Sunday, September 15, 2013

Imogene Pass Run

Well after months of training (and maybe a little obsessing), Imogene Pass Run came and went...

I did okay. 4:22:48.

I wasn't amazed with my time, but at the same time it was my first Imogene Pass Run, and my first real "mountain run." I guess the only thing I'm disappointed in is that I think I ran better on my training run back in July.

I think I've determined I kind of wore myself out this summer. For June and most of July I was really motivated. Running almost every day, a mountain run every Saturday, hiking almost every Sunday, plus hill runs during the week. Then August came around and I just felt burnt out. I'm not really sure what I would do differently next time. I guess cut back a little on the weekends and get more rest? It's tough though because I always have so many goals during the summer...but I know I need to keep this in mind in the future.

Anyways - I'm getting ahead of myself here. Back to Imogene.

For anyone who didn't read my previous posts where I described it, Imogene Pass Run is a 17.1 mile race beginning in Ouray, Colorado (approx. 7800' elevation) and ending in Telluride, Colorado (approx. 8700' elevation), by way of 13,114' Imogene Pass. It takes 10 miles of climbing to reach the pass followed by 7.1 miles of descent. Registration takes place on June 1st and sells out within hours. The race is held on the Saturday after Labor Day every September.

On Friday night I drove down to Ouray with another local racer, Hollis and his fiancee Jen, and we picked up our race packets and listened to the orientation. It was presented by Rick Trujillo - the "founder" of the race (and runner mentioned in Scott Jurek's book Eat and Run - he ran the Hardrock 100 on Oreo's). He first ran over Imogene Pass in the 1970's as a training run for the Pikes Peak Ascent. It was helpful to see pictures and fun to hear his stories about past races. I found out that the course actually takes a few shortcuts as opposed to the full route I ran in training.

I got home around 8:30 Friday night, got all of my stuff ready to go for the morning and then attempted to get some sleep.

The sleeping didn't go all that well.

After a restless night, I woke up at 4:30am, showered, got ready, and ate breakfast before driving to Looney Bean Coffee in Montrose to meet up with 2 other runners, Joan and John, who I was carpooling with. We left Looney Bean around 5:40am and made it into Ouray by 6:30 (the others had not registered yet - so they wanted to be early enough to do that). We hung out in the community center for awhile, while I nervously debated with myself over what exactly to bring with me in my pack.

At about 7:15, we headed outside and walked over to the starting line. I was getting more nervous at this point, but at the same time it was a beautiful day and I had done the course before. I knew I could finish (I just didn't know how fast).

Right at 7:30 the gun went off. And we were off. We ran out of Ouray to Camp Bird Road where the climbing began! The first 5 miles to Lower Camp Bird (second aid station), went well. Nothing different than my training runs. I did a combination of running and power hiking. At the aid station I grabbed a handful of gummy bears and peanut M&M's and kept going while munching on them.

Lower Camp Bird to Upper Camp Bird (5 miles to 7.6 miles), was fairly slow moving. It's almost all climbing, but I did my best to keep power hiking. When I was probably at about 7 miles, I overheard a girl mention that the farthest she had run this summer was 8 miles...that made me feel real great, as she passed me! I tried to remember - this isn't about anyone else - it's about me and accomplishing new goals I once never dreamed possible.

Approaching Upper Camp Bird Aid Station
I did the same thing at Upper Camp Bird as I did at the lower - grabbed a handful of candy and continued on without really stopping. Upper Camp Bird was the first time cut off - you have to reach it in 2 1/2 hours or be disqualified. I made it in about 1:56.

As steep as lower portions seemed, they're nothing compared to the last 2.4 miles to the summit. This is when it gets real slow. I didn't run any of it. I wasn't really planning to though. The 20%+ grade combined with the altitude (you're above tree line by this point - at about 12,000 feet), just leave you without much energy to run. But I had planned for this, and was okay not running, so long as I kept moving. As long as I didn't stop. And I didn't. I kept moving, despite how slow I might have been.

With about a mile to go, you could finally see the summit of Imogene Pass. And not only that, you could actually hear the volunteers at the summit. Shouting, cheering, and ringing cow bells. It was encouraging and yet discouraging at the same time. They sounded so close. And yet I would look up and it was still so far. But I did what I do best - I just kept moving. I may not be fast, but I keep going.

If you look really closely you can see the tiny dots of people at the summit of Imogene Pass.
Eventually, I made it to the trail that breaks off from the dirt road, and cuts a switchback. This was a relief. It was steep, but it meant I really was almost there! And the coolest part, is that they have volunteers right at the end of that steep section to help give you a hand up. That was an awesome feeling. They also had another volunteer counting off the women. I think (can't remember exactly) that I was the 196th women to the top! After they help you up off the trail and back onto the road, I had a very short run and then I was at the summit and 4th aid station! I made it in 2:52:39.

Approaching the summit!

I hadn't stopped at any of the other aid stations, so I knew I wanted to stop at this one and really make sure I fueled up. I was 10 miles in, 7.1 to go. I had some chicken broth, Gatorade, and M&M's. I think I was at the top for about 3-5 minutes (and the weather was beautiful!), before starting my ascent down.

Overall I was really happy with my pace to the top. I had wanted to make it in under 3 hours and I beat that by over 7 minutes! At this point in the race I thought for sure I could get a 4:10 finish. Well I don't know if thinking this jinxed me or what, because the downhill didn't go very well at all!

I started the downhill section very slowly. I had just drank a good amount of Gatorade and soup, and wanted to let it settle a bit. So I just jogged slowly for the first half mile or so. This is the steepest section anyways, so I didn't mind. After I felt I had given it enough time I tried to pick up my pace. My goal was to run 10 minute miles on the downhill.

Well several things kept me from doing this - for starters I don't think I prepared enough on rough downhill terrain. I had done several training runs on downhill sections, but none were this rocky. Even the training run I did on the same road back in July wasn't as rocky as it was now. I guess they've been getting a lot of rain lately and it just caused a lot of rock slides and made the roads more rough than usual. So because of this, I was spending a lot more time thinking through my foot placement, and just going slower than I wanted. Plus, I'm just not a very good downhill runner. It is definitely my weak spot. I get scared and timid and don't want to go too fast for risk of falling (and lots of people do fall!).

Pair this with the fact that I started getting side stitches (I was afraid of this), my calves almost cramped up a couple times (forcing me to stop and stretch them for a minute), and then with about 3 miles still to go, the outside of my left knee started to really bug me. Mentally I really wanted to run faster, but I just wasn't feeling great. I know, I know, I could push through the pain. And I probably should've. But I didn't. I stopped and walked a few times. Each time hoping once I started again I would feel better. No such luck. Finally, with 1 mile to go, I said screw it, I'm running through this pain, and I'm going to go fast (fast for me anyways). And I did. I got my one single sub-10 minute mile on the very last mile! 9:31 pace.

I think seeing the last mile marker just really motivated me. I knew I was almost there. Obviously the issues I was having were going to continue no matter what, so I might as well finish strong. Plus with all of the people who had passed me already, I figured I should try and at least see if I could pass a couple of them back!

And I did. I'm not sure how many, but a few. And then I hit pavement for the first time since Ouray and knew I was just about there. I sped up to a sprint and crossed the finish line in 4:22:48!

It felt good to cross the finish line, but I have to say it was a little anticlimactic not having anyone there to meet me. I was a little exhausted at this point, and they had a nice little "recovery" zone area for runners where I could just sit and fuel up with Gatorade and water. I think I sat there for about 15 minutes. A lady next to me and I toasted each other which was nice, and then I left the area to attempt to find the people I came up with (and find my gear bag so I could change out of my shoes).

I changed my shoes and then looked for my group. They were across the street in the park area enjoying some lunch. Jan, who's ran Imogene for years, had packed the best lunch. Delicious turkey sandwiches (and these were seriously like gourmet - not your wonder bread/lunch meat turkey sandwich). It was very tasty after a long run. We also had chips, zucchini bread, and Fat Tire (going to school in Fort Collins, I've of course tried Fat Tire before, and remember not liking it all that much. I don't know if my taste buds have changed, or just the fact that I had ran so much - but it was amazing! Must get myself some more Fat Tire from now on!). We waited around for the awards ceremony (Jan had won her age group), and then I headed back on the bus with Joan, so we could get from Telluride to my car in Ouray and then head back to Montrose.

Overall, it was a beautiful race and definitely one I hope to do again. I don't know if I'll be an "annual" runner, mostly due to cost (and wanting to try out other races), but I do hope to do it again sometime. I do think if I had kept up with my hill repeats during the week, that it would've made a difference (because I had been doing that religiously for the first half of the summer, but then got lazy for the second half) in terms of my endurance. But I am glad I signed up for this and did it. In early May last year I hadn't even considered it. I thought it was something out of my league and only for really "hardcore mountain runners". But this made me realize that anything is attainable if you set your mind to it!

Imogene gave me the motivation to try out mountain and trail running. And because of it, I have found a new love for running and decided on more crazy goals for the coming years. I really want to run Mount Evans Ascent, the Leadville Trail Marathon, and the Pikes Peak Ascent now. I'm not sure when I'll get all of them done (hopefully at least one next summer), but definitely someday!

Distance: 17.1 Miles
Bib Number: 295
Gun Time: 4:22:59
Chip Time: 4:22:48
Average Pace: 15:22
Overall Rank: 679/1209 (1241 including DNF's)
Gender Rank: 264/582 (601 including DNF's)
Division Rank (Females 25-29): 44/86 (88 including DNF's)
Summit Time: 2:52:39 (summit place: 518 overall / 176 gender / 33 division - this really shows how my downhill really set me back)
Total Elevation Gain: 5794 feet
Total Elevation Loss: 4831 feet
Garmin Splits:
Miles 1-5: 12:49, 12:17, 11:15, 15:26, 15:23
Miles 6-10: 15:47, 20:32, 23:03, 26:11, 27:56
Miles 11-15: 13:28, 15:16, 11:54, 12:34, 12:37
Miles 16-17: 10:52, 9:31

I know I posted this on my last post but I felt it fitting to have it on this one too!


  1. Kate,

    You amaze me, and I am glad to be able to "join" your adventures by reading your blog

  2. Found this post while searching for Imogene Pass Run reviews. I am considering running it next year after going over Imogene on a photography trip this past fall.

    I am convinced that I can complete it, thanks to your review. I just need to decide if I WANT to do it :-)

    Congrats and happy running!


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