By Madeleine Ahlborn | email@example.com
Photos by Justin Treptow
EVERYONE participates in running events for different reasons: to compete, have fun, support the host of the event, clear their mind, detach from everything and live in the present, or all of the above. The Runoff Runoff Marathon, Half-Marathon and 6k Race in Creede, held June 4, is hosted by Headwaters Alliance, with a race course that winds through beautiful scenery along the Rio Grande.
After participating in Salida’s “A Run Through Time” event in early March, I was seeking another opportunity that was close to home and helped support outdoor stewardship. “The Runoff Runoff” popped up, I read a little about the Headwaters Alliance and the work this non-profit does, and I was all in.
In this article you will hear from first-time marathoners Kelly Mchugh and Rachel Sucharski; and from Headwaters Alliance board member, event volunteer, filmmaker and producer Christi Bode Skeie.
As I ran I kept the event slogan in my peripheral: “We Run For Water.” The river moves so effortlessly alongside the seemingly endless dirt road under my feet, knowing my turn around waited at the 13.1 mile mark yet the river keeps going. It was such a unique opportunity to follow the epic journey of the Rio Grande, even if only for those miles of the race course. I won’t lie – even though there was not a huge elevation change or challenging terrain, I still struggled after the turn around. The day was warming up, the clouds parted and the sun felt like it was just getting closer and closer. Thank goodness for the tailwind breeze and aid station volunteers along the way. They were literally life savers with water, Gatorade, and some snacks to offer, plus amazing encouragement cheering each runner on.
Station volunteers along the race course.
I came in last place, but I don’t run to come in first. I like to think that the search and rescue volunteer in me wanted to make sure everyone else got home safe before me, so I don’t mind being the caboose to this pain train. Crossing the finish line 3 minutes under 6 hours and greeted by so many participants cheering I couldn’t help but do a little dance for myself and for everyone who completed the course. We took some pictures and I met Julie Mchugh, mother of first-time marathoner Kelly Mchugh, who traveled over 1,000 miles from Michigan to participate in the Runoff Runoff. We exchanged information and Kelly agreed to share her experience.
Kelly Mchugh and family
Alamosa Citizen: I understand you traveled for this event. How did you hear about the Runoff Runoff Marathon?
Kelly Mchugh: I traveled from Grand Rapids, Michigan and I heard about this event because my family, the Whitlocks, have a cabin on Sunshine Avenue right in Creede. My inspiration for this race was from my Great Uncle Wood Whitlock. He’s 91 years old and has run 36 marathons in his life, including the Runoff run. He ran his first marathon when he was 60 years old. On race day June 4 he ran a half marathon in Utah where he lives. I’ve always loved running for its mental toughness as well as the physical toughness. Running is such an escape from everything and forces you to get in tune with yourself.
AC: As a first time marathoner can you talk about your experience?
KM: My first marathon was a whirlwind of emotions. I had just finished my semester at the end of April and had only been able to run when my school load allowed it. Most of my training took place in the month before the race, which raised some doubts about how well I’d be able to handle a race of this intensity. Once the race started the “runner’s high” kicked in and set a fire in me to make this a great run. The views and support of my family carried me through the whole race.
AC: What was your favorite part of the day?
KM: My favorite part of the day was the end. Not because the race was over but because I had officially accomplished the goal I set out to achieve. This course was tough and that elevation was HIGH compared to my normal sea-level living. Tears of joy came flowing down at the finish line with my family there to congratulate me with love and water.
AC: Do you plan on running another marathon event in the future?
KM: I do plan to run another marathon. I will probably do a few local half marathons and sign up for my next big marathon in a few months
AC: What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into long-distance running?
KM: A lot of people see running as a punishment or the most unenjoyable part of any activity. Long-distance running is in a league of its own. I enjoy this style of running the most because you can choose to race the clock and improve on your times or you can do it just to get the miles in. Running can be a wonderful release. … Pop in some good tunes, find a beautiful trail, and let your body take you.
Kelly was an inspiration for me to keep going. I remember thinking, “Pink Shorts has great pace; as long as she’s in sight you’re doing good!” Small moments of self encouragement make a huge difference when you commit to such physical and mental endeavors.
SMALL World connection: I met Rachel Sucharski through another friend last July on a hiking trip to summit Mt. Blanca. On the hike we talked about one day getting into trail running and marathons. Almost a year later there we were waving to each other across the ball field at 6:30 a.m. about to run the same marathon!
AC: Why did you choose the Runoff Runoff event as your first marathon?
Rachel Sucharski: I have been eyeing to run a marathon for a couple of years now. I was training to run the Runoff Runoff marathon last year but couldn’t because of an injury. So being able to run and finish the marathon this year was particularly special. I chose to run the Runoff Runoff as my first marathon because it is a small, local race in a beautiful town. Having grown up in the San Luis Valley, I have played in the mountains around Creede, and I really liked the idea of running a marathon in an area I grew up spending a lot of time in. Plus, local races like this tend to raise money for good causes like the Headwater Alliance.
AC: Can you talk about your experience?
RS: As for my personal experience of the race, I think I was in a little over my head. The racecourse was brutal, and I came out with blistered feet and barely able to walk. The last half of the race was long and hard. All I could think about was the cool Gatorade and water at the next aid station and laying on the grass at the finish. Even with this being said, I couldn’t ask for a better first marathon experience. The views were amazing, fellow runners were friendly, and the volunteers were super supportive. Though many of the miles I ran alone, my favorite miles were those spent in conversation with other runners and support cyclists.
THE volunteers throughout the entire course were incredible. The cyclists she mentioned were both on the dirt roads checking in on runners and acted as traffic control on Highway 149 as the course was on pavement for about one mile.
With so much attention on water, the question of “Do we have enough? Are we doing enough?” brought me to reach out to filmmaker, producer, and storyteller Christi Bode Skeie, who is a board member with Headwaters Alliance and was also at the event.
“It’s important to be physically engaged in the places we work so hard to protect, and running a race along the river is a great reminder,” said Skeie. “The Runoff Runoff, a marathon/half marathon/6K race, attracts people from all over to our beautiful corner of the world: the headwaters of the Rio Grande. It is Headwaters Alliance’s biggest fundraising event of the year, with proceeds supporting watershed conservation, restoration, reclamation and community engagement in the Upper Rio Grande. We really are all connected through rivers and the work done here ripples hundreds of miles downstream.”
This event for me – and I’m sure for a lot of other folks either from the Creede community and other places in our magical state (even other states) – is a physical and visual reminder of where our water comes from, to appear at the source and travel alongside the historic blue ribbon brings a whole new meaning to how and why we have to help protect it. For the first time running had a whole new meaning for me, there was more purpose in each step, which made me more conscious and brought a heightened awareness to where I was and how lucky I am to be in this place.