Courkamp, Mary Margaret three-peat in Fairplay, eye burro racing’s ‘triple crown’
Kirt Courkamp and Mary Margaret will stick together for one more week, at least.
Entering this summer’s 70th annual World Championship Pack Burro race in Fairplay, 56-year-old ultra-runner Courkamp came off of another spring and summer during which he lived with and took care of Mary Margaret. She’s a burro gifted to him by the legendary, late Curtis Imrie, who’s regarded as “the dean of Colorado burro racing” and died at the age of 70 a year-and-a-half ago.
Over the past three years, Courkamp and Mary Margaret have spent months living together at Courkamp’s home in Pine. The distance runner is experienced in 100-mile long ultra races and has added pack burro racing to his list of annual endeavors.
With his victory in the 29-mile long course at the annual Fairplay Burro Days this weekend, Courkamp has now won the event three years in a row. Eighty nine runners took part in the event between the short and long course races, an all-time record.
Courkamp’s victory also means his handing over of Mary Margaret to Lindsey Lighthizer — Imerie’s life partner — is delayed a week. That’s because Lighthizger and Courkamp struck a deal entering this summer’s “Triple Crown” of Pack Burro racing — the three consecutive weekends of racing in Fairplay, Leadville and Buena Vista.
“Lindsey agreed to let me go ahead and run Mary Margaret last year and again this year,” Courkamp said. “But this year, the deal is, if I lose, I give her back because Lindsey wants to run her.
“So now I get to run her next week at the Leadville race.”
If Fairplay has been the kindest course to Courkamp and Mary Margaret, Leadville has been the tandem’s kryptonite.
On Sunday Courkamp and Mary Margaret completed the long course — which requires runners and their burros to ascend from a start at the gates of historic South Park City, up to the 13,185-foot Mosquito Pass, and back down again to a finish line at Fairplay’s Front Street — in 6 hours, 6 minutes and 38 seconds.
It may have been good enough for first place, but Courkamp said it was a substantial step back compared to his winning times of 5:29:54 in 2017 and 5:41:08 on his maiden run in 2016.
As for the annual week-after race at Leadville Boom Days, it’s the man and burro that finished second to Courkamp on Sunday in Fairplay — George Zack and Jack — that may prove to be the foil once again. Last year Zack and Jack won the 21-mile Leadville race in 3 hours and 55 minutes, compared to Courkamp and Mary Margaret’s fourth-place finish in 4:09:23.
At Buena Vista’s Gold Rush Days 13-mile pack burro race a week later, Courkamp and Mary Margaret bested Zack and Jack with a time of 2 hours and 45 seconds compared to Zack and Jack’s 2:01:21. But both teams were topped by first-place finishers Andrew Knutsen and his burro Crazy Horse (2:00:37).
In 2016, Zack and Jack (3:51:22) also won the Leadville race while Courkamp and Mary Margaret (4:23:14) finished more than a half-hour behind in fifth-place.
“I always stumble at Leadville,” Courkamp said. “George is the master at Leadville. He dominates at Leadville.”
In order to win at Leadville and keep his triple crown hopes alive, Courkamp said his primary concern is keeping his calves from cramping.
On the 29-mile run on Sunday, Courkamp said he orally consumed the HotShot muscle cramp treatment four times after he began cramping a half-mile down from Mosquito Pass.
“It cost me some time today,” Courkamp said. “And I ran out of HotShots to knock ‘em down, so I really struggled.”
As for Mary Margaret, Courkamp said it wasn’t her best day either. Though weather conditions were fine and lacked any real snow, hail or rain, Courkamp said it was by far the windiest of the three Fairplay World Championship races he’s won. He described conditions as “screaming” at the top of Mosquito Pass. Whether it was wind or something else, though, he wasn’t sure why Mary Margaret wasn’t feeling it on Sunday.
Though Sunday wasn’t their best day as a team, the two have grown very close over the past three years. Courkamp was originally gifted Mary Margaret by Imerie a week before his first race in 2016. The deal back then was if Courkamp could get Mary Margaret back down to his trailer before any of the other runners and burros, he could take her home.
“I drug her, drug her, drug her a while,” Courkamp recalled. “And all of a sudden, she just took off running on me. We flew all the way down Mosquito Pass where we had my trailer. I threw her in the back, we came back a week later and unloaded her and ran her to the top, and turned around and won it.”
Ever since, Courkamp and Mary Margaret are together from April or May of each spring through October or November of each autumn, running together two to three times each week. It’s that routine connection that Courkamp says separates him from other elite runners who’ve been humbled by burros at past races.
“The donkey is a true equalizer,” Courkamp said. “A lot of times you’ll lead them and they do not want to go very fast. And you are tugging on ‘em, and tugging on ‘em. But when things come around and it works, right then you get behind them and they lead.
“And that’s fun.”
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