Less than a week ago, Jeff Hoffman moved to Durango. On Saturday morning, he was warming up in the brisk shadows of Missionary Ridge about to join 300 others for the Steamworks Animas Valley Half Marathon.
“I wanted to see what 6,500 feet is going to do to me four days in,” he said.
Hoffman, a former economics professor from Mount Pleasant, Michigan, “hit the reset button” by moving to Durango. He said running makes him happy.
“There’s something about pushing into that pain cave that is good for the mind,” he said.
The gently rolling 13.1-mile course down East Animas Road (County Road 250) – quintessential Animas Valley scenery – offers a quiet experience between the red rock at the base of Missionary Ridge and the river’s meandering waters. Many runners sign up just for that.
Kristen Bruschnell made a weekend of it, taking the trip from Albuquerque with her husband, visiting family and planning to hit the Animas River Days afterward.
“We get to combine things,” she said. “We visit family, I get to race and my husband gets to raft.”
Bruschnell, a physician’s assistant, said she likes the serenity.
“You have the water near the run,” she said, “and everything’s green. It’s perfect.”
Race director Matthew Krichman said it’s one of Durango’s most popular running events.
“One of the things so special about this race,” he said, “is that it appeals to every kind of runner.
“We have folks that will finish in an hour and a half,” he said, “but we also have plenty of folks that will be out here three hours.”
First organized in 2001 with an initial field of 100 runners, the race now carries a waiting list of 160 or more.
Krichman said when Steamworks became a title sponsor, the event grew into what is today, selling out in two weeks after registration opens in February.
The field is broad, with elite athletes running beside first timers – at least at the beginning. Forty-five minutes before the official start, walkers and slower-paced runners can begin. Water stations and first-aid stops line the road, and, afterward, Steamworks hosts a pool party at the Durango Sports Club.
“When people think of this race, they think of two things,” Krichman said. “ A great course and a great after-party.”
He said entries are divided equally: one part locals, one part regional runners and one part travelers.
“We get people that drive hundreds of miles to do this,” he said.
The event is so popular that another has been added for August, he said, in conjunction with the San Juan Brew Festival. The course will lead runners from Hesperus to Lake Nighthorse and finish at Ska Brewing Co. in Bodo Park.
At the start just south of Bakers Bridge, many runners wore tall socks to warm legs in the cool air.
Kellie Nickerson of Albuquerque wore a tutu.
“I think the most important part of running is having fun,” she said. “I like how it makes me feel, so I try to make it as fun as possible.”