Mile for mile the Telluride Mountain Run is the toughest race I’ve ever ran and might be the toughest race around. TMR is filled with big mountains, minimal support and a group of 50 adventure seeking athletes. I learned about this race after not being selected in the Hardrock 100 lottery and jumped at the opportunity to experience the San Juan Mountains. I was not disappointed! Only in its 2nd year, race directors Reese Ruland and Dakota Jones know how to put on a good show and an epic race. The run traverses old mining roads, tundra, narrow switchbacks, snowmelt runoffs, wildlife paths and mountain passes that rise above 13,000ft in elevation. The course is a 40+/- mile loop around Telluride’s mountain range with 15,000ft of climbing . There are 3 checkpoints to refuel, despite minimal support each aid station was generously stocked with products from sponsors Clif Bar and Justin’s Nut Butters along with wraps, sandwiches, watermelon, cookies, pretzels, candy and most important a few amazing volunteers who made sure each runner was fully supported before heading back into the mountains.
Start line to Aid Station #1, mile 17 - “If at any point you’re going downhill you’re probably off course.”
In the pre-race briefing race director Reese joked about the run being a 40 mile uphill run. While every up has it’s down this race definitely does not have any flats. Co-race director Dakota initiated the 10 second countdown with the run starting at 6:30AM. The race began with cool mountain temps and a steep 5 mile climb on terrain that’s used in winter months for advanced skiers. Upon reaching the top of the climb a quick descent of switchbacks followed. Some runners were unsure to follow the trail right or left, a group of runners and myself opted for the more aggressive descent figuring our race directors wouldn't be that nice so early into the race. After reaching the bottom of the technical, speedy downhill we came across markers that ensured us we were on course. As quick as the course went down it went back up.
There was still lots of snow on the mountain and we followed the snowmelt runoff bushwhacking our way through vegetation searching for the next course marker. As the course brought us higher in altitude we trekked across tundra and eventually a snow bridge leading us on a 4,000ft descent across 6 miles into the first aid station at mile 17. I decided to turn up the speed on the descent and with a sharp turn on the rocky switchback I quickly lost control. I couldn't recovery but minimized my spill, bounced back up and kept running. The people running behind me asked if I was okay and quickly followed by inquiring if I was a ninja. I opted not to disclose my ninja skills and mentioned I was without water for the past few miles and was pushing hard to the aid station to refuel. Reaching the aid station after being in motion for 17 miles was a great feeling, the volunteers quickly came to my aid, brought me salted watermelon and filled up my 3 water bottles.
Mile 17 to Aid Station #2, mile 25 - Up, up and away
The first aid station was followed by the toughest climb of the course. It covered old mining roads, river crossings, animal tracks and scrambles up loose, sliding stone. Despite the tough, slow climb the views and remoteness brought an empowering energy that kept everyone moving forward. Big, dark clouds loomed over the mountain summit as we raced for the mountain pass trying to beat the storm and lightning. The course veered left diverting us from the monster storm clouds that could've been troublesome fully exposed at altitude. The wildflowers, views and deserted mining areas were surreal. Crossing the mountain pass brought another round of steep narrow switchbacks across loose rock. After getting back into tree line the trail turned to dirt and was very runnable to mile 25 aid stations. The volunteers had a great sense of humor and joked about the climbing and big storm clouds. They fueled me up and got me moving in a few quick minutes.
Mile 25 to Aid Station #3, mile 32 - Aspen’s forever
The uphill climb was runnable and the least aggressive of all uphills on the course. The trail gradually navigated through a pristine, endless aspen forest, a welcomed break from the steep, relentless up and downhills during the first 25 miles. Temps rose and got hot but not unbearable. I used this section to recover by doing a run hike mix and caught up on my nutrition, consuming a few cliff gels and shotblocks that I grabbed at the aid station. There were a lot of supportive hikers in this section, all cheering with big smiles. After pushing through the remote ascents and descents throughout the day the friendly and positive cheers helped keep my feet moving until the third and final aid station. I left a drop bag at the final checkpoint but opted to just refuel with electrolyte hydration mix and keep moving not to waste time.
Mile 32 to FINISH, mile 40’sh - “Go get it runner!”
As I quickly refueled and got on my way a volunteer yelled out “Go get it runner!”. The words of encouragement stuck throughout my last uphill ascent. Despite my quads and calves burning “Go get it runner!” was on repeat in my head. My body was fatigued but not beaten, I kept moving. The trail lead to an empty neighborhood road filled with large, fancy homes found in most Colorado ski towns. It was a little eerie how polished everything was yet no one was around to enjoy such a well kept development.
After following the long windy road the course went back on trail that seemed to keep going up. The downhill to the finish line couldn't come fast enough but the views looking out over Telluride were majestic and rewarding. It was awesome to see how far we’ve traversed and trekked in just a day with some of the outlooks on the final climb. The downhill followed similar terrain as the course started; down steep, loose ski trails. Each runner that I passed or got passed by let out words of encouragement. It was true camaraderie and support among people who pushed their edge and were on target to finish what we started.This run felt less like a race and more like a journey where a community of people shared similar experiences pushing through beautiful, relentless terrain.
Finish line - “Way to go Jersey!”
The finish line mirrored what TMR represented; no hype, no glory just a small supportive group with a passion for trail running cheering each other on… and a keg of Colorado craft beer. It didn't matter if you were first or last each person was treated and encouraged the same.
TMR is a tough race, a race that builds character and leaves a sense of achievement. As I used my last bit of energy to pick up the pace and cross the finish line I heard Reese yell out “way to go Jersey!”. It brought a big smile to my face, I received a TMR pint glass (way better than a medal), a hug and a few high fives. My pint glass was filled as quick as it was given to me and the perfect way to end a perfect run and adventure packed day.
Many thanks to Reese and Dakota, apart from being world class race directors they are good people who clearly have a passion for helping others achieve their goals. I would encourage anyone who has a love for the mountains and adventure to challenge themselves by finding their edge at the Telluride Mountain Run or another race put on by Bandit Racing.
Visit Adam's page for more articles, race reports & results.