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A New Nexus for Colorado Trail Runners
Why Arizona's Aravaipa Running is expanding big time in this state
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I’m going to divert from journaling this week to spotlight a significant race-directing company that’s making a move in Colorado, but you’ll find a personal update at the end.
I’m not a fangirl or commentator of this sport the way I used to be. Five to twelve years ago, I took note of the podium winners of trail races, co-hosted an ultrarunning podcast, wrote for Trail Runner, followed trends in the sport, had a ballot to vote for the top-10 UltraRunners of the Year, and generally paid attention to who was doing what in mountain/ultra/trail running.
Since moving to Colorado year-round, however, I’ve largely disengaged from commentary on the sport and its notable runners. It’s like, I turned 50 and stopped caring about all these twenty-and-thirty-something impressive runners and started more fully doing my own thing, mostly solo.
I share that throat-clearing preface to explain it takes a lot to get me interested in what others are doing on the trail-running scene these days.
But there’s one guy, and his company, I’ve been hooked on following for nearly a decade now, and this company is about to grow trail events and influence runners here in Colorado in a very real way.
I’m talking about Jamil Coury and Aravaipa Running. I’ve crossed paths with him several times over the years, and interviewed him for articles like this one about his YouTube show, and consistently found him to be a nice guy who’s wickedly smart and driven. I’m intrigued by how he influences the sport by wearing three different hats: (1) top-tier ultrarunner, (2) race director and entrepreneur growing the company he founded, and (3) videographer, content creator and commentator. Last year, while juggling all those things, Jamil completed part of the infamous Barkley Marathons, the inaugural Cocodona 250 (which he spent two years developing as a race), Hardrock 100 and UTMB. (Sorry, Jamil, I’m probably forgetting to mention other notable feats; it’s too hard to keep track of all you do.)
Jamil took over race directing the Javelina Jundred in 2008 and from that experience launched Aravaipa Running, which has grown to some 40 races for the 2022 calendar. He’s Aravaipa’s owner and CEO, and co-owns it with his brother Nick, who was just named #2 UltraRunner of the Year. (Clearly, they come from a family of over-achievers and entrepreneurs; their other brother, Nathan, has a Phoenix-based pizza company that Jamil also co-owns.) Aravaipa branched out with other brands, including Run Steep Get High merchandise, Steep Life Media podcasts and videos, and the Aravaipa Artworx creative design firm that makes awards and schwag.
I’ve run several Aravaipa races—including the Whiskey Basin 57M in Prescott, Coldwater Rumble 100 near Phoenix, Silverton Alpine 50K and Kendall Mountain 12M in Silverton, and did a Double Everest for their Limitless virtual event in 2020—plus I paced and crewed at last year’s ginormous Cocodona, which made me appreciate the work that must’ve gone into making a race that stretches 250 miles across Arizona. I’m always impressed with the organization and vibe at these events.
Also, in this era of UTMB/Ironman and Spartan making the sport increasingly professional, mainstream and profit-oriented, I like to see grassroots organizations with legit ultrarunning cred get bigger from the bottom up and keep community-building at their core.
For these reasons, I became quite curious when Aravaipa Running launched Aravaipa Colorado with a good deal of buzz, first teasing it in September, then hiring staff and launching group runs in Colorado Springs a month later, and then opening its own office space in December.
Scarcely a month after opening shop, the business seems to going gangbusters, attracting a large number of runners to group events and planning new races around Colorado.
I admit, I felt a little envy of these group runs and a rekindled longing to connect with a running community. I hope they organize some meetups in the southwest corner of Colorado closer to my home.
I got in touch with Aravaipa’s new point person for their Colorado operations, race director Morgan Weinberg, to ask her what Aravaipa Colorado is all about and how they plan to grow. Morgan has been ultrarunning since 2019 and has a background in commercial recreation and youth sports programs. What follows is our Q&A, lightly edited.
Why Aravaipa Colorado instead of, say, Aravaipa Utah or California? And what’s Aravaipa’s vision for making a stamp here in this state?
Morgan: Jamil fell in love with Colorado through the Hardrock 100. [He volunteered for the event in 2007 and first ran it in 2009.] In 2011, Jamil and Nick started the Silverton 1000 [which no longer takes place] and later took over the Kendall Mountain Run and the Silverton Alpine Marathon. Knowing how much beauty Colorado has and the potential for different races in the state, it was a natural progression to look to host more events in the state.
Our vision for Aravaipa Colorado is to build a passionate team to bring new events and community-building activities to the state that provide a space to bring people together. In addition to new races, we want to continue to host group run events, work with trail organizations to maintain the different trail systems, and provide an inclusive space for all communities to get into trail running.
Tell me a little about the Monday night group runs in Colorado Springs.
Morgan: Thanks to our friends at Fossil Craft Beer Company, they've been all in from the start to host our group every Monday night for a run through Red Rock Canyon Open Space. We usually have about 40 runners come out to join the runs and hang out. We split into three distance groups (10K, 4 mile and 2.5 mile) and pace groups if we're large enough. We even have some hikers who come out too. Participants get awards for participation as they rack up their check-ins.
You said in a November video promoting Aravaipa Colorado, “We’ll be doing some pop-up events all over the state”—tell me what you can about the plans for these events.
Morgan: We're hoping to host some pop-up group run events in different parts of the state this year. We did our first pop-up in Golden in November, and it was a lot of fun. If anyone is interested in hosting a pop-up in their city, they can reach out to me, and we'll try to get something on the calendar. In addition to that, we would like to hold some training run days and trail work days on the different trails that our new races will be on.
You’ve got four Colorado races on calendar now: Ram Party 50/half/marathon May 14 - 15 in Colorado Springs; Ring the Springs 100/50 June 11 - 12 in Colorado Springs; Silverton Alpine Marathon/50K on July 10; and Kendall Mountain 12M July 11, also in Silverton. What can you say about plans for developing more races? Geographically, where else would you like to host events—for example, near BV/Salida? Gunnison Gorge? Steamboat Springs or Fort Collins? Sangre de Cristo range? Any specific plans for events down here on the Western Slope (Fruita/Grand Junction to Durango, with Ouray/Telluride in between)?
Morgan: We are working on announcing a few more for this year! We are very close to sharing more opportunities in the southwest region of the state including some of the cities you've listed. While Colorado Springs is our office location, we are not looking to add much more here since other race organizations do a great job of serving our ultrarunning community. We did see a need for the few that we've added to the schedule but are definitely looking all across the state to fill gaps.
[side note: my bet is on a new Aravaipa race in Durango. That’s an unconfirmed guess but I’m going public with my hunch to see if I’m right …]
Jamil said in this video about the opening of the Colorado office that he wants to bring a “premier-style race with a lot of attention and prestige” to Colorado, the way Aravaipa’s Javelina Jundred and Black Canyon races are in Arizona, and hopefully live stream it. Are you aiming to have Ring the Springs be that premier competitive event? Also, when will registration open for Ring the Springs; are you having any issues with permitting?
Morgan: Yes, we would like Ring the Springs to be one of our premiere events in Colorado. Registration is currently open on a waitlist basis as we work through the final permitting work. We are on track to have our permits approved with some final steps remaining.
Speaking of Ring the Springs, can you comment on how Aravaipa Colorado is getting along with another family-run and home-grown race company, Mad Moose Events, who have several Colorado Springs trail events? Mad Moose’s RDs were unhappy when Aravaipa Colorado initially calendared the Ring the Springs event on the same weekend as their pre-existing race on the same route. I see you moved Ring the Springs one weekend later, to June 11. Are the two outfits co-existing amicably now, and even so, can the region support that many mountain/ultra/trail events?
Morgan: We love the work that Mad Moose and other local race organizations have done and are doing for the Colorado community. We had a conversation with them about the event after the initial post and to my knowledge have resolved the issue. It’s my goal to be more proactive in communication about proposed event dates to try to mitigate conflicts as much as possible. While I do think the region can support additional running events, there will be inevitable date conflicts as the sport grows. I think the communication piece is key to try and schedule events in similar areas at different times of the year. With it being our first year in the area, we are also tied to the dates the permitting agencies offer us if we want to get a race off the ground.
As I mentioned, we are not looking to create events only in Colorado Springs, since there are already some really great events in the area. It’s my hope we can work together with other event organizers to continue to grow the trail running community and give back to our trails. I am looking forward to volunteering for and running some other races in the area this year!
Thank you, Morgan, for talking to me. I hope to get up to Colorado Springs to join one of the Monday night group runs, and I’ll offer to help with a pop-up event down here.
Here are a couple of shots of me at Aravaipa’s Silverton Alpine Marathon 50K in past summers, a “do” and a “don’t.” I enjoy this mid-July event, and for a back-to-back challenge you can do the Kendall Mountain race the next day.
Do: smile and summit at over 13,000 feet.
Don’t: trip and slide while running down from that summit. (But I managed to win the master’s age group for the 50K in spite of the fall.)
Lottery luck hit me last week. My name was drawn for a spot in the High Lonesome 100, so I’ll head back to that race around the Collegiate Peaks of the Sawatch Range on July 22. It’s probably the next best thing to getting into Hardrock. Actually, as much as running the Hardrock 100 is a lifelong goal (explained in this post), High Lonesome appeals to me differently and strongly. I’m less familiar with those bald peaks glinting with quartz, and with the two relentless trails traversing them—the Continental Divide and Colorado trails—that form a giant loop stretching from Mount Princeton to Monarch Pass.
I’m so grateful I got the opportunity to race it last year. Now, I want to see those trail segments again and improve all the places where my performance sagged. (For info, see this race report.)
Also, I feel a sense of relief and motivation now that the top rung on my metaphorical ladder is in place; that is, now that I have the big summer goal on calendar in six months and can prep for it. I relish the sense of purpose and structure that comes not only from training, but also from lining up a pacer and crew, doing the requisite trail work, and racing shorter races in advance of it for practice. (I think I’ll add Aravaipa’s Ring the Springs 50 in June as part of that buildup.) It fills me the optimism expressed in this newsletter’s very first post.
Thanks for reading this longer-than-usual installment. Feel free to comment below on any Aravaipa events you’ve run and recommend; what you think of Aravaipa Colorado and/or where you’d like to see more Colorado trail races developed; and, what your big summer race goal is, if you have one.