As race director, I am explicitly prohibited from running my own Flyathlon races, and as such, I must find other venues to compete. And while Flyathlon training runs are a lot of fun, I have found that I need a little more pressure than that…
So yesterday, I decided to forge a new path for competitive Flyathletes everywhere.
The Imogene Pass Run is an epic 17 mile run that goes from Ouray to Telluride the hard way, up and over Imogene Pass (5000+ vertical feet gained in 10 miles up). That is hard enough, but trying to catch a trout to boot, seemed like a adequate challenge.
I started the race in Ouray, CO with a game plan, which I had developed in driving and fishing the first 5 miles of the course on Friday. The creek that runs next to the course is aptly named Canyon Creek, as access to the creek is minimal due to the very steep canyon that it lives in. There were really only two easyish access points to the creek, one at a bridge crossing near mile 3, and another at the top of a steep hill near mile 5 where the road flattened out, albeit for a brief stretch. I decided to go for the mile 5 section, as there is a strictly enforced time cut-off at mile 7.5. I decided that I would be more in control of that cut-off if I only had 2.5 miles to go…
Another initial concern that I had was that Canyon Creek might not have trout due to the legacy of mining in the upper basin. Fortunately, brook trout are like the cockroaches of western trout, and can survive in elevated metal environments. My Friday recon outing produced a dozen or so brookies in about an hour of fishing, so I was pretty confident I could catch one on race day fairly quickly…
As I crashed down the embankment near mile 5, heart pounding from the unpleasant hill we had just climbed, I heard encouraging words from other racers who I had spoken with on the climb. Just short of the creek, I began to assemble my 7 piece 3 weight, and fingers shaking, I managed to tie a massive parachute hopper onto my line (greedy fish technique works with brookies every time). I slowly creeped through some bushes to perch myself on a boulder overlooking the one really good pool in this stretch. As I dropped the fly on the water, I immediately saw a large head emerging from the depths of the pool. Just like that, I had a nine inch brook trout on the line. But as I attempted to lift him out of the pool up to my boulder, he somehow spit the hook, dropping several feet to splash into the water below. In that moment, I saw several other fish in the pool scatter. I had spooked the entire reach…
As I sat on that boulder wondering what to do next, panic began to set in that I had blown my golden opportunity to fish slap the Imogene Pass Run. I would disappoint all of my fellow runners who were so supportive of my plan. I would let down my wife and children. I would fail this challenge…
But just then, something surprising happened. Less than 5 minutes after a large trout had fallen from the sky, disrupting the riverine feng shui, a small brook trout decided to surface again. Not sure what he was thinking, but I saw this as my opportunity. With a short bow-and-arrow cast, I placed that gargantuan hopper directly into his feeding lane, and bang, he hit it. I carefully lifted him out of the pool, hurried down to the bank to wet my hands, placed him on the Imogene race bib, and documented this momentous occasion.
As soon as I had broken down my equipment and climbed the hill to the road, reintegrating into the stream of runners headed up, I realized that I had no real concept of how difficult the next 3 miles would be to reach the cut-off point. Once we reached lower Camp Bird, the road went into the woods and got steeper by the minute.
At mile 6, I nervously glanced at my watch and realized that barring a major calf melt-down (always a possibility these days), I would make the cut-off.
At Upper Camp Bird, I again looked at my watch and realized that I had made it with plenty of time to spare, more than 1/2 hour. To celebrate, I stuffed the pocket of my Nathan pack with gummy worms and headed out for the Imogene Pass summit. To be totally honest, those next 2.5 miles are a bit of a blur, as my internal dialogue reached consensus that the grade of the road should be illegal. Probably is in many states. To drown out this counterproductive conversation, I threw on my headphones (Green Day’s American Idiot) and power-hiked into the thin air.
Before I knew it, I was at the summit. Cow bells ringing, legs burning, head swimming, I made the obvious nutritional choice. More gummy worms.
Hydration pack filled with water, I began the descent into Telluride. Not surprisingly, the grade on that side of the mountain was equally brutal, just in the opposite direction. I routinely make the mental mistake of believing that the downhill will be easier than the uphill. I weigh almost 200 pounds. Physics just doesn’t support that analysis.
By Mile 14, my knees were screaming at me, but I knew that I was close to finishing. I took a brief moment to look around an found myself in awe of my surroundings, and the magnitude of the accomplishment of all of these athletes. I love Colorado. I also recognized my good decision to fish the Ouray side of the course, as the Telluride side lacked any obvious trouty habitat.
The remaining miles flew by, and as I turned the corner onto the asphalt of the town of Telluride, I found myself sprinting to the finish. Not sure why I did it, as there was no risk of me winning anything, but it felt really good. I crossed the finish line in 4:08, boarded the gondola, and headed back to Mountain Village for a burger and some local beer (appropriately, Telluride Brewing Company’s Fishwater Double IPA). And yet another beer.
I thoroughly enjoyed fish slapping the Imogene Pass Run, and would like to thank the race organizers for picking such a fishy course, and for not considering my fishing plan a violation of the Imogene Pass Run’s behavioral policy (i.e. “participants who exhibit unruly, obnoxious or uncooperative behavior will be disqualified and denied future entry into the IPR”).
The Stout Runner
run. fish. beer.