After being handed down through several planners, the Cherry Days 5k race may have found a permanent organizer. The race, held during the annual Cherry Days celebration, has had at least four organizers in its eight-year history.
Last year, the Paonia High School junior class used the event as a fundraiser for the junior-senior prom.
But this Thursday the school's newly formed cross country team will take over race duties.
After several years of competing for the Hotchkiss team, Paonia got its own cross country team last fall. This fall, they will host the first Paonia Invitational meet, which will be run on the same course as the Cherry Days race. Getting a meet on the prep schedule helps establish Paonia as a team, said head coach Richard Hypio. He anticipates that the meet, scheduled for Oct. 4, will remain small, especially since it competes with the Chris Severy Memorial race, scheduled for Oct. 5 in Aspen.
"It means a lot" for the team, said senior runner Jason Sturgis about getting to host a meet. Sturgis won last year's Cherry Days race. Paonia, along with neighboring Hotchkiss, boasts some of the best runners in the state, yet PHS doesn't even have a track yet, noted Sturgis. A sports facility at the school is currently in the late stages of planning, and will include a track. For Paonia to host its own meet, "I think it's a big deal for the running department," said Sturgis.
As it has the past two years, the course begins and ends at Apple Valley Park, but this year's course will wind its way through the maze of trails at the base of Jumbo Mountain.
It's a steep and challenging course, possibly the steepest in the state, said Hypio. The highest point is below the cliffs on Jumbo Mountain and allows runners to see the two bald eagle nests built into the cliff face. Hypio estimates that the overall course is steeper than the Hotchkiss course, located in the dobies just above the Hotchkiss High School football field. That course is also considered one of the steepest high school courses in the state.
The Jumbo course was originally mapped by Dave Knutson, a perennial Cherry Days competitor and organizer of the Harvest Festival 5k and 10k races. Knutson, an avid trail runner, said he fell in love with the Jumbo area trails after moving to Paonia about 10 years ago. Prior to that he had organized races in the Flagstaff, Ariz., area. The already-established system of mountain biking and hiking trails was perfect for a competitive course.
Knutson said he mapped out the 10k course first as part of the Mountain Harvest Festival. With about a 1,000 foot vertical climb and some tricky and narrow sections, the 10k was considered a very challenging course. As a result, it attracted only about a dozen hard-core entrants in the first two or three years. Last year, Knutson said festival organizers approached him about adding a 5k race in order to attract more runners. Breakfast at the Paonia Rotary Club Bountiful Breakfast was offered as part of the entry fee. More than 30 participated in last year's 5k, and the 10k attracted more runners, too, said Knutson.
"It's a beautiful course," he said. The views of Paonia and surrounding mountains "are incredible."
Knutson said he worked to put the most challenging section of the 5k race at the start, and leave the gentler half of the race for the finish. The race begins with a 400-foot climb in elevation, mixed in with some roller-coaster sections, in the first mile before looping back along more gradual sections. That's a fairly big rise for a 5k, said Knutson.
The distances of both courses aren't exact, and are slightly over 5,000 and 10,000 meters long. Because of the challenging nature of the trails, Thursday's race times will be longer than a typical 5k course. Knutson said he expects the best times to approach the 30-minute mark. Knutson will miss this year's race, but looks forward to this fall's high school race and seeing what young and highly competitive runners will do on the course.
Because it is located within Bureau of Land Management lands, a permit was required and is limited to 60 entries, said Hypio. "The BLM has been great to work with," said Hypio, who approached them with a permit request "at the last minute." A permit will also be required for the cross country meet scheduled for Oct. 4.
Sturgis said he hadn't yet run the actual course, but has trained extensively on the trails in the past. "It's gonna be a hard course," said Sturgis.
Temperatures are expected to be in the low 90s on July 4. The race will begin at 7:30 a.m., when temperatures are still mild. For those who need to quench their thirst, a water station, manned by cross country team volunteers, will be set up approximately halfway through the course.
Runners can register online at www.paoniacherrydays.com, or on race day (July 4) beginning at 6:45 a.m. at Apple Valley Park. The $20 entry fee will help cover permit costs, with the balance going to the cross country team to pay for uniforms and meet entry fees. Registration includes a doo rag printed with a race logo and refreshments and snacks at the finish. Medals will be awarded to the top finishers in the 18-and-under, overall and masters categories, as well as the youngest and oldest finishers.blog comments powered by Disqus