The Devil Mountain Ultra 50-mile, 50K and half-marathon races took place Aug. 23 with the addition this year of 10K and 5K distances. This event is one of a group of races that supports GECKO, or Giving Every Child Knowledge of the Outdoors.
Run director and founder Morgan Murri said GECKO is a nonprofit that started seven years ago in Pagosa Springs.
“We raise money to get kids off the couch, unplugged and outside,” he said. “Our primary mission is to give kids (juniors in high school) scholarships to (National Outdoor Leadership School), which costs about $6,000 per kid.”
Durango ultrarunner Susan McAward ran the 50-mile race. “I chose this race because it fit into my training schedule as preparation for my first 100-mile race at the end of September and provided a challenging course close to home.” she said. “I also really enjoy that this race is part of GECKO.
“Part of what makes ultrarunning appealing to me is enjoying the outdoors, and this provides a great opportunity to be part of something that helps teens experience the same thing.”
Two-year Durango resident James Oury ran the 50K distance, his second-ever ultra-distance event. “I am particularly keen on it,” said Oury, “because I think the GECKO charity is wonderful.”
James, originally from London, was very grateful for the volunteers during the race.
“At each aid station I said ‘God Save the Queen,’ and the volunteers gratefully threw it back so that kept me going for sure.”
McAward, who has been distance running for over 12 years, was awed by the beauty of the course as well as its difficulty.
“I was amazed at the vista of the Piedra Valley from Sally Overlook. It was quite inspiring to have this view at mile 34,” she said.
“I was surprised to find it as difficult a race as far as terrain. I had recently paced a runner at Hardrock for 47 miles so I was feeling well prepared. The elevation ranged from 7,100 to 10,000 feet with very steep and technical climbs and descents.”
Oury also found the course beautiful and challenging.
“The course was outstanding,” he said. “In fact there’s a section from about 8 miles to about 16 which takes you on top of Horse Mountain and you run effectively across the spine of Horse Mountain and Devil Mountain. It’s completely in the middle of nowhere. ... There is nothing really except the beauty of the outdoors, and that’s why I have been most drawn to ultrarunning.
The descents are very technical, he added. “It’s always hard because it is at that point in the race where you are most mentally tired – it’s always at that stage when bad falls happen.”
There is one GECKO event left this season, the “Mountain Chile Cha Cha” on Sept. 27 at Town Park in Pagosa Springs. For information, visit www.joingecko.org/mountainchilechacha.
“We are reaching out to the Durango community,” said Murri. “We sent two Durango kids this year and two last year to NOLS.
“We continue to look for kids regionally that can take the opportunity to make the best of it.”
Said Oury: “Next year, I really want to help these guys at GECKO to get something to come to Durango, and I will help where I can.”
Reach Marjorie Brinton at firstname.lastname@example.org.