Photos and Text by Paul Nelson
Was I nervous? Absolutely. I had one week to prepare for a high elevation mountain race.
But despite that aforementioned absurdity, my excitement to pin on an actual race bib completely trumped my fears, and I dove in head first without looking back.
In my defense, I would typically get a training plan from my running coach, Mario Mendoza, and follow it religiously to prepare for a race like this. However, as of late, life has been anything but typical, so when I had a last-minute opportunity to fly to Colorado and toe the line at Silverton Alpine, Aravaipa Running’s first in-person event since March, I took it, and mentally prepared myself for the physical consequences, knowing the experience was going to be well worth every ounce of the pain. And it certainly was.
I arrived Saturday morning to Memorial Park in the gorgeous town of Silverton, CO, gathered my gear, masked up and headed to the EMT tent. Temperature checks were mandatory for each participant, and the process was quick and easy. The race start was to be in a “wave” format: groups of 10 runners leaving every five minutes. My wave began at 7:30 a.m., and we each had a clearly marked spot in the starting corral to stand on, socially distanced at six feet apart. Runners, staff and volunteers followed the rules flawlessly, and although the race “looked” much different than before the coronavirus pandemic, the feel was still the same. The music was loud, conversations lively, the positive energy was contagious, and you could feel the excitement and see the smiling eyes of staff, volunteers and participants above their face masks. The atmosphere was as uplifting as it was refreshing, and there was nowhere else I’d rather be. Race Director, Julie, counted down and we began our journey towards the iconic Alpine Loop.
There are three distances offered at Silverton Alpine: a 50k, a marathon and an 8-mile race. I chose to run the marathon, which would loop us past the historical mining ghost towns of Howardsville, Eureka, Animas Fork and Gladstone. The loop tops out at California Pass, the high point of the course at a breathtaking 12,960 feet. Suffice it to say, this race left me out of breath. The course is challenging, and I was clearly undertrained, but the views were spectacular. I have lived, traveled and raced all over the world, and I can say with confidence that the Alpine Loop in the San Juan Mountains was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. In hindsight, being out of shape during this race was a blessing in disguise because I took my time, breathed in the vistas, took plenty of videos and photos, and stayed in the moment throughout the duration of the race.
This event was incredible and Aravaipa Running truly nailed their first event back during COVID, following social distancing and sanitation rules to perfection. They even put the top finishers on the podium one at a time to receive their awards—not one detail was overlooked.
Silverton Alpine Running is part one of two races that Aravaipa Running calls its “Mountain Duo.” The day after Silverton Alpine is the historical Kendall Mountain Run, a 12-mile race beginning at Memorial Park that takes runners to the summit of Kendall Mountain at 13,066 feet.
Of course, I’m already thinking of next year and letting coach Mario know my plans to return to Silverton and take on the “Mountain Duo” because just one Aravaipa Running race in the majestic San Juan Mountains of Colorado is unquestionably not enough.