Imogene Pass Run…what the hell is that and why would someone choose to do it?
I set out to do my first Imogene Pass Run in 2001. We had just moved back to Flagstaff and I used to be a river runner in the Grand Canyon as well as an experienced hiker – so who can’t hike 17 miles up and over a pass? The Imogene race begins in Ouray, CO at elevation 7810 ft. and ends in Telluride, CO at elevation 8750 ft. Only a slight difference of 940 ft elevation change. It can’t be that bad. But try adding in several hidden peaks and at the top of your 10 mile ascent you reach 13,114 ft to discover the amazing beauty of the San Juan Mountains that surround you! It is truly breathtaking – both literally and figuratively. And the hardest race I’ve ever done.
I haven’t kept track of the number of Imogene races I’ve done. But it’s been many over the past 14 years. It’s a Flagstaff thing. You run into more folks from Flagstaff in the small town of Telluride than you would at home. It’s a reunion of sorts, always fun, always beautiful, always hard, and at the young age of 48 – it’s not getting any easier!
In the old days (yes, just a mere 14 years ago), you sent in an application with your check, signing up for the race. The cut-off times at the various check points were easy to make and fun was had by all. Today, the registration process is on-line and if you want a spot, you wake up at 5 a.m. on June 1st in hopes to get registered before the race fills up (which it does in less than 20 minutes) and the cut-off times are getting shorter! Only 1,600 racers get to participate each year. It’s changed from a small town race, to a very competitive race with coveted registration spots from runners across the country.
I’ve tried to stop doing Imogene the past few years. There isn’t enough time to train and getting up at 4 a.m. to log a 12+ mile hike isn’t as much fun as it used to be. I can’t seem to carve out the time to hike trails with elevation. Sometimes I forget to wake up and register for the race OR forget to even hike for that matter!
But I’ve found inspiration these past few years.
A dear friend from college was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer at the age of 43. She’s a veteran Imogene racer, and she always has a smile on her face and a willingness to hike. The first year after her diagnosis, we conquered Imogene. She was determined, and I hiked with her, as well as many others. We made the first cut-off with only 10 seconds to spare! We made it up and over. In the past we would complete the race in 4 hours or less, but that day, we found beauty in our 6+ hour stroll. It was amazing to see Imogene in a different light – one of awe and wonder instead of pace and endurance.
This is my friends 20th year of hiking Imogene. With a new chemo regimen, she has blisters on her hands and feet, from the inside out. I asked her last week about our upcoming Imogene race, and with a smile on her face, she assured me that we were doing it! I haven’t trained for it, haven’t logged the miles, have not hiked the elevation needed, but if she can do it, so can I.
So…Telluride here we come. To hike a race that fills me with many emotions – of joy, pain, fond memories, profane cursing along the way, love, and the most intense sore muscles that I have ever had.
Here’s to Imogene, friendships, survival and 20 more years of hiking, my friend.