Breckenridge Crest Half Marathon

The “Breck Crest”  is a 20-year Breckenridge, Colorado footrace tradition described as “quintessential Breckenridge” by race director Jeff Westcott.  The marathon and half-marathon courses bring racers just beneath the peaks of the 10-Mile Range–the town’s stunning backdrop and setting of the famed Breckenridge Ski Resort–before descending dirt road through the resort boundaries. I opted for the shorter distance because “up & downs,” as I like to call them, have become somewhat my specialty. Or maybe it’s just that I haven’t raced much else.

Anyways, the morning of the race was chilly but clear. This was certainly a welcome change from the previous year’s race, during which it snowed. After half a night’s sleep in the back of my Subaru at a nearby trailhead I downed some espresso at Starbucks and squeezed in a short warm-up before toeing the starting line. The half marathon and marathon participants all started together, which made for a large field and a little confusion in regards to placing for the first half of the race. Despite this, the 6.5-mile singletrack ascent was by far the most enjoyable climb I’ve raced. After starting in town we quickly began winding our way gradually upwards through spruce forest. The ground was pleasantly loamy with some roots and rocks to make things interesting. I remember the sun flickering in through the trees, breathing in the cool mountain air, and having to remind myself I was racing because the atmosphere was just so damn relaxing. Perhaps because of this I decided to let two guys next to me pull ahead as I found my own rhythm.

Keeping a relatively relaxed pace for this part ended up being a good idea because near timberline the grade kicked up, and heavy breathing set in all around. At this point there were three guys out front, and I was towards the back of a pursuit clump of four or five. It wasn’t clear yet who was racing the marathon and who the half marathon, but that didn’t matter so much because the trail steepened even more and most of us started power hiking.

From Bottom to Top,  Joe Gray (1st, marathon), Tommy Manning (2nd, marathon), and Brandon Birdsong (1st, half marathon ) way out front as the trail reaches timberline. Photo (c) ClimbBetty


Marathon Champ Joe Gray en route to crushing the course record in arm-sleeve steeze. Photo (c) ClimbBetty


Half marathon champ Brandon Birdsong. Seeing him so far out front was a tad soul-crushing. But also inspiring. Photo (c) ClimbBetty


The author, after spotting the camera woman. Be cool, be cool. Photo (c) ClimbBetty


The top of the climb placed us high above tree line, running (at long last!) across a vast hillside meadow turned brown in preview of autumn. In a minute or two I made it to the aid station, where the the marathon and half marathon courses split and the latter began descending. I still wasn’t sure what place I was in, but now I could only see one guy in front of me. Time to let ‘er rip.

But not so fast! I remembered the mistake I made in the Kendall Mountain Run–pounding the steep downhill too hard and not having any gas left for the last 3/4 mile through town. It was a bit daunting to see my competitor, Jacob Kozyra, steadily increase the gap between us, but for better or for worse I kept faith in my plan. Eventually he went out of sight as the dirt road made wide switch-backs beneath chairlift cables.

With time to relax and think, My plan solidified further: with around 2 miles to go, I’d shift up a gear and try to make up the lost ground. I kept glancing at my watch, anxiously holding back. Nine miles…10 miles…11 miles, okay GO! The chase was on. I pounded down a few more switchbacks, blew past an aid station, and took a corner nearly too fast as the course turned back into forested singletrack. With trees on either side of me I really felt like I was flying. The trail opened up again onto dirt road, and I saw Jacob about 100 meters ahead. Another minute or so and I was past Jacob, cranking my way through the streets of Breckenridge.

After making several turns from one street to the next and wondering why the hell the it wasn’t over yet I crossed the finish line in 1:49:09. I was still unaware what place I was, but I proceeded to collapse on the grass and lay there for sometime, letting my world fill up with the bliss of endorphins. I vaguely registered the announcer talking to me, asking what my half marathon PR was. I told him I’d never raced one before. “What place did I get?” I asked. 3rd. My heart leaped and my bliss compounded. Success, satisfaction. Music was playing too–“Scar Tissue” by Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was a moment of joy, ecstasy, pride, and peace, and I wanted it to last forever. Alas, the feeling left almost as quickly as it came, as if it was some golden secret guarded behind brilliant gates requiring relentless toil to open, slamming shut after only a brief glimpse of what lies beyond. I suppose now I’ll have to work even harder to open them again.


Author’s racing kit:

Inov-8 Trailroc 235 shoes

Boa 1″ Elite split shorts

North Face Reaxion Amp crew

Free Range Equipment Trucker Hat

Category: RacingRunning


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