The Showdown must go on.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic shutting down most events of any kind in the area, it is a rare treat this summer to have both a running and biking race in Garfield County.
The Sunlight Showdown is a revamped version of the Sunny Half, a 13-mile run up and down Sunlight Mountain Resort the past two years.
This weekend’s edition features the run on Saturday and a mountain bike race on Sunday along the same course but in the opposite direction.
As of Thursday afternoon, 24 runners and 21 bikers had signed up, with nine — four men and five women — brave enough to do both races.
There is still room in the race for more participants.
“I’d like to eventually see it go to 50 runners and 50 bikers,” Sunlight summer events manager Travis Baptiste said.
That would be as many people as the race could accommodate.
“You would be capped at 50 people per race with COVID right now. That’s the largest group size you could have at a recreational facility,” Baptiste said.
The cap is one of many COVID precautions the race will follow.
“Around the base area and start, masks are going to be required, social distancing is going to be required. That’s for racer check-in. If it’s not raining in the morning — which I’m sure it won’t be — we won’t even go inside; everyone will be outside on our lawn,” Baptiste said.
There will be plenty of space between racers at the start line as well.
“We’ll have a socially distanced start. I’m going to use the entire parking lot, which is about 100 yards wide, and I will stagger everyone. I will ask people who think they’re going to be in the top of the pack to come up front, and then stagger back from there, so the people that will be slower end up riding maybe an extra 50 yards,” Baptiste said.
He explained the details in an email.
“Each row of 10 socially distanced participants will be separated by 50 feet, essentially creating separate outdoor groups,” he said. “Creating separate outdoor groups falls in compliance with county and state COVID regulations.”
Social distancing will continue out on the trails.
“We will be implementing passing rules. The current COVID standard is 15 feet for outdoor athletic activities. When you get within 15 feet of someone on the trail, the person who is in the back will have to say ‘pass,’ and the person in front has to let them pass and needs to move over to a safe social distance. … I know it’s not going to be the best thing in the world, but there’s honestly not going to be a ton of passing going on because they’re going to get strung out going up Sunlight. … Unfortunately this year in this scenario we have to keep it safe,” he said.
Baptiste said racer safety is very important.
“I’m trying to go above and beyond further than I need to go to make sure that everyone is safe and everyone’s doing the right thing,” he said.
Forty-three of the 54 participants are locals from Rifle to Gypsum and up to Snowmass Village. That makes Baptiste happy.
“I really want it to be a cool locals’ race, and the fact that we give out winter-related prizes — lift tickets and two season passes for best combined times for male and female — I’d really love to see that go to locals,” he said.
Seven of the nine doublers are from either Glenwood or Carbondale, with six of them being married couples, Baptiste pointed out.
Brian Magee, 43, of Glenwood Springs said he and his wife, Holly, 37, have no illusions about winning the double.
“We just really enjoy Sunlight. We got married at the top, so it’s a really special place for us. My wife did the run the first year. I’m not much of a runner anymore so I wasn’t too interested. … This year they added the bike, and so I thought, ‘Oh. Well, yeah, I love biking.’ And then my wife said, ‘I’m going to do both,’ and I said, ‘I guess I have to do both then.’ … She was really excited about it and kind of inspired me to want to do it,” he said.
Quinn Harnett has more confidence in the chances for himself and his wife, Leah Mancabelli, both 24, to be co-double winners.
“That would be pretty awesome. We haven’t been training for the mountain bike race. I definitely don’t expect to win either race, but I think we do enough running and biking individually to have a good shot at winning the double title,” he said.
Mark Bauer, 44, wasn’t willing to give himself or his wife, LeAnne Evans Bauer, 38, much of a chance at winning.
His issue is overtraining on the bike and lack of run training.
“I haven’t run at all. It’s going to hurt really bad. I’ve been doing this Leadville 100,000-foot vert challenge. I’ve climbed just shy of 70,000 feet in a little over three weeks (on a mountain bike). … I’m not tapered and ready,” he said.
Evans Bauer is taking an even more unusual lead-up to race day.
“LeAnne’s out on a backpacking trip right now on the Colorado Trail. She left last Saturday and is coming back Friday,” he said.
Harnett, who works for JVA Consulting Engineers in Glenwood, said the lockdown helped his training.
“Definitely positive. I was working from home for awhile. … I was able to do a lot of running training, got a lot of miles under my legs,” he said.
Magee said the race courses are difficult.
For the bike race, “There’s a section where you cross the creek, and it’s gnarly in there, very steep, very rocky, totally unrideable. … There’s a few sections that are pretty rocky and difficult that are definitely hike-a-bike,” he said.
And the run also features some steep climbs.
“There’s at least four really strong climbs including the end. You come up the Compass Mountain Trail. … It is right on the line of possible to run,” he said.
Difficult, but maybe not too difficult.
“It’s challenging. It’s more than I usually do, but it’s not going to put me in the hospital,” Magee said.