The oldest race in the Pagosa Springs GECKO (Giving Every Child Knowledge of the Outdoors) Racing Series celebrated its 10th birthday this year on a beautiful, blue sky September morning.
Race director Morgan Murray vividly recalls that first year and how stressed and excited he was to put on an event with so many components. “This was the first event GECKO ever did, just 70 people back then, a band and some chile,” he said.
This year he estimated there were more than 1,000 people who attended with 250 runners, two bands and numerous food and beverage vendors filling the park at Reservoir Hill.
“The run used to be a seven and 14 miler,” Murray said. “I can’t remember why I picked those distances but, now with a 5K, 10K and half marathon, we provide something for everybody and the runners love it.”
Robert Bussard from Durango ran the Cha Cha for the first time this year and said he would gladly do it again.
“I very much enjoy races that have a laid-back feel to them, and this was evident at this half marathon,” he said.
The race winds through trails on Reservoir Hill and some private trails on Reservoir River Ranch, with half marathon runners climbing the hill three times in different locations.
Although the 2,300 feet of climbing was challenging, the trails were very runnable and offered awesome views of the valley and surrounding peaks.
“My favorite sections of the course were the many loops of the plateau through the trees, the trails were fairly easy to follow, soft and fast,” Bussard said.
GECKO offers eight to 12 events annually each with their own unique identity.
“Take the Devil Mountain Ultra for example,” Murray said. “That event is way back in the woods; it is intentionally ‘old school’ trail running with bonfires, pancakes, camping and late-night singing.
“By contrast, the Cha Cha is all about celebrating and showcasing our town, our heritage and our incredible Reservoir Hill.”
The common thread for all the events is celebrating the outdoors. The outdoors is what GECKO is all about, and all proceeds from every event go to fund scholarships to help get teenagers unplugged, off the couch and outdoors-connected with nature.
“We want to provide a true and authentic experience with a celebratory element,” Murray said. “At GECKO we love to have fun in all that we do.”
After the race, runners, their families and members of the community enjoyed mingling in the park dancing, sampling chile and participating in the beer and margarita tasting contests.
Bussard hung around for the festival and said the music, food and other entertainment were fun.
“The event was clearly organized as a family-friendly event which made the atmosphere quite enjoyable,” he said.
This event is unique in many ways including the one of a kind chile pepper awards presented to all the runners when they cross the finish line. It is a perfect fall event to cap off the trail running season in southwestern Colorado and one that will surely continue to grow.
“This year will go down as the year the Chile Cha Cha is seen as a ‘must do’ Pagosa event,” Murray said.
Reach Marjorie Brinton at firstname.lastname@example.org.