Carbondale the finish line for this year’s Colorado Relay |

Carbondale the finish line for this year’s Colorado Relay

Jeremy HeimanCarbondale correspondentAspen, CO Colorado
A runner in the 2007 Colorado Relay eases along on the eighth leg of the run. This year's relay will end in Carbondale for the first time. (Chad Spangler/Post Independent)

CARBONDALE What do you get when you and nine of your best friends run a 170-mile relay over two or three high-mountain passes? Hungry, for one thing, said Peter Mason, director of fun and operations for the Colorado Relay. So, on the second weekend in September, a lot of hungry, tired people will converge on Carbondale. The relay, now in its 11th year, is scheduled to finish in Carbondale for the first time this fall. It promises to bring about 1,800 runners, 300 or so volunteers, 300 support folks and family members and various other fans, press people and hangers-on to the finish line at Sopris Park on Sept. 13. All previous editions of the relay started in Idaho Springs and finished in Glenwood Springs. This year, the start has been moved to Georgetown and the finish to Carbondale. To reach the finish, participants will continue from Glenwood up Fourmile Road, across Dry Park and down Sweet Hill to Carbondale. Mason said there were two main reasons for the change. The first was safety. The route has always included Georgia Pass, a single-track trail section that takes runners over a 12,000-foot pass. Mason said with the start at Idaho Springs, many teams had not completed that section by nightfall. With the start in Georgetown, the organizers expect the runners to be off the single-track by dark. The second reason is the runners preference for dirt. Much of the race is run on paved bike paths, and adding the Dry Park section provides a few miles of scenic back road with a soft surface. The call stems from an informal poll of the runners, Mason said, about what the race needs to make it better. They overwhelmingly voted for more dirt, he said. The race was created by Outward Bound, the organization known for wilderness team-building and character-strengthening exercises. It was a little like an Outward Bound course in that it was team oriented rather than an individual running 100 miles, or something, Mason said. This is about having fun and challenging yourself, rather than about hard-core competition, he added. Outward Bound is still a beneficiary of the event. This year, for the first time, there are two events the regular 170-mile relay and a 100-miler starting in Frisco. There are three team categories: The standard 10-person teams, the five-runner (Ultra) teams, and the Nonconformist category. Nonconformist teams may have anywhere from 6 to 12 runners. The rationale for allowing such teams is to avoid excluding teams that lose a runner to injury at the last minute, or that find an extra person who wants to join, Mason said. With a 10-runner team, each runner covers an average of 17 miles during the race. The relay is divided into 30 legs varying from 1.5 to 13 miles, however, and so race strategy includes carefully assigning the teams strongest runners to the most difficult legs, Mason said. Most of the runners in the relay are not elite ultramarathoners, Mason said. A lot of folks are just your average 10K runners, he continued. They prove they can do more than they thought, and thats pretty cool. The relay is a great experience for runners, Mason said, partly because of the team experience, but also because it takes them to places where they would not usually run. Runners from the Front Range typically wouldnt be running through Glenwood Canyon at sunrise, Mason said. They get to see cool parts of the state they normally wouldnt see. The Georgia Pass leg is another spectacular leg. A segment of the Colorado Trail, its almost all single track and climbs to over 12,000 feet of elevation, Mason said. Thats the prize gem of the race, he said. The views on both sides are gorgeous. The runners will probably find the Dry Park leg fairly scenic, too, with its views of Mount Sopris and the Elk Range. Though the final details havent been worked out, the runners on the final leg will most likely enter downtown Carbondale on West Main Street, turn right on Seventh and finish at Sopris Park, Mason said. The runners are expected to finish between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. Crowds at the finish line may include as many as 2,200 people coming and going throughout the day. The race can be expected to fill up hotels in Carbondale and overflow heavily to the neighboring towns, Mason said. And the restaurants, no doubt, will fill up, too. Theyre all starving, and could easily eat two or three meals, he said. There will be an expo at the finish, with 20 to 24 booths representing the products of the major race sponsors. Most will be products distributed nationally or worldwide, but some local businesses will also have a presence. Independence Run & Hike, which has two teams in the relay, will have a booth. Were trying to get other local sponsors as well, Mason said.