Roaring Fork Valley ultrarunner Brian Passenti goes distance, pushes body

Cody Jones
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Brian Passenti runs along a valley trail during the Moab 240 last October.
Courtesy photo

Many people awaken to their alarm annoyingly blaring and then hesitantly lace up their shoes to go on an early morning jog. These people usually go running for 3 or 4 miles; maybe 10 miles if they’re feeling ambitious.

Brian Passenti takes ambition to the next level. When the Glenwood Springs resident laces up his shoes, he runs well past the 3-mile mark and keeps going for a couple hundred more. Passenti is often by himself for hours, putting one foot in front of the other as he sees how far he can push his body’s limit.

Passenti, 47, is a world-class ultramarathoner, meaning he regularly competes in running races that are longer than the 26.2-mile marathon distance. Passenti has been competing in ultramarathons since 2009, although he got his start in endurance sports much earlier.

“I started running track when I was about 7 years old. Originally I was being trained as a sprinter at these youth track practices, until one day one of the milers didn’t show up to the meet and I kind of threw my hat in the ring to do it,” Passenti said.

Passenti’s dad was hesitant to let his son run a race that was over 10 times the distance of Brian’s usual 100-meter dash, but Brian was set on racing the four-lap, mile-long race.

“I took off that day and ran the mile and probably never ran another 100-meter dash in competition ever again,” Passenti said.

Since the day Passenti stumbled across the longer distances, he has been invigorated by endurance races. Passenti even tried his hand at Ironman triathlons from 2000 to 2009. However, Passenti ultimately fell in love with the process of training and racing in ultramarathons.

Passenti roughly runs 40 to 50 miles a week, a fraction of the distance of his ultra races and fewer miles than a lot of other avid ultramarathoners train at.

Passenti’s training volume seems to be working for him, as last year he finished 43rd overall in the Moab 240 Endurance Run, a race that is the equivalent of running from Glenwood Springs to Yuma on the Eastern plains of the state. The race took Passenti nearly 96 hours, or four consecutive days of nonstop running on unrelenting terrain.

Brian Passenti
Courtesy photo

One reason why Passenti trains at the volume he does is because of his other responsibilities. Passenti is a father of two and he has a job as the recreation director for the town of Basalt. This leaves little time for Passenti to get in the large chunks of training that other ultramarathoners do.

“My life is a juggling act for sure. I often find myself running super early in the morning at like 3 or 4 a.m. or late at night at 9 or 10 o’clock. I’m not a paid athlete by any means, so I have to keep the paying job active and prioritize family life with me having small kids. I make the time to get it in,” Passenti said.

Due to the nature of ultramarathon races being run in the middle of the night, no time is completely unfathomable to Passenti. He has grown used to enjoying a run when the only light source is coming from the moon or the stars and no cars are present on the roads.

For many, it is shocking to consider that Passenti genuinely enjoys running for countless hours and miles. Passenti’s passion, however, comes from his deep desire to see how far he can push his body.

Last year there was one instance of Passenti pushing his body to its limits in not only the Moab 240 Endurance Race but also the buildup to the race.

“There was speculation whether the race was even going to happen due to COVID-19, so this made it mentally challenging for me to still find the motivation to get out the door after I tuck my kids into bed when it is 10 at night.”

In the race itself, there was a moment where Passenti started to wonder if his body had what it took to finish the grueling 240-mile race that traverses the mountains, canyons and deserts surrounding Moab.

Brian Passenti works up a hilly trail.
Courtesy photo

“There was a moment where I was a little touch-and-go. I was with my pacer at the time, and I was so far in the trenches of my own mind that I thought I had laid in the dirt on the side of the trail for over three hours, but my pacer said it was only a mere eight minutes,” Passenti said of one of his most challenging moments.

Passenti said he continues to be driven by the idea of finding out how far he can push the expectations he and others have placed on his body.

Passenti is now training to compete in the Ouray 50-miler on July 31. Passenti noted this is a race in his wheelhouse as he enjoys the San Juan Mountains and the 23,000 miles of vertical climbing over the 50 miles. His goals are to first finish, but then push his body to a fast time or place high in the overall rankings.

“How far can I push myself today? Some days I may not finish but maybe tomorrow I can, that’s what really keeps me going,” Passenti said. “When I started doing triathlons I never thought running 100 miles was a possibility, and now last year I ran 240 miles (in one go).”


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