Colorado National Monument (CNM) attracts adventure-seekers of all kinds, including cyclists, hikers and climbers.
And early each November, the monument hosts nearly 600 athletes with one crazy goal: to run the U.S. Bank Rim Rock Run, a race that climbs thousands of feet over the monument before descending into downtown Fruita.
The Rim Rock Run offers runners the choice of a full marathon, a marathon relay and a half-marathon. The first 4.5 miles are the most challenging—they include a 2,500-foot climb that finally levels out at about 6,600 feet above sea level before sloping back down to the valley floor.
It’s worth the effort. The 26-mile run has twice been named “Most Scenic Marathon” by “Colorado Runner” magazine. It’s the perfect way to enjoy scenic views of the valley and canyons while pushing oneself to the limit.
Eric Sandstrom, 66, has participated in the Rim Rock Run several times. He’ll run again this year.
“It’s always fun and painful,” he said. “It’s never effortless to run 26 miles.”
He explained that the extreme ups and downs make the course different—and more challenging—than most marathon courses, which are flat.
Sandstrom has watched people struggle on the Rim Rock’s descent, and said he does, too. The uphill section is also tough, and while the stretch between CNM’s Cold Shivers Point and its visitor center may appear flat, it’s actually the opposite.
“That’s the hardest part. It’s the longest, and it’s mentally tough because of the long, rolling hills,” he said.
Sandstrom has a good basis for comparison. This year’s Rim Rock Run will be his 39th marathon. He started running them in 1983, when his friends convinced him to run in the Chicago Marathon. Since then, he has completed short races and ultra marathons of 100 miles.
As trying as these long-distance races are, he’s never quit in the middle of one.
“You push through it, and sometimes the second half is the best part,” he said. “The rule of thumb is the race doesn’t start until after the first 20 miles.”
Those final miles can “make or break you,” said Sandstrom.
A couple of years ago, a skiing accident ruptured a disk in his back and made him wonder if he’d finally been broken.
“I didn’t know if I’d be able to run again,” he said.
But within a year, he was back in shape and ready to go.
To stay in marathon shape, Sandstrom runs CNM trails five or six days a week. Trail running is more forgiving and results in less pounding on the joints, he said. He suggested short trails for those new to running.
Trail running is also a great way to observe the environment with a zen-like mindset, with nothing to worry about but tripping over a rock or running into a snake. (Sandstrom has encountered a lot of wildlife during his workouts, including collared lizards, snakes and bighorn sheep.)
“I find it really kind of like meditation,” he said. “There’s a certain thought process that happens when out there, in particular when alone. It helps me address issues in my life that have nothing to do with running. I come up with ways to approach problems. I reflect on how lucky I am—not just to be running, but how lucky I am to have a wonderful family and wonderful job. It sounds corny, but I often get through running and say, ‘Thank you, God, for this day.’”
Liz Norris ran her first marathon in Napa Valley when she was in her 20s. At that time, she met a lot of senior athletes who left a lasting impression on her.
“When I was a kid, old people were supposed to be feeble and frail,” Norris said. “I didn’t want to do that. I was meeting people…who were running marathons, riding bikes and doing things, and not helpless.”
In 2014, at age 61, Norris proudly ran a two-kilometer race in less than eight minutes and an uphill five-kilometer race in 21 minutes.
Around the same time, she went to a free cancer screening with her friend. The news wasn’t what Norris, a lifelong exercise enthusiast, expected. She was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer that had traveled to her bones and muscles. Since then, she has been diagnosed with several primary cancers throughout her body.
Despite great pain, a lack of energy and being unable to eat solid food, November’s Rim Rock Run will be Norris’ 101st race. While she can’t run six or seven miles each day, she can run almost five, and she rides her bicycle or walks to her treatment appointments.
“I like to challenge myself and give my life meaning as long as I can. I can’t quit until I have to. It’s how I celebrate life,” she said.
Running gives Norris time to think about everything that’s going on, and about giving back to others.
“I get to see the sunrise,” she said, “and I’m thankful to have eyes to see it.”
Getting back up
Greg Hewitt, 61, has been racing in the Rim Rock Run since the beginning. He ran it three times in its early years.
He transitioned from pavement to running on dirt in his early 50s upon discovering that dirt is easier on the body. Unfortunately, it also makes it challenging to maintain one’s balance on uneven trails.
“If you sway on the road, it’s okay, but if you sway on the trail, it’s a fall,” Hewitt said.
He’s experienced some tumbles, including a painful one this year. But three months after his fall, he was back in running shape and succeeded in a Leadville race and a 34-mile run on the Grand Mesa.
Although they may feel bad in the short term, the Rim Rock Run is sure to leave participants feeling good about their achievement.
More information, pricing and registration for the Rim Rock Run’s marathon, marathon relay and downhill half marathons are available at www.rimrockmarathon.com.
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