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In it for the long run

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Ryan McGuire was the first runner to arrive at the High Altitude Training Center north of Mancos. He is a kindergarten teacher in Pennsylvania and is dedicating the summer to improving his marathon time in hopes of qualifying for the 2016 Olympic trials.

By Emery Cowan Herald staff writer

MANCOS

The setting of a new project to train runners in high-altitude conditions has all the trappings of a summer camp. The 1,100-acre property north of Mancos has a big community dining room that opens out to a broad veranda, cabins tucked into the forest and a rustic hunting lodge with bunk beds stacked inside.

Yet despite the carefree ambiance, the athletes here are pursuing serious training regimens – two are preparing for their final collegiate season, and another is working to shave seconds off his marathon time to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Trials.

And for Ben Hahn, a two-time All-American collegiate runner who founded the project, this is just the beginning. The 24-year-old has grand visions for the High Altitude Training Center becoming a multidimensional facility that offers expanded sports training, performance research and wellness programs, and he has a group of backers ready to help make that dream come to fruition.

Supporters see Hahn’s training center, which is part of an umbrella business called The Mancos Project, as a way to use the area’s natural amenities to attract runners and athletes from around the world. Those athletes, the logic goes, will drive demand for professionals – nutritionists, physical therapists, sports doctors – who can serve their training needs.

“The High Altitude Training Center is one more of those things we see as facilitating a sustainable economy while also providing jobs for students coming out of Fort Lewis College,” said Dr. Bruce Andrea, a cardiologist and exercise physiologist who also owns the Durango Performance Center. The performance center will work with High Altitude Training Center athletes on performance testing and training programs.

Getting started

Hahn grew up in Smethport, Pa., where he ran track and cross country in high school and won a state championship in the 3,200-meter run. At Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, he was a two-time All-American in track and field and cross country. After graduating in 2011, he moved to Colorado. He had visited Mancos on a previous trip and “fell in love with it,” he said. “It had lots of Forest Service roads, the scenery was nice, and the people were very welcoming. It just felt right.”

The ability to train at an elevation of 8,000 feet was a nice perk, too.

Hahn created an umbrella organization called The Mancos Project LLC in July 2012 and immediately began laying the groundwork for the High Altitude Training Center, reaching out to running friends and spreading the word in the running community. The program is unique in providing a place where athletes of all skill levels can train, he said.

The center offers three packages that range from $300 to $550 per week, with the most expensive package including housing, catered meals and sports performance testing with Andrea’s Durango Performance Center.

The training center’s first client came at the beginning of June, and since then, four more runners have arrived. The center also has received reservations from a runner from France, three sets of couples and a high school cross country team from Texas.

The program is still rough around the edges – weekly lectures were slow to get off the ground, the athletes’ ice bath is a metal tub usually used for animal feed, and the television in the makeshift theater room doesn’t work. But the athletes don’t seem to mind the rawness of the experience. They’re here for the thin mountain air, the miles of trails and the ability to dedicate themselves completely to their sport.

“All we have to do is focus on running and recovering,” said Tyler Mueller, a senior at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and captain of the university’s cross country team. “There aren’t any distractions.”

There’s no traffic to worry about, and the scenery is hard to beat, said Ryan McGuire, a kindergarten teacher who is training for the Olympic Trials.

“I get lost in my runs,” McGuire said.

Running at 8,000 feet holds a lot of appeal for athletes who live and train at sea level the rest of the year. Training at higher altitudes increases red blood cell count and spurs energy-production enzymes in muscle cells, allowing athletes to improve their aerobic capacity and use oxygen more efficiently, said Rotem Ishay, director of the Durango Performance Center.

“It can help them sustain a higher intensity for longer durations,” he said.

Athletes and dollars

Hahn received help from local economic-development organizations to get the High Altitude Training Center off the ground. The Southwest Colorado Small Business Development Center helped him hone his business plan, and Region 9 Economic Development District approved the High Altitude Training Center for a $25,000 micro enterprise loan.

“Ben seemed like he had good entrepreneurial spirit,” said Jenny Stollar, a business loan officer with Region 9. “Also, if you look at potential of what it could be for the region with most of the runners coming from out of state or out of the country, and you look at the impact of outside dollars coming in to use our amenities, that is one of (Region 9’s) targets.”

Ali Sabeti, a former World Bank senior staff member and business adviser with the Small Business Development Center, also took Hahn under his wing, helping connect him to potential partners and complete paperwork and regulatory requirements. The idea of a training facility fits perfectly with a host of other Smart Community Projects that Sabeti has undertaken because it is a source of sustainable job creation using the community’s natural assets that also diversifies the local economy.

Hahn’s ultimate goal is for the High Altitude Training Center to find or build a permanent facility (he currently is leasing the property north of Summit Reservoir) and incorporate training for cyclists, kayakers, extreme sports athletes and triathletes, as well as a wellness program.

Such a project has the potential to create new jobs for nutritionists, physical therapists and sports doctors, Sabeti said. The economic benefit of Hahn’s operation already is rippling outward to places such as Zuma Natural Foods, a grocery store in Mancos, where Hahn orders all the athletes’ meals.

The fact that someone as young as Hahn is spearheading The Mancos Project is ideal for the future of the organization and local economic development in general, Sabeti said.

“It’s good for the future generation to have some stake in the community,” he said.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

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