While I’ve been a very competent walker since I was 2-years-old, running isn’t really my thing. However, when Jeff Owsley, founder of the Rio Frio on Ice 5K asked me to come to Alamosa, Colorado and run his new 5K on the frozen Rio Grande River, I decided to do it. After all, I thought, it will make a good story.
It did more than make a good story; the trip introduced me to one of Colorado’s hidden gems, the San Luis Valley. The valley isn’t really hidden, after all, it’s considered the world’s largest alpine valley, but it is sprinkled with many unknown gems and we only scratched the surface on this trip.
The valley is comprised of six Colorado counties and is surrounded by mountain ranges; the San Juans, the Sangre de Cristos, the San Luis Hills, and the Taos Plateau. The San Luis Valley’s scenic views are a beautiful combination of desolate desert vistas punctuated by colossal mountains in the distance. This superb view is consistent no matter which direction one is facing.
The Rio Grande is a famous river. It forms in the San Juan Mountains and then flows through the San Luis Valley into New Mexico, then Texas, and finally Mexico. It runs past towns such as Albuquerque, New Mexico, El Paso, Texas, and Chihuahua, Mexico. The river serves as part of the border between the United States and Mexico and is 1,896 miles long. (Wikipedia)
As this was my first 5K I didn’t know what to expect, but a soon as we arrived at the river’s edge I began to feel the excitement building. I can see why people love 5K races. There’s a real sense of camaraderie among competitors and by the time the race started I was ready to run – for a while anyway.
I wore grippers on my shoes, but they were almost unnecessary. The river, which was covered in a 10 to 12-inch layer of ice, was also covered in snow. While were a few icy areas, running on the uneven snow is a little tricky. Being at the back of the pack was actually nice because the faster runners (Ryan was among them) beat down a nice path for the rest of us.
The sun was shining brightly and after just a few paces I was sweaty and gasping for oxygen. Alamosa is 7500 feet above sea level, about 2500 feet higher than where I live in Colorado. Once I adjusted my breathing the altitude wasn’t much of a long-term factor.
The Rio Frio on Ice course is gorgeous and I’d venture to guess that there’s no other 5K quite like it. The river meanders to the right and to the left, often offering breathtaking views of mountains in the distance. I meant to take a photo of the mountains on the way back but got so focused on the race that I forgot.
I didn’t run during the entire race. I started run/walking, but it got the job done. I did finish and I must say that crossing the line to applause was a nice reward even if I was at the back of the pack.
This was a super fun 5K and I would definitely do it again. Plus, I can now say I’ve run on the Rio Grande River and not many folks can say that.
Watch for upcoming blog posts about this trip. Find out what gems we discovered while in the San Luis Valley.
This year’s Rio Frio Ice Festival is January 28-30, 2022.