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Summer ultra marathons for Colorado trail runners

Trail runners in the Colorado Rockies
Steve Krull

Ultra marathoners in Colorado will have plenty of chances to test their endurance this summer. No longer are the Leadville 100 and the Hard Rock 100 the only games in town. With trail races springing up all over the state, runners will be able to hit the dirt without a long drives and overnight stays. The hardiest runners will have the opportunity to complete the Rocky Mountain Slam, a series of ultra runs that includes the Hardrock and three of four additional races in the Rockies, the Leadville Trail 100, the Bear 100 Mile Endurance Run, the Bighorn Trail 100 or the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run.

First on tap in the summer ultra running season is the Leadville Trail Series Running Camp hosted on the weekend of June 27 – 30. The camp will provide Leadville Trail 100 participants with a full weekend of camaraderie, great food and the benefit of trail knowledge and wisdom from race veterans. Each day features a long run on a major segment of the course to help runners familiarize themselves with the trail.

The Hard Rock 100, one of ultra running's most challenging 100 milers, comes to Silverton on July 11. According to the race website, "The run starts and ends in Silverton and travels through the towns of Telluride, Ouray, and the ghost town of Sherman, crossing thirteen major passes in the 12,000' to 13,000' range.". With over 60,000 feet of elevation change, this race is not for novice trail runners. "The course is designed to provide extreme challenges in altitude, steepness, and remoteness. Mountaineering, wilderness survival and wilderness navigation skills are as important in this event as your endurance." Racers must cross 13 mountain passes over 12,000 feet with the pinnacle of the course rising to 14,048 feet at the summit of Handies Peak.

For runners focused on Leadville Trail 100, the Leadville Trail Silver Rush 50m trail run on July 13 will be the third ultra distance race in a long summer of running. The race is a challenging 50 mile out and back run on the dusty jeep roads and trails in the mining areas east of the town of Leadville. According to the race website, "finishers will receive a Leadville Silver Rush finishing medal and metal coffee mug.".

On July 26, the Grand Mesa 100 will give runners on the western side of the state an opportunity to complete a century run. The race features three ultra marathon distances, 60k, 50 mile and 100 mile runs. Average elevation for the three races is 9200 feet with a high point of 11,600 feet. The 100 mile race boasts nearly 30,000 feet of elevation change.

August portends the crown jewel of ultra running in Colorado, the daunting Leadville Trail 100 mile run, one of the Rocky Mountain Slam races and the third leg of the Grand Slam of ultra running. To complete a Grand Slam, runners must finish all four of the major American ultra marathons, the Western States, Vermont, Leadville Trail and Wasatch Front 100 mile endurance runs. The Leadville Trail Race Across the Sky is a rugged 100 mile run above 9000 feet over six mountain passes, including two crossings over 12,600 foot Hope Pass. Finishers receive the coveted silver belt buckle.

The Devil Mountain Ultra on the western slopes on Aug 23 is the next major ultra on the summer schedule. Near the town of Pagosa Springs in the beautiful San Juan mountains, the race sports a distance run for everyone with five different trail runs from 5k to 50 miles. Finishers will each receive a handsome hand made GECKO finishers award.

Prize money is being offered to the winners of the Run Rabbit Run ultra on the western slopes in the rugged mountains surrounding the ski resort town of Steamboat Springs. This challenging event is offering both 50 and 100 mile courses. The 100 mile course undulates from 6500 feet to 10,500 feet with four climbs over the 10,000 foot elevation. The 50 miler challenges runners of the short course with nearly 12,000 feet of elevation gain.

The Bear Chase Race Endurance Festival in Lakewood Colorado gives novice trail runners in the Denver area an opportunity to cut their teeth with relatively mild courses at five different distances, from 10k up to 100 miles. All runners are invited to the post race running festival and will receive the gender specific technical race shirt and unlimited downloads of high resolution digital images. Finishers of the 50 and 100 mile races will receive a finishers belt buckle. Finishers of the Rocky Mountain Slam will also receive their awards at the Bear Chase awards ceremony.

The ultra running schedule in 2014 is packed full, so whether you are a beginner or an ultra running veteran, it is going to be a great summer. If you would like to be involved but aren't up to the full distance please consider volunteering as a pacer. Many out of town runners aren't able to bring a full crew along and appreciate the company of locals who know the course. Other opportunities are available as well such as course trail marking and aid station support. Don't miss out on the adventure.

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