After cancellations during the 2020 pandemic, this summer saw the return of Colorado’s greatest, terrible races. For the fittest and bravest on foot and bike, it was a return to that inexplicable sensation born by shared suffering in the vast beauty of the Rocky Mountains.
Here’s a nod to some of the state’s most infamous challenges spanning 100-plus miles:
Clearly, lockdowns of last year fueled ambitions. Example: François D’haene’s record dash over the San Juan Mountains this summer. The French man became the first in the fearsome race’s 28-year history to clock a time under 22 hours — stunning, considering the 100 miles and 33,000 feet of climbing in the jagged alpine around Silverton, Telluride and Ouray. Lottery-based entry, race is usually mid-July.
Leadville Trail 100
This is a classic in the ultra world. Where miners once flocked for gold, now runners and mountain bikers race to finish within demanding cutoffs (30 hours for runners, 12 for cyclists). It’s a test of lung power, starting from North America’s highest incorporated town near 10,200 feet and rising to Hope Pass above 12,600 feet. It’s better known as Hopeless Pass. Lottery-based, races in late August.
Run Rabbit Run
Are you a tortoise or a hare? That is the first question to ask when approaching this 100-mile sufferfest from Steamboat Springs. While gaining 20,000 feet of elevation, you’ll be covering parts of the Continental Divide and the town’s recognizable summits: Mount Werner and Emerald and Rabbit Ears mountains. Hares finish under 36 hours, tortoises under 30. Usually mid-September.
Flaming Foliage Relay
This 165-mile overnighter showcases autumn’s aspen glow where it is famously glorious, along Guanella, Georgia and Fremont passes. Running teams might struggle to admire the beauty. Their heads are down on the course between Idaho Springs and Buena Vista, crossing roads and trails amounting to about 17,000 vertical feet. Usually mid-September.
In 1988, a group of cycling buddies thought it would be fun to ride from Evergreen to Vail. Ever since, that’s been the idea of fun for riders traversing a trio of heart-pounding passes over 100-plus miles and 10,000-plus feet. An exclusive bunch has made it a “double triple” in recent years, pedaling back the way they came. Slated for late July/early August 2022.
Mountain bikers have come to know this, not the Leadville 100, as Colorado’s ultimate endeavor on a saddle — a tantalizing route shaped like a clover leaf, crossing the Continental Divide three times. But the race has been on hold for two years; the pandemic again caused a cancellation this summer. And the past two plans were a condensed course, closer to 70 miles. Will the real Breck 100 return? “That’s the million-dollar question,” says organizer Thane Wright. Previously mid to late July.
Colorado’s gravel revolution begins in Steamboat Springs, a cycling town proud of its crunchy backroads. This race has risen to prominence with a variety of endurance courses amid classic scenery. They have recently ranged from nearly 40 miles to more than 140 miles, with climbing between 2,000 and 9,400 feet. Slated for Aug. 22, 2022.
Vapor Trail 125
Any ultra competitor knows about “sleep demons,” those hallucinations that manifest at night. That’s when this whacky mountain bike foray begins, in the darkness of 10 p.m. It begins in Salida, where some of the whackiest riders reside, molded by the vaunted Monarch Crest. Vapor is reserved for the most skilled and wilderness prepared. One must negotiate technical singletrack by headlamp and sustain long climbs over 125 miles. Slated for Aug. 26, 2022.