Peaches and Imogene

The Imogene Pass Run has been on my list for a long time.  When I ran into a fellow in the back country with a race entry he needed to get rid of… well, opportunities are meant to be leapt at.

Everyone said that the proper way to run the race was to stay on the Telluride side (which is advisable even if you’re not running the race), take the bus over to Ouray on race morning; then run back to your hot-tub/campsite/beer/whatever.  At 5 am on Saturday morning I discovered that “the bus over to Ouray” was actually at least eight school buses; this is a really big race as trail races go with something like 1500 entrants.  Also, school bus seats have gotten a lot smaller in the last 25 years.

Runners traversing the slopes on their way to Upper Camp Bird

Shelf road fun along Camp Bird Road

It’s also not really a trail race in that almost all of it is on 4wd roads of various stripes.  The first five miles was up Camp Bird Road — mostly smooth dirt and occasional, exciting shelf-roads blasted into solid rock.  I mostly cruised along chatting with people, running the flat parts and making no effort to do more than hike the hills.  With 5000′ of up in ten miles, I knew I’d be getting plenty of leg work later on.  The weather was chilly and clear and the mood was generally pretty excited.

Upon reaching Lower Camp Bird Mine I discovered the first awesome thing about the Imogene Pass Run; big, fat wedges of fresh Colorado peaches!  If there is a more perfect aid station food out there, I’ve yet to meet it.  Fueled and sticky-fingered, we turned left and started up some markedly steeper road past some old, Victorian mine buildings in dense forest before breaking out into the sunlight at last.  The road was pretty rough here and people who went out too fast at the beginning were beginning to fall back.  At upper Camp Bird Mine (7.5 miles, 1:50, more peaches!), the slope increased yet again.  Certainly no one was running anymore and it was just a matter of how much life you could put in your walking pace.  From here to the summit, it was a calf-burning slog in increasingly cloudy skies and chilly wind.  My windbreaker had stayed tied around my waist, but it was a near thing.  Sleeves and gloves were definitely a good gear choice.

Still climbing.

Even with my conservative first half, the last 500′ to the summit taxed my legs pretty badly.  Part of the problem was that the jeep road was like walking up a 10% grade ramp rather than a series of steps at all angles like the trails I’m used to.  My calves were getting seriously worked and I was quite glad to finally make it to the summit.  I wasn’t the only one and it was a big party up there (13,114′, 2:43, more peaches and cups of chicken-noodle soup!).  I’d been running with a woman named Linda for the past three or four miles and we paused to take in the view and toast each other with cups of soup.

Seven steep miles of down from the summit.

More pounding descent.

The way down (7 miles, 3300′ of descent) started out no less steep than the final climb.    This time the challenge was to stay in control rather than keep moving upward and it took a couple miles for my downhill legs to get unlimbered.  People passed me as fast and recklessly (and wrecklessly) as I’d been passing them on the way up.  The scenery was still good, though, and eventually the angle eased, I found my downhill legs, and I stretched out into a more comfortable downhill pound.

More fun shelf road on the descent.

I’d had no preconceived time goals for this race but had arbitrarily said 4 hours would be a nice, optimistic goal.  I’d left the summit at 2:50, so ten-minute miles on the way down seemed plausible.  With 2.7 miles to go, I still had half an hour, but I stretched it out a bit more in the warm sun and beautiful, tree-lined road down into Telluride.  After the chill up at 13,000′ (my preferred operating temperatures), it was getting downright hot down here.  Hikers were starting to appear on the road and even a couple of people with race bibs cheering us on.  There was a “one mile to go” sign, and I decided to spend my remaining fuel, clocking probably sub-8 minute miles on the steep downhill.  Dirt met pavement at a sharp left-hand turn and I could see what must be the finish line three steep blocks ahead.  Six-minute miles.  Sprinting the last quarter mile, I was equally worried about tripping on a curb and whether they’d have peaches at the finish line as well.  I didn’t and they did (whole ones!) and my finish time of 3:52:43 was comfortably sub-4.  Mission accomplished.


It was a nice race.  Good scenery, great organization, and a classic point-to-point course harder than I’d expected.  It was wonderful to run into (and then run with) my old running buddies Von and Steve out there on the course, and even more fun to meet new friends out there.  I wouldn’t say that the run was the highlight of my visit to Telluride (the mountains there are hard to top), but it was certainly a good time.

I hung out at the finish line for a while, devoured a peach or three, walked back up the course and yelled for the incoming runners, lounged in the sun, chatted, and eventually wandered off to ride the free gondola.  Gaining altitude quickly and without effort was very welcome after a hard two days in the mountains.  Many thanks to Von, Steve, Linda, and countless others along the course for a great companionship as well as to Amy, Ed, and Mary Anne for post-race convivery, imbibment, and carnivorism.

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2 Responses to Peaches and Imogene

  1. Kyle Willett says:

    I really want some peaches now. Damn you and your lush prose, Danforth.

  2. Maureen says:

    This is my favorite race. And I ran it this year as well for the 3rd time. I’m a ‘stay in Ouray’ fan however. Great pics. Thanks for posting!

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