TELLURIDE – Just as longtime race director John Jett had anticipated, good weather and a strong competitive field led to an intense Battle of the Titans for last Saturday’s running of the 36th Imogene Pass Run between Ouray and Telluride.
The intensity of the race, which pits runners against an extremely challenging, 17-mile high altitude mountain course that crests at over 13,000 feet, was apparent in the faces of the two top finishers – Timmy Parr of Gunnison and Michael Smith of Flagstaff – as they rambled down the last few switchbacks of Tomboy Road on Saturday morning. Parr was a blur, the number 1 on his jersey foretelling a repeat of his first place finish last year. He posted the fastest race time since 1998 with a final time of 2:15:06.
Smith was also a picture of grim intensity on the last section of the course’s grueling downhill, moving fast but not fast enough to catch Parr. Smith, a surprise addition to the winner’s podium having never ran the IPR before, finished two minutes behind Parr.
It was only many-time IPR winner Bernie Boettcher of Silt, Colo., who managed a smile at some cheering fans who had hiked up Tomboy Road to greet the top runners as they made their way to the finish. Boettcher finished in 2:28:17, taking third place, just ahead of Zach Crandall (Lafayette, Colo.).
Also posting the fastest time IPR has seen in many years was Keri Nelson, the 2008 overall women’s finisher, who this year broke the 25-year-old women’s record (set in 1984 by Carol Rogers Dunning, who was on-hand this year to present the women’s trophy.) Nelson snuck into the top ten overall with her smoking fast finish of 2:35:58.
“I was expecting some pretty great things out of the top-end of the field, and with Parr running the fastest time we’ve seen in a while and Nelson downing the women’s record after 25 years – that was pretty spectacular,” said Jett.
Jett was also spot-on with his pre-race speculations about the day’s fastest local runners, Tellu-runner Giorgio Compagnoni and Placerville’s Chris Howe. Compagnoni finished just out of the top ten with a time of 2:28:39 and Howe came in just one runner behind him, at 2:41:15.
On the women’s side, the always-threatening Kari Distefano, who recently moved into the 50-54 age group, promptly hammered that age division’s record with her finish of 2:58:15. She was the third woman finisher overall.
Local Rhoda Greene also reset a women’s record, shaving 25 seconds off the previous 70+ women’s record that had stood since 2005.
The ever-spirited Jim Looney (Telluride’s friendliest postman,) was another one of the day’s local standouts, crossing the line in under four hours in his first IPR since a bad biking injury kept him on the sidelines last year.
Jett reported that overall numbers were better than the IPR has seen in the last few years. A total of 1,168 runners started the race, with 1,127 finishing. According to Jett, participation hasn’t been that high since 2005.
“It really was the big guns out there that put on the show this year,” Jett said. Next year’s date has not officially been set, but the race is traditionally held the first Saturday after Labor Day – which in 2010 will be September 11.