Once upon a time…like…more than two months ago, I ran a race. That race has long since been forgotten by all, so I am here with my tres tardy race recap to bring it back into the forefront.
Even before I ran my first marathon, I was intrigued by the Imogene Pass Run. Aaron ran this race back in 2005 ( BA…before Amy), so maybe it came from him describing the amazing course, or maybe I liked the fact that snacks were provided at aid stations. I am pro snacks.
If you don’t know, Imogene is a 17.1 mile race with an elevation gain of more than 5,000 feet, peaking at an over 13,000 foot summit called Imogene Pass. The race starts in Ouray, CO, climbs up for 10 miles, and then steeply descents into Telluride, CO for the remaining 7.
Like many races these days, registering for this small (1500 participant) event now requires insider knowledge and advance planning. We did not have insider knowledge or advance planning for several years. But this year we added Imogene to our list, and we were ready when the time came. Registration opened up at 6:00 am on Saturday, June 1st, and closed two hours later with our names on the roster!
Training leading up to the race was…interesting. I transformed from a terrible, inexperienced trail runner in July to a slightly less terrible trail runner by early September. I didn’t necessarily feel confident in my abilities to complete this race without falling on my face, but I set out with just two goals 1) Not to finish dead last (or just dead in general) and 2) to not be completely miserable for 17.1 miles. Secretly, I wanted to finish under 4 hour without any notion what my mountain trail pace might be.
Ouray is a short 5.5 hour drive from Albuquerque, so we headed up that way on Friday morning, but not before running into a little frienemy hanging out in a “scenic overlook” rest area. I have never seen rattlesnakes in the wild before, and within two weeks I saw two. This is some sort of omen I am sure.
Once we got into Ouray (a very small resort town), we did our 2 mile shake out run (something I ALWAYS do the day before a race, especially if we’ve been traveling), showered up, and headed to packet pick-up. Imogene has a pretty runner friendly packet pick-up system. They have one on Friday morning in Telluride, they have one on Friday afternoon in Ouray, or you can pick up your packet on race morning.
Packet pick-up was very basic and well organized without the frills of an expo. The first thing that jumped out was the number of really fit looking people. Even the Boston expo had nothing on the athleticism that I saw in that room. And the calves. I have never seen so many perfectly sculpted calves in my life.
Next door the local EMT’s hosted a spaghetti dinner, but it wasn’t gluten-free friendly, so we found a pizza parlor that served gluten-free crust, and feasted. And then we headed to Ouray Brewing Company for our tradition night-before-race beer.
When we got back to the hotel, I was looking at the news, and on the MSN homepage, I found a video showcasing a determined baby mountain goat who had to get across the river to his family. This entire training cycle, I’ve been using “be the goat” as my mantra. Unfortunately, I forgot about my usual 2 week pre-race mental workout until Thursday, so I was trying to cram a bunch of positive, strong, mountain goat thoughts into a couple of days. Finding the goat video felt like a good sign.
The alarm went off at about 5:00 am the next morning. Imogene does not have frequent aid stations (which I believe is typical of remote races), so we both brought belts/hydration packs with us. I ate my usual pre-race breakfast of a honey pretzel Luna bar and a glass of Nuun. My Garmin, which had been “charging” all night, was actually faking it, so it was closer to dead than not. I hoped that the spirits of the Mountain Goat would keep it alive.
Parking in town was easy to find. It is my unconfirmed belief that most people stay in Telluride and take the race bus to the start line, so there are less cars taking up parking spaces. They had plenty of porta potties at the start, and the community center was open for restroom needs (however that line was longer).
And the goat thing. IT WAS A SIGN!
At about 7:20 they called everyone to line up (no corrals). The race director started listing off cities where most participants were from. Surprisingly, there weren’t very many people cheering from Albuquerque… we were kind of the only people that cheered when he called it out. Only slightly awkward.
At 7:30 sharp, the pistol went off, and we started the race! I felt really good for the first 2/10 of a mile!
And then we turned off Main Street and into the mountains.
I knew this race would be hard. But I took my first walk break a whopping 3/4 of a mile in, and I wasn’t the only one. It never crossed my mind that I would be walking during the first mile, but here I was, already needing some recovery. My little mountain goat spirit was crushed, but at the same time, everyone else was doing it, so I had a weird inner conflict going on. Was I defeated or cool?
And here’s another thing about this race. On about 3 different occasions, there was a fork in the road and no indication of which choice was the right one. As a result, half the runners went one way, and half went the other. The first time it happened, I actually stopped and stood there, strategically contemplating the pros and cons of each. Ultimately, I followed the crowd that looked older and wiser, hoping they’d run the race before and knew the secrets. After about a 10th of a mile, the trails met up again, and as far as I could tell, neither provided any advantage over the other, but it was a bit stressful to deal with, especially multiple times.
After that ordeal, I had a sudden and intense bout of nausea starting at mile 2. I really pride myself on just getting through it no matter what types of weirdness I face during races, but this is the first time that I really thought I was going to have to drop out. Without any porta potty options or aid stations nearby, I was pretty much forced to just kept running despite the discomfort. It felt like a desperate situation at the time, but looking back, I’m glad I didn’t really have the option to stop, because I may have actually quit.
At mile 3, I finally started feeling better, and my legs finally felt like they were warming up. And about this time, the trail transformed from pleasant to awesomely amazing. I never run with a camera or a phone, but I really wish I had taken some sort of picture taking device on this course because I can’t even describe what it’s like to run on the edge of a cliff looking down to a waterfall and a lush forest valley, so I guess this means you’ll actually have to run the race to experience it.
Between miles 3-7 there was a lot of walking, a lot of climbing, a bit of running. Throughout the course, we did encounter splashy mud, mid-trail streams (some with thin wooden planks to help you get across), a few breathtaking waterfalls, and a lot of rockiness. I’m really glad that I did get experience on very technical trails, because thanks to all the rain this part of the country has seen this year, the trails were more torn up than usual.
One of my favorite moments of the race came at “Lower Bird Camp.” Each of the aid stations seemed to be competing with each other, so they were all pretty outrageous. Runners were welcomed to Lower Camp Bird by a man wearing a bird hat actually squawking like a bird. I think I owe that nice squawking man quite a bit of thanks for lifting my spirits.
Because I was doing so much walking (which I hadn’t been training for) my muscles were really fatigued. With several more miles to go, I wasn’t sure how much longer I would be able to hold up before bonking. So, I did what felt natural…I ran. I was able to run for about 20 seconds at a time before tiring myself out, but it gave my legs a little bit of variety which helped. I did however get a lot of dirty looks from people who were convinced I was doing it to make up time. Nope, mountain running snobby people, I was just trying to do what it took to keep me going!
At mile 7, we hit Upper Bird Camp (luau themed), and the trail took a turn. My gorgeous mountain views slowly disappeared behind me and were replaced with an environment too high in elevation to sustain life, which I feel was a metaphor for my overall state of being. Even though I was taking in a bunch of “real” food at the aid stations including peanut M & M’s and bananas, I took my Mocha ClifShot when I noticed the elevation changing. The mocha flavor has caffeine, and apparently caffeine can help thwart the effects of altitude sickness (including headaches and nausea). I can’t positively say if it worked or not, but I didn’t experience any altitude sickness symptoms.
These last three miles up really showcased my weaknesses in training for this race. For the most part, I’d been staying with the same people on the ascent. But those people left me in their dust as they continued to climb. No amount of determination or intense “BE THE F!@#$%^ GOAT” chanting (I think in my head, but maybe not…) could make up for the fact that my legs did not have the strength or training to keep up the pace. Because the grade was too steep to mix things up by running, I was attempting to push the effort for 20 seconds and lay off for about 2 minutes.
I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t discouraged. At some point, pretty early on, the summit came into plain view, and the joyous sounds of cowbells ringing at the top could be heard among the groans and grunts of the climbers. Someone turned to me and asked if I that was the top. Since I obviously had no idea, I said YES with authority. Others were focused on IGNORING the distant oasis because it really was a good 2-3 miles away which is a cruel amount of uphill time to think that you’re “almost” there.
With my Garmin reading about 9.5 miles, I knew that I was relatively close to the top. I had about 10 minutes to go before hitting the 3 hour mark, so I dug deep and pushed myself to get to the top before 3 hours. Toward the top, the trail narrows, and we filtered into a single-file line. Spectators were lined up to give runners high-fives, which was really helpful. One lady was yelling out ranks to the women (I was woman #220). Random, but strangely motivating (I counted backwards every time I passed a female for the rest of the race).
In what felt like a giant sigh of relief, I took the step that took my journey from uphill battle to It’s All Downhill From Here. The summit was a huge party. Cheers loud enough to hear from three miles down the mountain, people taking joyous pictures with the summit sign (another moment when I wished I had my camera), and people gobbling up as many snacks as they could. I could smell the famed chicken broth, but I literally couldn’t find it among the candy and cookies which should tell you something about my mental state (Aaron said he got some, but it was too hot, so he wasn’t able to eat it).
I wasn’t sure how much time to spend at the summit. I didn’t have a camera to capture the usual photo ops. I wasn’t hungry enough for lots of snacking, and I knew Aaron was already well down the mountain, so I didn’t have anyone to hang out with. So, I took a few handfuls of M&M’s, took a moment of forced reflection to enjoy the view from the top/savor the accomplishment/look down upon the the mountain that I had just dominated, and then went on my merry way.
For months leading up to this race, I had been looking forward to the downhill. I am a strong downhill runner, and I was anticipating fun times barreling down a mountain for 7 miles despite warnings that the first 2 miles coming down were rather terrifying.
But holy steepness. Within a mile my quads felt significantly thrashed and it was taking intense concentration not to fall flat on my face. The trails were well washed out, leaving almost no place to run. People were trying really hard to not run into each other, but it was chaotic times.
At the top, I started running in front of two female runners. From what I gather, they had planned to run together, but one of them just kind of abandoned the other one at some point because she just wanted to be done with the uphill (it doesn’t sound like she bothered to tell her friend), but waited for her at the summit and this was the first time that they were talking since the great abandonment. Talk about passive aggressive fake friendliness going on. I dealt with the back and forth for about a mile, and I knew that if I wanted to not punch these people, that I needed to get away from them.
Luckily, I got away thanks to running faster than advisable, I didn’t fall down, and I never had to hear their dumb conversation again.
With about five miles to go, the crowd started thinning out. I was only passed by one group of three women on the way down, but passed several people. As a somewhat trained endurance runner, I felt I had an advantage at this point in the race, because even though this course was hard, my body is used to the long mileage. So while I was able to keep going, I could pinpoint the runners without that endurance training because they appeared to have just been run over by a bus.
I continued on my pace, still hoping to come in under 4 hours. I did come across a trombone player walking down which was unexpected and awesome (how did he get up there with a trombone???). And because the crowd had thinned out so much, I hit a couple of aid stations completely by myself. I didn’t necessarily need to stop, but I felt weird running through when they all sprung into action. I high-fived some kids, took some snacks, and gratefully accepted some cold water poured down my back (considering this was a mountain race, the temperatures were perfectly warm).
With three miles to go, my Garmin finally made good on its promise and died. This is the first time my Garmin has died on me mid-race, and strangely, instead of derailing my mental state (which, let’s be honest, was derailed somewhere between 12,000 and 13,000 feet), I think it made me run faster because of the pace uncertainty.
Spectators started to pop up sporadically along the course, which was reassuring…surely spectators wouldn’t be hiking further than 2 miles to cheer!
At one point, I turned at a switchback, and a green valley with little buildings came into view. I was hopeful that I was descending upon Telluride. I hadn’t studied the course enough to know how far the finish line was from the first spotting of Telluride, so I wasn’t sure if I should be excited that I was almost done, or scared that I was going to have to see this town for a few miles while wishing for the end. But it was a happy sighting nonetheless.
As the course became lined with spectators, I picked up the pace. The trail finally started to improve as I came into Telluride. I spotted Aaron, so I knew the finish line must be coming up soon. He yelled, with camera phone in hand, that the finish line was right around the corner.
As I turned the corner, the trail turned into asphalt and I spotted the finish line maybe a tenth of a mile away. I felt like I was flying as I sprinted across the fabulously steep downhill slant and past the cheering spectators as I crossed the finish line in 4:08:10, 32 in my age group, and 203/579 females. About 8 minutes slower than my goal, but I was truthfully happy that I made it and stayed in one piece, and got to finish strong considering how crappy I’d felt for most of the race.
After the race I was handed my finisher’s pin (while I’m not medal motivated, I was a bit disappointed that my grande mountain adventure didn’t warrant something slightly more significant). They had the usual water/Gatorade/snacks available, but no finisher’s photos.
After the race, we refueled at Smuggler’s Brewpub which was fantastic except for the bathrooms which were located down a full flight of stairs…painful both ways. We opted to take the later bus back to Ouray, so we explored the area a bit and took the gondola to Mountain City (famous people have houses there!).
When we got back to Telluride, we hopped on the bus. A nice volunteer brought oranges and cookies (leftover since the race had finished and they were cleaning up). The ride took about an hour, and it was raining the whole time, so I’m glad the weather held up during the race.
We were both exhausted and sore. I would say that my fatigue level was greater than it has been post-marathon. We both decided to forgo celebrating out in Ouray, so Aaron stopped by the grocery store, picked up a six pack of Telluride Brewery beer, and we ate leftover pizza and fell asleep watching TV.
Finish time: 4:08:10 (14:30 average pace)
Fuel: Luna Bar pre-race, ClifShot (with caffeine) at miles 7, cookies, peanut M&M’s, oranges, banana and peach slices along the course (provided at aid stations)
Hydration: One glass of Nuun pre-race, hydration belt with two little bottles filled with water, Sports Drink at aid stations
Gear: Brooks Cascadia trail shoes, ProCompression socks, Lululemon Fast Cat skirt (no pockets which was a big bummer), Lululemon CRB, Nathan’s Hydration belt (I packed gloves just in case, but didn’t need them).
Favorite Moment: The summit: the figurative and literal peak to conquering challenges.
Least Favorite Moment: The last few uphill miles. I felt very weak and discouraged.
Advice: Incorporate power hiking into your training, and train on technical trails. From what I hear, the downhill portion is usually very smooth, but because of recent rains, it was pretty torn up. Invest in trail shoes, bring your own water, and a camera.
Packet Pick-Up: Offered in both Telluride and Ouray. No frills, but well organized (the t-shirt was the least flattering race shirt I’ve ever received though).
Transportation/Parking: Bus rides from Telluride in the morning, and back to Ouary post-race (there was plenty of room, and they leave at a couple of different times, and are announced), we had NO problem getting a parking space near the start line in Ouray.
Hotels: We stayed in Ouray at the Hot Springs Inn which I would recommend. Hotels were pretty reasonably priced considering the amount of tourists.
Aid Stations: the best I’ve ever seen. Lots of good food. BUT there weren’t very many of them (6 total).
Bathroom situation: I saw one on the course at the summit (I believe there were more) I suggest bringing toilet paper. You are in the woods after all.
Even thought this race was HARD, I would like to do it again now that I know how to train better for it, and I really want to hit sub-4 hours. It’s close, it’s cheap, and it really presented a challenge that was humbling and exciting. This race also has a great “local” feel…everyone knows each other! My only issue is that there was definitely a feeling of mountain runner snobbery among a small minority of the people, but overall, it was a great race!