By Kirsten Le Roux
Special to The PREVIEW
From far and wide, the buzz is building for two, brand new, exciting outdoor events in Pagosa Springs — events that will further fortify the town’s reputation as a place to race for a world-class experience.
The non-profit group Giving Every Child Knowledge of the Outdoors, also known as GECKO, is launching two inaugural events this month.
The first, this Sunday, Sept. 15, marks a groundbreaking opportunity to swim in Lake Pagosa in the XTERRA Pagosa Springs off-road triathlon.
GECKO approached XTERRA to be the race’s umbrella brand because of the formidable international reputation as a race series that sets the benchmark for off-road triathlon. It was a coup to have the race accepted into the XTERRA Series in its first year and speaks to GECKO’s reputation for staging quality events with thoughtful courses, that attract athletes from everywhere.
XTERRA urges its followers to, “Uncover nature one root, rock, and mud puddle at a time with the XTERRA America and XTERRA World Tour,” and this means XTERRA Pagosa Springs now sits alongside races, “on a schedule that lists the most worthy places for adventure, from the urban cityscape of Richmond, Va., to the tropical jungles of Saipan.”
The second inaugural event is the long anticipated EPIC Mountain Challenge, to be held Oct. 5 and 6.
To appreciate the event is to understand the history behind its inception. Pagosan Morgan Murri, GECKO founder, and Mike Le Roux, GECKO race director (who joined GECKO from Australia in January), between them have 45-plus years of international racing experience at the highest level — from triathlon, adventure racing, ultra and endurance events, to multi-day challenges, cyclo-cross, mountain biking and trail running.
They forged a friendship in the Marathon des Sables, a stage race in the Moroccan Sahara in 2008 and kept in contact since, until finally joining forces this year. Morgan and Mike shared a vision to present racing events that exemplified best practice through their own experiences. Last summer, they collaborated, creating a wish list for a race “festival” in Pagosa Springs that embodied their plan and the EPIC Mountain Festival was born, with its marquee event, the EPIC Mountain Challenge.
First Southwest Bank and The Springs Resort and Spa realized the potential this event brings to our community and contributed to the event’s formidable prize purse of $60,000, becoming the event’s premier and presenting sponsors.
EPIC Mountain Challenge is a mixed-discipline, four-stage, two-day event that combines cross country and time trial mountain biking with trail and road running.
Anyone is eligible to enter and the full challenge is for individuals as well as teams of two.
If an athlete is ready for the full challenge they can choose to run any of the three events (a half marathon on trails, a 10k road run, and a 20 mile cross country mountain bike race) individually.
“Giving the opportunity for any athlete to compete in a single event, side by side with international and nationally-ranked professional athletes was an important component to our festival,” said Murri. “We want locals and visitors alike to know that they are welcome to join and signing up for a single event is the perfect way to get a taste of the challenge without the commitment of competing for two full days.”
Hosted on the Hot Springs property on Hot Springs Boulevard there will be plenty of EPIC social activity and a chance to spectate at the start/finish area. There will also be awards, pro panel interviews, race briefing, music and a race dinner on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. All activities, the music, the Expo, the awards presentation and daily photo and video viewing are open to the public and we encourage you to come out and join us.
“We set out to create a groundbreaking event that is not only an intense athletic challenge, but one that created a platform for people to get together and socialize,” said Murri, GECKO founder. “It’s the coolest event we could possibly think up, and we’re excited for the competitors to vie for their share of the $60,000 purse.” Murri added that the prize money is open to anyone (there is no separate elite field) and that the depth of the cash purse means even a fifth-place finisher takes home $1,000.
The prize purse has already attracted a phenomenal list of professional national and international racers, which means that other athletes joining the race will have a unique opportunity to meet and race alongside them and will leave the event with new knowledge on how to improve their own race.
To be part of the action — as an athlete, spectator, volunteer or sponsor, and to find out more, visit the website, www.joingecko.org/epic, or contact race director Mike Le Roux at (970) 398-0612 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Morgan Murri at (303) 475-6053 or email@example.com.
GECKO is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit that raises funds to provide outdoor scholarships for teenagers to the nation’s leading outdoor education providers. The XTERRA Pagosa Springs and EPIC Mountain Festival/Challenge are just two of many events the group presents.
For a full list of events, go to www.joingecko.org/events.