Back in June, I woke up at 5:30 on a Saturday to register for Imogene Pass. All my friends were doing it, and I didn’t want to miss out on the fun. The race itself looked somewhat hellish; besides the fact that I hate running uphill, it would be my longest race to date and much more elevation gain than my fragile little legs had ever covered in a single effort.
For those who are not familiar with the race, it is a 17.1 mile run that starts in Ouray and climbs 10 miles and 5300 feet on jeep roads up over Imogene Pass (13,129 ft) before descending 7 miles into the town of Telluride. The scenery is stunning; the race is listed as one of the 10 on Outside Magazine’s Trail Runner’s Bucket List. Capped at about 1600 runners, it sold out in 2 hours this year.
We had quite a crew going down to the race: a bunch of RMR runners—Ryan, Silke, Mike, Danielle, Cassie, Tom, Heidi, Peter, and a number of friends from our Saturday morning group run.
My friend Jenn and her dog Fire Cat drove up from Durango Friday night, and Tom and I met her for a beer. Jenn is a decidedly bad influence; one beer turned into a few too many beers, and we went a little nuts carousing around the streets and late night establishments of Ouray. We crawled into our cars and fell asleep a bit after midnight.
My only goal for the race was to avoid ending up in an ambulance. The previous weekend I ran a trail half in Fort Collins and passed out around mile 11. When I regained consciousness I proceeded to vomit all over the poor EMTs trying to give me an IV. As that was a pretty terrible experience, I decided to try drinking some fluids and not pushing myself again to the point of heat exhaustion.
We lucked out with beautiful sunny weather on race day. Imogene is notorious for its volatile weather conditions, as runners often encounter high winds, snow, fog, etc. up at the pass. My race tactics basically involved identifying girls who looked like they knew what they were doing and following them up the mountain until I felt like passing. My fear of fainting prevented me from sabotaging my race in the first half; I focused on keeping my effort very relaxed.
The course was breathtaking. We ran uphill for a very long time. It was hard. I had a particularly awful Taylor Swift song stuck in my head for the entirety of miles 2-9. The last 2 uphill miles or so were pretty much a slog to the top. There were maybe 4 other women around me that I had been switching position with for much of the day. Everyone was moving pretty slowly at this point, too exhausted to make any big moves. The gradient was so steep as to be prohibitive of running (for me at least!) and I was content to just fall in line and join the death march to the top.
By the time I reached the summit, I had passed all the women within sight; I figured I was somewhere in the top 20, but really had no clue. I was thankful I had been so conservative on the ascent because my legs were fresh enough to really bomb down the 7 miles into Telluride. Besides a few babydoll-heads, the downhill was gloriously non-technical—albeit a bit steep at points. I was certainly hammering the descent, as I was concerned that pack of women was hot on my heels. At mile 15 or so I caught the first glimpse of Telluride down below. 200 meters away from the finish, my super speedy friend Cassie cruised up beside me. Turns out she had a big 100 miler the following week, so she was just trotting along, using the race as an easy training run. Of course she blew by me, totally conversational and not looking tired at all! UNREAL.
It turned out I was 12th female and I won my age group. A big surprise! RMR had a great showing, as everyone finished with some pretty excellent times. Ryan came in fourth, narrowly missing the podium. Although he felt it was an off day, he ran an impressive time and won his age group. Cassie also had a great day even though she was just jogging it! Imogene was an unbelievable experience; a bit too much uphill running for my taste, but it’s definitely a race I’ll be running again in the future!