World Championship Pack-Burro Race

in Fairplay, CO, USA

World Championship Pack-Burro Race

Although Pack Burro Racing has existed in Colorado since the 40s, it's still a homegrown sport that has happily avoided exploitation. While some believe the history of the race dates back to Rocky Mountain miners who would race down from the hills to stake a claim at the local courthouse, the truth is that it's just a revenue scheme thunk-up by town do-gooders. Yet, it is a tribute to the spirit of the west -- man and beast coming together to conquer the rugged terrain.

Pack burro racing rules state that each animal must carry a miner's pack containing a pick, a shovel, and a gold pan. The total weight must be at least 35 pounds, which is often achieved by packing saddlebags with rocks and sand. A rope no longer than fifteen feet must connect each racer to his/her burro. And finally, the runner must have control of the burro throughout the duration of the race.

Often called the "poor man's PGA circuit," there are seven races that take place primarily in Colorado with one in New Mexico and one in Arizona. Races are run annually between April and August. And each town runs their race differently. Distances range from 10-29 miles. Purses range from $1,000 - $5,000 for the winners alone. In other words, a hot racer can turn a pretty penny following the circuit.

The race in Fairplay, which is just a part of their Burro Days celebration every July, is billed at the planet's "highest, longest, roughest, and toughest." Racers run 29 miles, climbing 3,000 feet. (Fairplay, population 500, is already at 10,000 feet.) 52-year old Curtis Imrie is a two-time World Champion, missing only one of the seven annual races in the last 26 years. "It's arguably the toughest sport in the world," he says. "Mostly because of the beast. And I'm not just talking about the donkey. I'm talking about the beast within." He trains year round, adhering to a strict seafood diet, plus putting in 40-60 mountain miles of training in every week. The New York Marathon? It's child's play to Imrie. He says, "We have world class runners that always come out and think they can pick up a little extra cash while training. We just laugh at them." While marathoners believe you should take a day off for every mile you run, pack burro racers can't afford the luxury. They can put in over 130 miles in a 90-day period.

Not only is Imrie a champion racer, but he's probably the sport's biggest supporter. (He's also a writer, filmmaker, and politician.) On a ranch in Buena Vista, he owns 50 burros, some of which are a new hybrid breed he created solely for the sport. He likens his burros to dogs and cats. "They bond with you every bit as much," he says. "They are so much smarter than horses. I think of them like having a four-year old child around." But aren't burros notoriously stubborn? That's a myth that Imrie is devoted to dispelling. "Cautious is a better word," he says.

If you're interested in racing, Imrie rents his mules by the season or by the race, which means any would-be racer from New York to California can have a well-schooled burro awaiting their arrival. He suggests that you start out at the race in Leadville, CO, which is a 21-mile runner-friendly race.

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