For most of us, a marathon is hard enough, but throw in 4,700 feet of elevation gain on highly technical, rocky singletrack — with around 10 miles at or above tree line — and you have a whole different kind of challenge. Technically, the Breck Crest marathon is only 23 miles long, but there’s a good chance you’ll be thankful it doesn’t go the full 26.2 after finishing.
With the added challenge the terrain presents, it’s certainly earned the marathon title.
“We call it a marathon because of the degree of difficulty,” race organizer Jeff Westcott said. “Trail running is hard. You are looking down for your footing constantly. It takes a lot of mental energy.”
The annual Labor Day Weekend race — now in its 19th year — returns to Breckenridge Sunday, Aug. 31, with marathon, half marathon and 10K options.
“It’s quintessential Breckenridge,” Westcott said. “It’s just cool to run on the view that dominates our landscape every day.”
For Courtney Kenaday, the half marathon was a goal she’d set out to accomplish a few years ago and has since run on multiple occasions.
“It’s a hard race, but it’s so worth it at the end to say that you did it. The marathon is still on my bucket list,” she said.
All three courses will start at Breckenridge’s Riverwalk Center and head up the Tenmile Range toward Wheeler Pass. The 10K course veers off to stay below tree line and loop back to town.
High-alpine vistas will reward those who run the longer courses.
“It’s amazing how much you can see up there,” Kenaday said. “You almost want to stop and take pictures because it’s so beautiful.”
As in years past, the 23-mile course will take runners up and over Wheeler Pass, where they will stay above tree line for almost half the course before descending on the Peaks Trail. Half-marathoners will veer off on a shorter loop using service roads.
“It’s a high-alpine tundra hiking trail. It has everything,” Westcott said. “Some sections are so steep you can’t run. You have to power hike.”
Last year’s event attracted male and female pro mountain runners Dakota Jones, of Boulder, and Stevie Kremer, of Crested Butte, each of whom finished first in what many would consider to be absurd times. Jones, 22 at the time, finished first among men in 3 hours, 15 minutes and 35 seconds, setting an unofficial course record. Kremmer, then 29, was not far behind, topping all women in 3:34:15.
But while those two are among the strongest athletes in the trail-running community, Westcott and Kenaday both insisted the race is for everyone.
“It’s actually doable,” Kenaday said. “A lot of people are intimidated by it, but it’s doable.”
Westcott credited a lenient cutoff, allowing runners to average 20-minute miles.
“You would think you would have to be hardcore, but you don’t have to set a blistering pace to make the cutoff,” he said, adding that in years past runners have ranged in age from early 20s to mid-60s.
The race gets underway Sunday with 7:30 a.m. and 7:45 start times. Registration will be available Saturday in Breckenridge and prior to the race on Sunday morning. Online registration closed Aug. 28. $5 from every entry goes to The Summit Foundation, a local nonprofit that allocates money to other area nonprofits through grants.
More race information can be found at www.mavsports.com.