Telluride Mountain Run Newsletter #2: Ricky to the Rescue!

Telluride Mountain RunA lot has happened in the world of the Telluride Mountain Run.

Organizing a race is a learning experience. The lessons are many: how to work with people, how to approach businesses, how to negotiate with land agencies and how to design a course and event that will make the most sense for the most people. We have by no means figured everything out yet, but we are much farther along the path than when the last newsletter was published, and we want to fill everyone in on the events that have transpired behind the scenes since then.

I’ll start from the beginning. The Telluride Mountain Run is a brand new ultramarathon in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. The start and finish are in Telluride and the course runs in a big loop through the surrounding mountains. The trails are difficult and sometimes nonexistent, the mountains are big and the elevation is very high, meaning T-rad will be exceptionally challenging to all who enter. The course has changed several times in the planning process, mostly due to the whims of the land-management agencies, although once due to a newly discovered route. The course was originally forty-five miles, then was extended to fifty-five miles. The long course would include the nearby town of Silverton – home of the Hardrock 100 – and would feature more than 20,000 feet of elevation gain. In short, it would be the best course of all time.

But that course didn’t fly with the National Forest Service. They have a strict policy that all races must run on forest service-numbered trails, which effectively eliminates at least half of the trails marked on any modern map. To utilize non-numbered trails the forest service institutes an Environmental Assessment, which is pretty self-explanatory. Basically they study the impacts a race would have on a given course and then decide if they are too great to hold the race or not. Unfortunately, an Environmental Assessment can be extremely expensive and time-consuming, and the forest service indicated that we would not be able to run that course this year. We would only be able to run, they said, if we stayed entirely within the Uncompahgre National Forest and reduced our runner numbers to seventy-five persons.

While only having seventy-five runners would be disappointing, that’s not the deal-breaker. The real problem is staying within the single national forest. Our ideal course crosses through two different national forests and Bureau of Land Management land. Restricting the course to just one national forest severely impacts the quality of the course, and we were unwilling to hold the race without the high-quality course of which we had dreamed. We were on the verge of cancelling the race entirely. Then, when all hope seemed to be lost, Ricky Denesik came on board.

Ricky is a longtime Telluride resident and veteran of many Hardrock finishes. For years he had the idea of holding a 50k race around Telluride, but never had the time to make that a reality until this year. He approached the forest service about his plan and got some encouragement, and then talked to us. His idea made sense: rather than holding two similar events in Telluride, why not just hold one great event? As a double-fold bonus, Ricky’s course stays entirely within the Uncompahgre National Forest. To be completely honest about the situation, this course is not the best that the San Juans has to offer. But it is a pretty damn good one, and will allow us to hold a high-quality event this year that will prove our abilities, and furthermore to establish a rapport with the forest service that will hopefully lead to our holding the race on the ideal course in 2014. Thus, the course we have right now is about thirty-eight miles long, with the huge views and terrifying vertical that is characteristic of Telluride.

When we first talked, Ricky told us, “I kind of went about the process backwards from you guys. I wanted to talk to the forest service and get all the permits squared away before making the race public. That way I wouldn’t look stupid if I couldn’t put the race on.” He made a good point. We took a big risk in promoting the race before we had the permits in hand. But we believed, and still believe, that such a risk was worthwhile. We want to hold the race this year, and we want it to be an extremely high-quality race. In our eyes, one of the biggest components of a high-quality race are the people, because without the people and all their personalities, talents and quirks, we don’t have a race. We knew that if we waited until we had the permits to promote our race, we wouldn’t be able to announce anything until so late in the year that most people would already have planned their race schedules. So we tried to let people know what we were doing and to build hype, without being dishonest about our position with the forest service. The road has been long and frustrating, and I know that many of you are questioning if this race is worth waiting for. But, although we even now don’t yet have permits in hand, the Telluride Mountain Run will be unlike any event you have ever been part of. We’re going to make our race the best in the world, and the only way to understand how is to be part of the event yourself. We ask you to wait just a little longer. The wait will be worthwhile.

To sum everything up, the course is now an extended 50k, the number of runners could be anywhere from 75 to 150, and we are now happily working alongside Ricky Denesik. The forest service has done a lot for us already, and we are working closely with them now to get things in order to hold the race this year. We have sponsors lined up, a start and finish area and a huge, devoted following for which we couldn’t be more grateful. We want to bring you the Telluride Mountain Run, because in doing so we will bring real mountain running to America. You won’t be disappointed. Stay tuned to the website for updates. A lot is happening these days, and we will be sure to keep the public informed.

Thanks for all of your support. T-rad is going to be so cool.

There are 19 comments

  1. mtnrunner2

    Can't run between forests?? Gee, I'm glad I can drive between states, and I'm not stuck to 10k drives in my neighborhood.

    Good luck getting that done.

  2. Speedgoatkarl

    Uh hu, sounds like a standard response. 75 runners, in most areas, you can do that without a permit. Maybe not so in Telluride, but man, the US FS has to step up, which we know they won't. It's a shame.

    So funny in Europe, people think it's cool to hit summits, enjoy the big peaks, with access to all, just look at the stairs, catwalks, huts they build. In the US, nope we are only allowed to "view" the cool places. Cuz we don't want to disturb the pristine wilderness. Ok not to disturb the wilderness, I get that, and the pristine wilderness can be enjoyed without doing damage if people choose to do the right thing and no to damage. Mt Runners are folks who care about the wilderness, the folks that stand at the overlook and "look" and sometimes do silly damaging things don't go up high anyway.

    I could write a book on this if I want, but I don't have time. I'd rather go run….good luck with the permit, get it and I'm there. Sucks…..

    1. Kev


      I see mountain runners as some of the greatest outdoor ambassadors we've got in the US right now. Hopefully starting a rapport with more forest service people and showing them what this sport is all about will turn some heads.

    2. JohnDoe

      I agree with the others – some of these restrictions are head-scratching. Its not a race to trash the mountains, its to enjoy them and in a way, embrace and protect them. They have been there for millions of years, will be there for millions of years and using them for for a 1 day race won't cause a dent. If 100 people showed up to hike the "ideal course", they could do it without restriction probably and would in some ways cause more "damage" because they'd be on the trail longer time. Good luck organizing the race!!

    3. Ethan

      Agreed regarding the importance of maintaining intact/unspoiled wilderness, and also re: the different ways mountain runners treat places vs. much of the general public. I just did a longish run in a somewhat out-of-the-way part of the Cascades, finishing with a good chunk of running along a road. I was astonished by the amount of garbage along the road. I mean, the road doesn't even go anywhere! It's just a dead-end road to a trailhead with some campgrounds along the way, but as it's vehicle-accessible it attracts a cross-section of the populace that doesn't see the harm in chucking their empty cans and wrappers out into the old-growth forest. Anyway, two points here – first, there was no garbage anywhere along the trail I was on for the first half of the run; second, I picked up as much of the garbage along the road as I could (sadly, not much). I realize the FS has additional concerns beyond garbage – erosion, human waste, etc – but it would probably make their job easier if they took the time to group people according to their use habits.

  3. Shelby

    Prez, even if it's not the best the San Juans has to offer, I suspect it will be pretty impressive to those who haven't done much running in the San Juans. For the rest it will be a great day of running with friends, and isn't that the best thing about these events?

    Looking forward to hearing what you three can put together when the permits are in hand and running it myself at some point…

  4. Brandon

    Why in the hell would they not let you go from one nat. forest into another makes no sense. I mean come on. Would getting a permit from each forest solve the issue or is it just some ridiculous red tape?

    1. Reese Ruland


      Its a bit of a red tape issue. There are several governing bodies that control the areas that we wanted our course to cross into. Some have early cut off dates for proposals, while others don't have a set cut off date. This synchronized system makes it very difficult to coordinate the permitting process. Which is unfortunate because it would have been AWESOME to run the race we wanted.

  5. Ethan

    Dakota – have you tried talking to them about doing trail work/maintenance as part of this whole deal? I suppose you have…just seems like it helps other RDs.

    1. Reese Ruland


      While I know this was addressed to Dakota, I'm going to take the liberty to reply. :) Yes, we have told the FS that trail work is requirement for runners who wish to run the race. I believe this was mentioned on our FAQ section. We think its a great way to help the environment and build a strong relationship with the FS.

  6. Lstomsl

    As a runner, I get what y'all are saying and I understand the sentiment. But as someone who has worked in the environmental consulting industry you need to understand that the FS doesn't just make the rules and can't just change them at will. The National Environmental Policy Act has been the law of the land for 43 years. It's the same law that keeps them from turning single track into roads, forests into clear cuts, and alpine tundra into open pit gold mines. It may prevent Hardrock from being a 1600 person free-for-all like UTMB but we actually have deer, elk, bears, mountain lions, etc. in our forests. They no longer do in Europe. We have pristine wilderness where you can choose to find solitude, again something they do not. I've done my share of bitching about government regulation in my life but I've also spent enough time in parts of the world that lacked regulation getting shocked in the shower, banging my head on door frames that were too low, and seeing beautiful mountains that were completely silent and devoid of wildlife. Our system ain't perfect but it's better than most and we should appreciate it and work within it. It may take a bit more time, maybe even some capital investment but in the end I'm sure it will be a great event. Good luck!

    1. Rudy

      +10. The only thing I would caution against is the term "pristine wilderness," as that's a personal value judgement. I'm sure the Alps could be called "pristine" by many people. Great comment.

  7. Speedgoatkarl

    so true Ethan, if I ever succumb to running on the road I see alot too, we have one older woman near my house that walks the main road constantly picking up garbage, she is amazing. Every time I see her, she's got a bag of garbage. Runners are not the problem, society is. does that make sense?

  8. AK

    If the permits come through, I'm doing it.

    It starts and finishes in Telluride. Even if we run exclusively mining roads (Tomboy, Bridal Veils, etc) in and out of the valley, it will still be more scenic (and more climbing) than probably almost any other U.S. race in its category. 60K is a more manageable distance to sandwich between Speedgoat and UTMB anyway.

  9. Speedgoatkarl

    Definately a great comment, but I don't think it's fair to use the same "law" that applies to "turning a singletrack into a road", "forests into clear cuts", or "tundra into gold mines". We are just runners, carrying some water and gel. there (in my silly opinion) should be a different law for this stuff.

    Let races start lower and build a reputation of being super clean and environmentally respectful, but let the ultimate caps be higher after it's a proven clean event. that's my only bitch session on the whole thing, many races, a day later….people don't even know they existed. It's pretty incredible how courses get swept these days.

    I guess that's all I gotta say. Great debate shaping up, but this isn't the post. :-)

    1. Lstomsl

      Well fair or not it's decided law. I would think you might be underestimating the impacts (which i addressed in a different post) but regardless, I'm sure the FS would love to have the ability to perform timely NEPA analysis for any new race and likely many wold be approved for the reasons you state but after decades of budget cuts they are operating on a shoestring and have no capability to do that. For the cost of one cruise missile per year they could hire 25 full-time people to,punch out permits but I guess this is not the place for THAT debate…..

      1. Jamil Coury

        Lstomsl – Do you know how the sheep grazing in the San Juans fits into NEPA? Seems like the impact of that industry would be many times that of a few summertime ultras – even if they were quite large, which would be concentrated to a specific route. Regular use and maintenance of some of the trails up high in the mountains would actually keep them cleared out and maintained so they can be enjoyed by other users of the land too.

        1. Lstomsl

          My understanding is that existing uses, like grazing, prior to 1970 are grandfathered in. Like how horses are allowed in wilderness areas but mt bikes are excluded. Not fair but that's our political process, the old families that have grazing rights have money and political clout and it's not easy to ask them to give up something that they see as "theirs". NEPA applies to new activities on federal land or using federal money. It's far from perfect but it follows the precautionary principal of erring on the side of less impact. In general I think that's a good thing.

  10. Lstomsl

    I agree in principal, but again the FS can't just say trail runners are exempt, that would take an act of congress and good luck with that these days. Also I frequently hear people say "What harm would 75 runners do?". But it's never just 75 runners on one day. If its truly a great course it's reputation will spread. If its allowed on unofficial trails it will bring attention to those trails, make them more accessible to people, including some with less respect than most of us have. For instance the Hardrock trail sees many, many, times the impact that non-HR trails in the area see. In June it's full of people training there, not just runners but pacers, family, friends, unassociated people who just want to be part of the xperience. All of them use vehicles, and intentionally or not leave trash. It's not just 140 people on one day. If not for HR I bet less then a few dozen people a year would make it to bear mt, bugle boy or little giant. It's not a terribly big deal as there still exist places to escape the crowds but what if every wanna be race director got to create heir own ideal course? There are probably 20x as many ultras today as here were 10 years ago, how many will here be in another 10 years? How many do we need? what will the cumulative effects be? These are questions the FS are required to consider in the NEPA process. Personally I would prefer to see the HR event expanded and even lesser distances added to concentrate the impacts in time and place rather then spread them out to new areas and times.

  11. J.Xander

    All subjectivity (pristine, enjoyment, greatest ambassadors, protection of mountains) aside there is something’s every trail user should be aware of:

    All the land we enjoy as trail runners is owned by someone, mostly some state, federal or municipal body. Each of those governments has an agency appointed to manage this public good “land”. In which we all share a stake.

    The management of lands is sticky, tricky and a convoluted mess that involves lots of individuals and groups interpretations of how it should be used and for what purposes, if any at all.

    Land managers are tasked with “balancing the use” and are given the guides for balancing by your, mine, our elected officials. Federally speaking, all of the National Parks and National Forests were created by legislation and that legislation dictates how decisions for use are made. Legislation can only be changed by……other legislators i.e. literally congressional acts. The wheels of land agencies turn slowly. There is no whim involved.

    While it may be a pain to get the permit you want just think it is the same pain for all the other groups to get the same or similar permit. These groups include: zip line tour groups, off-road vehicles, bikes, horses, helicopter landing, hunters, movie crews, tough mudder, spartan races, nuclear disposal sites, mines, etc……the list goes on.

    So while one group might think their activity has the least impact and the most respectful users it is good to keep it in context. This is highly subjective. Thanks to all the land managers out there trying to balance the issues within the strict guidelines handed down to them.

    Oh, and Dakota, if you are actually going to have to do an EA (Environmental Assessment) better start early and get your ducks in a row by finding a consultant to donate time for the cause of the race. They can be more laborious and time consuming than most people usually expect.

    These statements are in no way a defense of Status Quo – I do believe lots of things definitely could be changed to be more flexible an adaptive.

    1. Reese Ruland

      J. Xander,

      Again, I'm responding for Dakota here.. but we are working with the FS now to get things in line for the EA so that by next year we might be able to run the original course.

      And yes, the FS does have a difficult job trying to balance land use! Yikes!

    2. maggie

      Land owned by govermnet agency? We the people own the land.I had a local ranger here in Calif. say to me "what makes you think it's your God given right to hike all over the forest?" I told her I am a taxpayer and citizen and I own the land and I pay her salary. I agree you have to have rules , we just need to be more active in lobbying to get the rules changed.

  12. Jeff

    What boggles my mind is how the NFS is wiling to allow outfitters with pack animals along these trails. These users have far more impact than runners, yet that doesn't seem to be a big deal. I'm not against outfitting, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason for these restrictions.

    1. Anonymous

      I agree that horses have more impact then runners but other than that I don't get your point. Runners are not excluded anywhere. You can run anywhere you want. The issue is a permit for a new event and horse-riders would face the same issue if they wanted to start a new event. Outfitters are not just allowed to do what they want, they have to have a commercial use-permit and if you think an event permit is hard to get, you should try getting a commercial use permit. On the Ranger district I live in they haven't given one in years, have no expectation of giving new ones anytime in the future, and don't even have a process for reviewing applications….

  13. Lstomsl

    I agree that horses have more impact then runners but other than that I don't get your point. Runners are not excluded anywhere. You can run anywhere you want. The issue is a permit for a new event and horse-riders would face the same issue if they wanted to start a new event. Outfitters are not just allowed to do what they want, they have to have a commercial use-permit and if you think an event permit is hard to get, you should try getting a commercial use permit. On the Ranger district I live in they haven't given one in years, have no expectation of giving new ones anytime in the future, and don't even have a process for reviewing applications….

  14. Jim Skaggs

    Good luck guys with getting everythng lined up. I'm pulling for you. I know that with my race I tried to have all my ducks in a row before I announced anything. The first three years the state park limited the number of runners I could have (150-200). Once they determined that all of the runners that were out there left nothing but footprints, they came to me and asked how many did I think would show if there were no limits. Since then I've had 800 sign up each year. I limit the numbers now for logistics reasons. What the first few years showed the park management is that we runners were very responsible and that the impact on the wildlife, environment, and other park users from a two day event were very minimal. One thing that may help in future years is something I do. I send a post race email out asking everyone to send an email to the park management with their comments about the race and the park. Every year the park management gets a couple hundred of these and they do appreciate it. Definitely builds good will.

    Jim Skaggs

    RD Antelope Island Buffalo Run

    1. Speedgoatkarl

      same approach as I take at the Speedgoat 50k, let's build it slowly so not to cause any notice a race even happened. When I sweep my final sweep a few days later, just to make sure every single bit is clean, I even bring a rake to fluff up the grass. :-) Kinda silly, but I don't even want to see a track.

  15. Mike Grady

    Im hoping to get a spot on the starting line at TRad, but if I miss out you can count on me to volunteer where ever I'm most useful! Cheers

  16. Anonymous

    Europe never had Elks and mountin lions so it would have been difficult to keep them. Bears and nunerous species of deer we still have in many parts of mountainous Europe. Personally one of my most treasured memories, running alongside a herd of "Stambecchi" (a kind of Ibex looking animal) in the Gran Paradiso Natuonal Park, Italy at 2000m.

    The Alps are also home to many other wild species – eagles, hawks, peregrines, marmottes, weasels, foxes. Parts of the Appennines are inhabited by wolves.

    The numbers of these animals are reduced but you have to remember that humans have been trying to survive in these areas for over 5000 years – some impact on the wildlife is inevitable. America was very sparsely populated until very recently – shall we say a few hundred years.

    Anyway good luck to Dakota and Reese – great to see a real mountain course being run in the States!

  17. David

    Hoping this race comes together…just curious how it will be different (other than the mileage) from the San Juan Solstice 50, held in the same area? Thanks

    1. Speedgoatkarl

      It's not even close to San Juan Solstice in terms of areas. Telluride has some steeper mountains and Dakota's race would be much tougher….if he got a permit…

      San Juan Solstice is up high, but once you reach CArson at about mile 24, it's all on the continental divide, and it goes up and down, but it's not super tough.

  18. Mic

    If there is prize money then flag the course – we don't want none trail runners getting lost. :)

    (kidding but not, all at the same time)

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