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You’re a trail runner, so you may think you’re familiar with elevation gain. But how about beginning a race at an elevation few runners even climb to? Welcome to Breck Crest, a marathon, half-marathon and 10K starting at 9,500 feet in the quaint ski town of Breckenridge, Colorado.
Since 1995, these quad-busting races have taken off from the heart of downtown Breckenridge. The marathon and half-marathon wind through the paved and dirt service roads of the ski village before reaching the Wheeler Trail, which climbs a steady six-and-a-half miles to the crest of the Tenmile Range. While the half-marathon splits off at mile seven and drops back down toward the town center, the marathon continues to climb another merciless mile along the crest before maxing out at approximately 12,500 feet.
High above the treeline on the town’s ski hills, runners tackle rock-laden switchbacks and open, gravely singletrack. From here, one has unobstructed views of sparkling Lake Dillon, the craggy Tenmile Range and the spidery slopes of Copper Mountain ski resort.
“The race completely surpassed my expectations,” says Joe Gray, the 2015 marathon winner and course-record holder. “I really didn’t expect the course to have such a wide variety of terrains, nor did I expect to see some of the most beautiful views of any mountain race I’ve done in Colorado.”
In the last five miles of the marathon, there’s another uphill trek, on a tough section called Peaks Trail, before the course drops back into Breckenridge. “That always surprises people,” says Jeff Westcott, the race director and owner of Maverick Sports Promotions. “It’s never super steep for long, but the slow, gradual climb and being so close to the finish just wears on you.”
The marathon is actually 23 miles, instead of the standard 26.2. “The one year I made the race 26.2 miles,” Westcott says, “I had to put in such contrived sections that I had people in my face because of it.” Of course, the technicality of the course, coupled with the altitude, more than makes up for the shortened distance.
Those looking for a less punishing but still kick-ass run, meanwhile, can sign up for the 10K. Peaking at 9,580 feet, the tamer course weaves through streams, grassy fields and wooden bridges while offering incredible views of Breckenridge and the surrounding mountains.
“The marathon is a spectacular course for an array of runners,” Westcott says. “It’s beautiful, it’s rugged, it’s hard, but it’s fair. It’s the greatest race you’ve never heard of.”
BRECK CREST MARATHON, HALF-MARATHON, 10K
Race Day: August 27, 2016
Getting There: Fly into Denver and drive about an hour-and-a-half to Breckenridge. The race beings and ends downtown at the Riverwalk Center.
Accommodations: One Ski Hill Place, Mountain Thunder Lodge and Crystal Peak Lodge are all popular places to stay, but there are tons of other lodges and hotels to choose from.
Things to Do: Bringing the family? The Breckenridge Summer Fun Park has gold panning, chairlift rides, climbing walls and more. For post-race relaxation, check out the local Breckenridge Distillery for a bourbon-making tour, or soar above Breck’s peaks in a hot-air balloon. Mountain biking, ziplining and whitewater rafting are also popular options.
BY THE NUMBERS
3:05:13 Marathon course record, set by Joe Gray
3,000 Feet of elevation gain in the marathon
300 Approximate number of participants across all three distances in 2015
This article originally appeared in our July 2016 issue.