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By Kirsten Le Roux
Special to The SUN
You’d think twice about driving your car 50 miles, wouldn’t you? Particularly if the drive took you through rocky, rough terrain with steep climbs topping out at just over 9,800 feet and with more than 5,000 feet of vertical gain, over Devil Mountain, Horse Mountain, Middle Mountain and Chris Mountain.
Each year, at about the same time the Aspens start to glow, over 200 ultra runners gather in the frosty dawn, headlamps on and set off in the dark to run 50 miles or 50 kilometers in the Devil Mountain Ultra.
Celebrating its fifth year, this fund-raiser for GECKO (Giving Every Child Knowledge of the Outdoors) has a diehard following and continues to gain popularity and notoriety in ultra runner circles locally, regionally and nationally. Known as much for its scenic, runable route as for its bonfire party and pancake breakfast, it’s the “full Monty” of ultra running experiences.
Pagosa’s Ron Bubb, an experienced ultra runner, was there for the first running of the event in 2009 and has come back many times more.
“The highlight for me is the terrain,” said Bubb, “being in the foothills of the San Juans through aspen groves on runable single track is nothing short of spectacular. It has everything from big climbs, to smooth trails. With its views from the ridge and the glowing aspens, I would think this rates as a world-class route. “
Local resident Ed Furtaw, an ultra runner with more than 100 completed ultras on his esteemed resume, deserves all the credit for creating the course and worked for years to put together this amazing, challenging and beautiful route.
As many of the runners shuffle home through the finish line late into Saturday night, the GECKO organizers set up camp to assist them creating a festive finish line vibe.
Runners recover around the campfire and share “war stories” from the day, and variations of “that was one hell of a run!” drift through the crowd so often that it’s become a moniker for this event.
Morgan Murri, GECKO founder said, “No matter how difficult they found the run, sitting round the campfire they all can agree that there isn’t really a better way to take in the beauty of fall and this amazing piece of our national forest. It is quite seriously breathtaking.”
If you’re an ultra runner, another very important factor in assessing a race experience are the aid stations, and GECKO’s Devil Mountain stations are second to none. With a team of loyal aiders, like PATC (Pagosa Trail Council) at Applegate Hut and Pagosa Trail Riders (ATV Club), among others, the runners are treated to true mountain town hospitality and continue on their personal journeys appreciative of their greater comfort.
The morning after, runners, volunteers, aid station workers, supporters and spectators gather together for the awards ceremony and pancake breakfast (kindly cooked for us by the Kiwanis Club). New friendships are cemented in the early morning light through the camaraderie of a shared challenge and a mutual love of the outdoors.
Although Devil Mountain is an ultra (which is defined as any distance over a marathon/26 miles), GECKO has added three new distances on the same day in a race called “The Demons of Dust,” with 5k, 10k and half marathon distances starting at 8:30 a.m., a couple hours after the Ultra runners leave the start/finish area.
Mike Le Roux, race director for the event, said, “We’ve added the shorter distances for two reasons; we know that partners and family of our ultra runners often run shorter distances and it gives them a chance to get a feel for the trails that the ultra runners are on, it also gives them something to do while they wait. The second reason is that we want to give people, particularly locals, who are building up their running fitness the chance to be part of the Devil Mountain experience. We welcome people to come along and run, jog, shuffle, walk, hike — whatever they can manage for the 5k. Plus the 5k and 10k are great routes for runners transitioning from road running to trail running. We also encourage families, teenagers and kids to get off the couch and get outside, just come and try.”
As always, the famous GECKO awards will be handed out at all the events that day. Tess and Jade Garcia and the Pagosa Springs Elementary School art class kindly created our Devil Fork finisher medallions and Scott Slind, owner of Re.Sport, hand crafted our metal winner trophies.
Mark Sept. 28 on the calendar: the 2013 Devil Mountain Ultra starts at 6:30 a.m. and Demons of Dust 5k, 10k and 21k begin at 8:30 a.m. The start/finish is at the corner of Turkey Springs and Monument roads. To register for any of the five distances, go to joingecko.org/devilmountain.
To be part of the action — as a spectator, volunteer or sponsor — contact race director Mike Le Roux at (970) 398-0612 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or GECKO founder Morgan Murri at (303) 475-6053 or email@example.com.