OURAY – As if battling 17 miles of mountain-pass running isn’t burly enough, the Imogene Pass Run ups the ante by being held on a high-altitude mountain pass in September; when anything – from searing high altitude sun to an early fall snowstorm – could happen.
Race Director John Jett says he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the weather this year; as of Wednesday, weather outlets were calling for partly sunny conditions for this Saturday’s race, the 35th running of the infamous IPR.
Yet this year’s date is the latest in the month it can ever be held (the IPR is always held the first Saturday after Labor Day) and Jett admits that, historically speaking, the later in the month this annual high altitude-running challenge takes place, the iffier the weather conditions can be.
“Looking back through history,” Jett said, the weather conditions “haven’t always been great on September 12,” although he maintained that the weather “doesn’t look bad” for the coming race, which pits runner against nature in this 17-mile race over Imogene Pass from Ouray to Telluride.
The last few years’ IPRs have boasted spectacular weather, not just for completing the feat of racing up to over 13,000 feet – and back down again – but also for setting race records.
Six new records were set in 2008, including ever-contending Bernie Boettcher of Silt Colorado resetting his previous (2007) records for both the Master Men and Men 45-49 groups with his personal best IPR at 2:19:08 – only to be beat by mere minutes by IPR newbie Tim Parr from Gunnison. Jett says that will these two ultra runners gunning for a rematch in 2009, in addition to other men’s division contender Zach Crandall joining the fray, “these guys could drive each other to a winning time we haven’t seen.”
“We’ve got at least three really fierce competitors showing up, so that’s going to be exciting to watch,” Jett said this week.
Candidates for the local top finisher include Giorgio Compagnoni, who after finishing 23rd at this year’s Pikes Peak Marathon is “hungry for this one,” Jett thinks, but may get some stiff competition from big local runner Chris Howe. Ridgway’s Heath Hibbard, who demolished the Men 55-59 record last year, will be back this year, as will 72-year-old Ridgway record-setter Carl Schwenk. Perennial Telluride favorite Jim Looney will also be back on the trail, making a comeback after being sidelined by a serious hip injury last year.
Telluride’s contender Kari Distefano will be racing in the 50-55 age women’s division for the first time this year, and could be on track to knock down that age group’s class record, Jett says.
Other than the weather wild card and the as-of-now unknowable question of who will, ultimately, cross the finish line first, Jett says its pretty much business as usual for the 35th annual IPR.
“It’s still 13,114 feet to the top, it’s still 17 miles long – the mountain doesn’t really change,” he says. Registration for the event is again full, at 1,500 racers, with Jett expecting the usual 20 percent to not show up, making the number of total starters just over 1,200.
“It’s one of those big little runs; it’s big enough that we can take a lot of people, but still small enough to not feel crowded,” Jett said.
Check-in for participants will be held in Telluride on Friday from 12-2 p.m., then move to Ouray from 5-7 p.m. Buses for Ouray leave Telluride Saturday morning starting at 5:15 a.m., with the final bus pulling out from in front of the San Miguel County Courthouse at 5:30 a.m. The race begins at 7:30 a.m. in Ouray.
Imogene Pass and upper Oak Street in Telluride will be closed the day of the race, until 2 p.m.
The IPR supports local organizations including the Track Teams of Telluride, Ouray and Silverton, Ouray and Telluride Search and Rescue, Telluride Ski and Snowboard Team and the Montrose Amateur Radio Club.