This year’s virtual Imogene Pass Run provides a way for trail runners to still participate in the popular race
In its 47th year, the Imogene Pass Run has become a tradition for runners across the country looking for a beautiful and rewarding trail race. Known for the 17.1-mile trek over Imogene Pass starting in Ouray, Colorado, and ending in downtown Telluride, Colorado, this trail race is not for the faint of heart. Runners top out at a height of 13,114 feet above sea level, while climbing 5,300 feet of elevation gain over the course of 10 miles. The last seven miles send runners bounding down the pass towards Telluride.
Despite the challenges that come with the race — including the unpredictable weather of early September in Colorado — the race sells out in a matter of minutes every year. Anxious runners set their alarms on June 1 to hold their place in the online waiting room on runsignup.com. At 6am sharp, registration opens. Less than 30 minutes later, the race is full.
With the race going virtual this year, however, it is much easier to secure your spot, with registration still open. The best part? The 2020 Imogene Pass Run allows runners to complete the 17.1 miles anywhere. Regardless of this capability, two friends and myself set out to run the actual course.
It’s 4:10 a.m.
We stand in the middle of 4th Street in Ouray, and start counting down in the silence of the empty streets.
We make our way out of town on the dirt road that winds past the infamous Box Canyon before the lights of town have disappeared and we are left alone to jog through the darkness. The moon shines bright enough that we refrain from turning on our headlamps whenever possible.
In my fifth year of running the race, I was familiar with the road closures during the race that prevented heavy traffic on the race route. This year, we would not be granted this simple pleasure. We either had to get an early start or wait until the evening to avoid clouds of dust and revving engines.
‘Sunrise or sunset?’ I asked my friend in the days leading up to our race. Without hesitation, she chose sunrise. And so we set out to meet the sun in the early hours of the morning.
My other friend had been eyeing Imogene for a couple years now, and despite the switch to virtual, he still came out to run the course.
As we made our way up toward the summit of Imogene Pass, I worried that he would be disappointed in the lack of camaraderie that comes with the actual event. In a normal year, the race boasts fully stocked aid stations, volunteers dressed in bird costumes (appropriate for the Lower Camp Bird aid station) and the shared energy and excitement of other runners all around.
But as we stood on the summit under the warm glow of the early morning sun, I looked on as he was overjoyed to have already made it this far; the hard part was over. At that moment, I knew that he was content with our current situation, and I was grateful to share this moment with a first-timer. I had forgotten the feeling of reaching the summit, the pure joy of accomplishing so much already. We enjoyed some snacks and drank some water, took photos with the sign at the summit and prepared for the best part: the downhill.
All Downhill From Here
In the moments after our departure from the summit, I knew that the three of us had made the right decision to run the actual race course, and to start early. We proceeded downhill to Telluride, now having to share the road with Jeeps and other 4-wheel drive vehicles. We ran happily past several trucks and SUVs, knowing that the end was near and that caffeine and cold drinks awaited us in Elks Park at the center of the town.
Several hours after we began in Ouray, I turn the corner off of the dirt road and hit the paved street of Telluride. In past races, this typically signaled the final sprint, as runners cruise downhill to a finish line surrounded by spectators. This time around, the sidewalks are quiet. Several people out walking their dogs watch as I run toward an imaginary time clock, no sprint necessary.
This year’s virtual Imogene Pass Run will go down as one of my favorite and most memorable races. Despite not being able to experience the rush of the gun going off, the support from fellow runners along the route and the overall race day atmosphere, there is something to be said for starting when you want, running wherever you want (although we still chose the official race course, but on our own terms!) and sharing the experience with a couple friends by your side.
If you are interested in still running the virtual Imogene Pass Race this year, you may register and submit your time through Saturday, September 12.