Llamas call the shots at Fairplay races | SummitDaily.com

Llamas call the shots at Fairplay races

Devon O'Neil

FAIRPLAY – Fast llama, slow llama. Fast human, slow human. It really doesn’t matter at the 22-year-old Fairplay Llama Race. As race official Mark Wittrup put it when asked to handicap Saturday’s race, “Who knows! It’s if the llama will cooperate, not who’s the fastest runner.”With scores of spectators looking on in amazement at the wackiest sporting event this side of ski joring, most of the animals cooperated Saturday. The exceptions came when the llamas – which appear part camel, part ostrich and spit and grunt with the best of them – exercised their ability to do what they want, when they want.Some decided in the middle of the race to stop for awhile and eat the bushes. A few got tired of being pulled by a rope, and showed their displeasure by shifting into reverse, unannounced. One llama was so unhappy he lay down in protest, forcing his human partner to give up as well.”Having a good llama makes all the difference in the world,” said Jason Hudson, 23, who ran to victory Saturday with 14-year-old Sunfisher. “They determine the race. If your llama doesn’t feel like running that day, you’re not finishing at the top. It’s 75 percent llama, 25 percent you.”

A Boulder law student and avid marathoner (he said he averages 3 hours, 15 minutes on 26.2-mile courses), Hudson is a study in the ups and downs that can be the Fairplay Llama Race. Four years ago he won, but since then he’s finished out of the top 10 every year.The two-toed veteran Sunfisher proved the perfect companion on Saturday.”He is an athlete,” said Hudson of his teammate, who hails from the Comanchee Creek Llama Farm in Strasburg. “He was pulling me halfway across the course. I’ve run with llamas in the past that don’t want to cross the river, don’t want to cross the bridge, balk at some of the obstacles – but he was great.”Fairplay local and Department of Wildlife employee Mark Lamb was runner-up with Nova in tow for the second straight year. He ran to a time of 32:58 – a few hundred yards back of Hudson’s 31:34 – on the 3-mile course, which featured three river crossings, a bridge crossing and a number of steep, ungraded hillclimbs just below South Park City.”Nova behaved great,” said Lamb, who had by far the largest cheering section Saturday. “Except when he had to go to the bathroom, and he just stopped. We lost a little time there. But he does great in the willows.”

Keystone lift maintenance employee Dave Metzger ran to third, less than a minute behind Lamb. Part-time Buena Vista resident Patti Morgan was the fastest of only a couple women competitors, crossing the line at 52:36.After the individual race, which required the runners to attach 30-pound packs to their animals 100 feet into the race, the sixth annual Llama Rama began. Aimed at raising awareness for organ donation, the Llama Rama used the same course as the 22nd annual individual race, but competitors entered in teams of four (five including the llama) and the llamas didn’t run with any extra weight attached.Although the Rama began as a tiny, second-tier event, it has quickly grown into one where teams from rival hospitals recruit talented outside athletes for their foursomes and take it very seriously.Of the 40-plus teams that signed up on Saturday, University Hospital-affiliated Bula (the llama) and the Boys came out on top for the fourth straight year and went home with the coveted llama stuffed animal trophy. They narrowly edged Llama Liopolis, which represented Presbyterian St. Lukes.

Despite the obvious yearn to win that is now alive and well in both Fairplay races, the competitive side will probably always play second fiddle to the unique nature of the events.Because no matter what sort of prizes or bragging rights go along with winning, the races are a spectacle above anything else.As Keystone’s Metzger said, “How many people can say they’ve done a 5K at 10,000 feet dragging a llama?”Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 231, or at doneil@summitdaily.com.

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