TELLURIDE – What is the appeal of the Imogene Pass Run? The course is located on terrain where a blast of capricious weather could cause hypothermia, and a twisted ankle could mean a full-blown rescue. The course is longer than a half-marathon and, with more than 5,000 feet of vertical climb, a major ascent. Sure, the scenery is spectacular, but with a route that climbs to an elevation of 13,114 feet, most participants won’t fully appreciate the views, since they’ll likely be too busy trying to catch their breath.
Yet despite the grueling nature of this run, registration inevitably fills to capacity. Over 1,200 participants are registered to tackle the IPR beast when the 35th Annual Imogene Pass Run takes to the high country this Saturday.
Race Director John Jett reports that this year’s event sold out just four days after registration opened – with close to 400 (nearly one-third of the total allowed participants) registering in the first hours, and a total of 1,000 registered by the end of the first day.
“If you’re a trail runner, this race has the legacy of being one that you just have to do at some time in your life,” says Jett.
The long, steep and exposed Imogene Pass is, undoubtedly, one of the most challenging courses that exist on the trail running circuit. Runners must be prepared to face strong winds, rain, lightning, even snow.
Jett calls the IPR a “benchmark” for other high altitude trail runs. The race started in 1974 when Camp Bird Mine worker and Ouray resident Rick Trujillo and friends raced from Ouray to Telluride over the Imogene Pass jeep road. Today, the IPR is more than just a locals’ challenge (although 100 runners registered this year hail from the region). Runners come from 34 states and abroad, and the race boasts an overall runner return rate of over 50 percent, some having endured the race more than 10 times.
Jett reports that this year, for the first time, the course will be closed to vehicular traffic. Increased traffic over the pass in recent years prompted the IPR Board of Directors to get permission from the San Miguel and Ouray county commissioners to close the road on race day, a safety precaution for the racers and volunteers navigating the steep switchbacks of the 17.1-mile road.
“It’s become a point of contention in past years,” Jett says of the face-off between runners and vehicles on Imogene Pass on race day. “The OHV users’ world has gotten smaller in the last decade, while our numbers have gotten larger, which has led to some conflicts in the past.”
The closure will be in effect from 7 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. for the Telluride side of the pass and from 7 a.m. until noon for the Ouray side.
Runners will depart Ouray at 7:30 a.m., completing the trip when they reach the finish line in Telluride at the intersection of North Oak and Columbia streets. The finish line will be open until 2:30 p.m., with an awards presentation in Elks Park scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
Jett says that he’s anticipating more record-breaking times this year; six records were broken at last year’s event. He reports that the 15- to 19-year-old age group boasts strong numbers in 2008, which bodes well not only for the future of the race, but for the sport of trail running in general. “It’s promising for the future of the sport,” he says. “I’m hoping one of these young men or women is going to be able to topple the record in that age group this year.”
Support for the more than 1,200 runners falls on the shoulders of an army of volunteers. With six aid stations along the course and the start, finish and registration crews, over 200 volunteers are needed each year. Jett reports that more volunteers are still needed for the Telluride finish line; visit the IPR website at www.imogenerun.com or call Jett at 728-0251 for more information or to volunteer.
The Imogene Pass Run thanks Alpine Bank for their continued support of the race. Their sponsorship helps the IPR generously donate to high school running programs of Telluride and Ouray as well as many other local charities that provide support for the race. Support organizations include Search and Rescue of San Miguel and Ouray County, Montrose Amateur Radio Club, Telluride Ski and Snowboard Club, Sheridan Opera House, Baked in Telluride, Telluride Parks and Recreation, and the Twin Peaks Motel in Ouray.