she worked in TV news, both as a reporter and sports anchor. She has bagged peaks on six continents, kayaked the Zambezi and Nile rivers, swam with great white sharks in South Africa and tracked mountain gorillas in Rwanda. She was once very nearly sold for 2,000 camels while traveling through Morocco.


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