Breck Crest puts marathoners to the test |

Breck Crest puts marathoners to the test

SummitDaily File Photo/Karin PrescottRunners make their way up the Peaks Trail in the 2001 Breckenridge Crest Mountain Marathon. The race is considered by many to be the toughest trail marathon in the U.S.

BRECKENRIDGE – Not everyone is going to take time off of work Labor Day weekend, especially runners embarking on the ninth annual Breckenridge Crest Mountain Marathon.

There has been some debate among stalwart marathoners as to whether or not the Crest is a “true” marathon, since it falls short of the official 26.2 mile marathon distance. But at 24.5 miles and 6,000 feet of vertical elevation gain, most marathoners who have completed the Crest consider its difficulty far beyond a typical marathon’s.

“You won’t be missing that extra two miles,” said Ellen Miller, 2001 Breck Crest winner, who will compete in her fourth Breck Crest Aug. 31. “It’s a very difficult race, obviously, because of the altitude, but also because so much of it is singletrack and technical trail. But, I’m happy when I’m doing that race. The Breck Crest course is so beautiful and, honestly, people do a great job organizing it. It’s a friendly, fun, welcoming event, as well as being very hard and challenging.”

The marathon is organized by the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC) which also organizes the 12-mile and 5-mile trail runs in conjunction with the marathon and the Blue River Run and Roll 5-kilometer road running race Aug. 30.

“When I first moved up here about nine years ago, there really wasn’t any trail races,” BOEC executive director Rich Cook said. “Then, we looked at the map and saw this course as a real standout, and we went ahead and put it together. When you’re pushing your limits on a course like this, it can take it out of you unless you’ve trained hard. But it all depends on the individual. The mountains and the course don’t have an agenda. It’s up to you to chose a shorter course, go out and be competitive or just try for a personal best.”

The marathon course begins with a steep climb up the Burro Trail on Peak 9 to the Wheeler Trail, then takes racers across the Ten Mile range, down into Frisco and back to Breck on the Peaks Trail.

Eagle’s Anita Ortiz holds the women’s race record of 3 hours and 53 minutes, while Boulder’s Dave Mackey holds the men’s record of 3:19:00.

“It ranks up there as one of the most difficult in the U.S.,” Mackey said of the race, which he won’t be running this year, but will be volunteering and will speak at a runner’s clinic coinciding with the event. “The Breck Crest is at a very high altitude, averaging 11,500 (feet). It’s not as fast as (most) marathons. You definitely need to eat and drink more.”

Race organizers are capping all three trail runs at 600 people. As to the average race time being slower than most marathons, there’s good reason.

“I’d say it’s even harder than the Pikes Peak marathon, because in that, you know you have to go up but then it’s downhill the whole way back,” 2002 Breck Crest winner Helen Cospolich said. “In the Breck marathon, you go up, then traverse, then descend, then go up again. The people who do well in this race aren’t the people who go out fast, because the first half of the course will just destroy you. It’s a challenging race that takes lots of concentration, but the best part about it is it’s so scenic.”


Breck Crest

The Breckenridge Crest Mountain Marathon, 12-mile and 5-mile trail runs are Aug. 31 in Breckenridge. Registration is $40 for the marathon or 10 mile race and includes a T-shirt, food and swag bag, The 5-mile registration is $30. Registration forms are available at Great Adventure Sports or Mountain Outfitters in Breckenridge, online at, or by phone at (800) 383-2632 or (970) 453-6422. For more information about the races, or other Labor Day weekend sporting events, visit

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