AnnMarie Kirkpatrick has been living and training in Fort Collins since 2009.
She’s seen plenty of the elite-level runners she competes against both locally and nationally come and go.
Many move south to Boulder, where there are dozens of coaches, training groups and support services for distance runners. Some go even farther south to Colorado Springs, where they can access the services of the U.S. Olympic Training Center, or Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they can still train at altitude with warmer weather, less snow and a significantly lower cost of living.
Others move to the Pacific Northwest, joining sponsored teams in Seattle, Portland or Eugene, Oregon.
Kirkpatrick is here to stay, though. She and her husband, Ryan, are raising their family here, and she started a new job in January with the city of Fort Collins promoting active modes of transportation. She has enough flexibility to get in her training runs that total 90 to 100 miles a week and to travel to a half-dozen or so races across the country each year.
So, she took it upon herself to launch an elite team of local female runners.
“We live in an amazing area to train in, and there just wasn’t the support of an elite training team,” Kirkpatrick said. “We wanted to change that, so the founding members had this plan of building the support system and then being able to attract and retain runners who wanted to stay in this area and train at a high level.”
The Front Range Elite team, which began in 2019, now has 11 members and a handful of local sponsors and hosts weekly and monthly runs that other runners are welcome to join them on.
“This group has just been so positive,” said Audrey Suttor, a nationally ranked runner who moved to Fort Collins from Michigan with her husband last fall. “They welcomed me right in, and I couldn’t be more grateful for it. Having this positive energy around is super motivating. I just love it.”
Kirkpatrick, 40, is running in the elite division of the Cherry Blossom 10-mile Run on Sunday in Washington, D.C., and a 50K race April 23 in Madison, Wisconsin, that will grant a spot on the U.S. team for the 2023 World Championships to the winner.
A handful of other team members are planning to run the Horsetooth Half Marathon on April 10. Kirkpatrick has been a frequent participant and won the local 13.1-mile race in 2018.
Another Front Range Elite runner, Sophie Seward, 25, is planning to run Grandma’s Marathon on June 18 in Duluth, Minnesota, and a 50K race in New York next spring, also trying to secure a spot in the 2023 World Championships. The former Western Colorado University runner, originally from Indiana, is a doctoral student in the health and exercise science department at Colorado State University.
Cora Davies, a 25-year-old graduate student at CSU, and Suttor, 28, are training for the Boston Marathon on April 18.
Sophie Anders, 29, a former Texas A&M runner, won the Behind the Rocks 30K trail race last weekend in Moab, Utah, and finished fourth Feb. 20 in the Austin Half Marathon in Texas.
“All distances, all terrain; I’ll do it,” Anders said following Front Range Elite’s weekly “7 at 7” group workout, a 7-mile run at 7 a.m. along the Spring Creek Trail, starting and finishing at Raintree Athletic Club.
Members of the team run together at other times during the week, too, but usually only in groups of two or three at a time, based on their specific training schedules.
Team members all have their own coaches, who give each of them individualized workouts, Kirkpatrick said. But they share them in group chats and on spreadsheets, looking for opportunities to train with other team members for part of or an entire workout whenever those plans overlap.
“We’re all working and have different schedules, but if we can line it up, we like to just to do it together,” said Grace Morgan, 26, a former University of Kansas runner who moved to Colorado four years ago and works for the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment.
More often than not, the workouts they’re able to do with others are the longer runs, where “the miles fly by when you have other people to share them with,” said Suttor, an occupational therapist.
It’s not just the miles the members of the Front Range Elite team are sharing. They motivate and inspire one another in a way that only teammates with similar struggles, aspirations and goals can.
Kirkpatrick and Seward both participated in the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials and are hoping to meet the more-difficult qualifying standard of 2 hours, 37 minutes or faster for the 2024 Olympic Trials. Seward has a lifetime best of 2:33.23, while Kirkpatrick’s is 2:37.51.
So, the new standard — which only 15 American women had met as of March 8, when U.S. Track & Field last updated its list of qualifiers — is well within their reach.
And, they hope, within reach of some of Front Range Elite teammates, too.
Anders and Jenna Bensko also have run marathons in less than 3 hours, and Suttor finished right at 3 hours last year in her first attempt at the 26.2-mile distance.
Although they open up those weekly “7 at 7” runs to anyone who want to join them — and also have a 2-mile run-walk group for those who can’t keep up — their team isn’t a club for casual runners. Fort Collins has several of those.
Front Range Elite is a team for serious competitors pursuing significant achievements.
“We all help each other dream bigger,” Kirkpatrick said. “We all have pretty high goals and want to achieve a lot. But as we’ve worked together and really build the support structure, we want to see it continue to grow for future generations but also for ourselves.
“I think we’ve been allowed to dream bigger than what we maybe would on our own.”
Kelly Lyell reports on CSU, high school and other local sports and topics of interest for the Coloradoan. Contact him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter @KellyLyell and find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/KellyLyell.news. If you ‘re a subscriber, thank you for your support. If not, please consider purchasing a digital subscription today.