Imogene Pass Run Saturday
by Samantha Wright
Sep 07, 2012 | 1575 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
STRUNG OUT - Runners in the 2009 Imogene Pass Race negotiated the jeep road between Ouray and Telluride. (File photo)
STRUNG OUT - Runners in the 2009 Imogene Pass Race negotiated the jeep road between Ouray and Telluride. (File photo)

WESTERN SAN JUANS - Like a runner just hitting her prime, the Imogene Pass Run turns 39 this year. The infamous 17.1-mile race over from Ouray to Telluride over Imogene Pass takes place this Saturday, Sept. 8 with a sellout crowd of over 1,500 registered participants.

Last year’s overall winner, the now 32-year-old Michael Smith of Flagstaff, Ariz., is returning to defend his title. Last year, he ran the race in the third-fastest time ever: 2:09:28.4. This year, race director John Jett thinks Smith might have a shot at setting a new course record. The current record, 2:05:56 was set by Matt Carpenter in 1993. Carpenter also holds the second-fastest time, 2:07, set in 1997.

“A lot of people thought those numbers would never be touched again,” Jett said.

Another runner looking to put in good numbers this year is Michael Kloser of Vail, a former world champion mountain biker and pro bump skier who regularly dominates in the Teva Mountain Games, and ranks among the region’s best endurance-sports athletes. Running the IPR last year, he knocked a full hour off the previous men’s 50-55 division record.

“He just destroyed that number and brought it down to under three hours,” Jett marveled.

Last year’s female winner Jennifer McCarthy of Flagstaff will not be running the IPR this year, leaving the woman’s field wide open for new contenders.

While the IPR always attracts a field of elite athletes from across the region and the country, the race also has a loyal local following, including folks like Telluride postmaster Jim Looney, whose goal last year was to break four hours – he missed it by 11 seconds – and Ouray City Clerk Kathy Elmont, who is going for her 23rd consecutive finish this year. Elmont said she loves the sheer thrill of being part of such a large crowd all intent on the same ambitious purpose.

Jerry Greene, the owner of Baked in Telluride, had the longest stretch of runs going in the IPR before a hip injury a few years ago broke his streak.

“It’s a great vibe,” said Jett. “It’s definitely considered a bucket-list type event for anyone who does trail running. Those who drink the kool aid once find themselves coming back year after year.”

Rick Trujillo is the one to blame for the whole phenomenon.The long, skinny mountain runner from Ouray who inspired the now-famous race says it’s a pretty simple concept to get from start to finish. All it takes is “incessant forward motion.” The first time Trujillo ran the course was on the evening of Aug. 6, 1974, after putting in a full shift at the Camp Bird Mine where he worked as a geologist.

Trujillo thought of it at the time as a training run. But when he showed up in Telluride two-and- a-half hours later, folks thought it was a pretty big deal.

The Telluride Times printed the following on Thursday, Aug. 8, 1974:

“Here is one for the record book, or to start one: Rick Trujillo ran from the Main Street of Ouray over Imogene Pass to Telluride in two hours 33 minutes Tuesday evening, Aug. 6. For the sake of figures, Ouray is at elevation 7,706, Imogene crests at 13,100 and Telluride is 8,745, and the ground distance is approximately 18 miles.

“For the sake of more figures, Rick is a 26-year-old geologist and he had put in his day’s work at Camp Bird before his jaunt. He left Ouray at 5:12 p.m. Rick is getting in shape for the Pikes Peak race which is coming up soon. He won it last year.

“Jeepers call it a good fast trip when they make it in three hours!”

Trujillo’s “training run” that evening birthed the Imogene Pass Run. It started out as an annual informal contest among local friends, with just six participants in its first running in Sept., 1974, but has since gone on to become the legendary race that we know today.

The 39th Annual Imogene Pass Run begins Saturday, Sept. 8, at 7:30 a.m., at the corner of Fourth Street and Main in Ouray. Runners will complete the trip when they reach the finish line in Telluride at the intersection of North Oak St. and Columbia Ave. The finish line will be open until 2:30 p.m., with an awards presentation in Elks Park at 1:30 p.m. An “army” of 200 volunteers will rally to support the runners on their sojourn, with six aid stations along the course, as well as Start, Finish and registration crews.

Imogene Pass will be closed to all motorized traffic on race day. The closure will be in effect from 7 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. for Telluride side access and from 7 a.m. until noon for access from Ouray.

For more information, visit

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