Grueling challenge of Narbona Pass Classic returns in July

Steven Bortstein
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON −The steep and rugged terrain of the Chuska Mountains will be in play once again next month when the 42nd annual Narbona Pass Classic takes place on Sunday, July 3.

More than 400 runners are likely to take part in either the 5K or 10K event, which will be held for the first time over the course since 2019. The race was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic and held virtually in 2021.

Considered one of the premiere running events on the Navajo Nation, the Narbona Pass Classic has been one of the premiere running events on the Navajo Nation for over 40 years, taking competitors through a variety of paved and unpaved surfaces at an elevation of near 9,000 feet above sea level.

"It's definitely one of the most challenging races anywhere in the country," said race director Dewayne Carl. "It's also got a very unique history to it which makes it such an event."

The race was first held in 1979 as a four-mile challenge which lured more than 100 runners. The popularity of the event, as well as the unique nature of the course has allowed it to be named as one of the top 100 10K races in the United States by Runner's World Magazine.

The pandemic shut down the event in 2020, and although the event was held in a virtual manner last year, Carl is excited to get runners back on the actual course, even though pandemic-related safety protocols will be in place.

"You're always going to have some people who will not like the added restrictions, but I think for the most part, we've all learned to come to terms with what the situation is," Carl said.

A group of runners leave the starting line for the Narbona Pass Classic along New Mexico Highway 134 on July 7, 2019.

Among the challenges on the course for the Narbona Pass Classic will be the grueling uphill sections of the course, including the infamous Goat Hill, a gradual incline climb which gets steeper close to the top with loose rocks and uneven footing.

Backbreaker Hill is the one-mile point for the 5K event, which consists of 600 yards of a steady uphill climb through forested pine.

A look at Backbreaker Hill, one of the challenging parts of the 5K and 10K runs that make up the Narbona Pass Classic.

In 2019, Ty McCray won the 10K race with a final time of 36 minutes and 40 seconds, more than a minute ahead of runner-up Galvin Curley. The 5K event was won Leandrew Martine, who completed the course in a time of 18:48, more than 90 seconds ahead of runner-up Melvin Scott, Jr.

Canadian Angela Chalmers is the record-holder among females racing in the event, with a final time of 40:50, finishing 36th in the 1987 race. Chalmers would later finish third in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, competing in the 3000-meter race.

Nicholas Kipruto set the 10K course record in 2009 with a winning time of 34:07. A former Diné College runner from Kenya, Kipruto also won the event in 2012 with a time of 34:36.

In addition to the race serving as an important event for runners of all ages and levels, the Narbona Pass Classic has also been a proving ground for young Native American runners to race against the best, getting ready for the upcoming cross-country season in high school or college.

"It's been a big deal for a lot of high school runners, going back a long way," Carl said. "There's something very special about this event for kids from across the region, no matter how difficult the challenge is. A lot of people come back to this event because of the course and what it means to so many."

Registration is still ongoing for the Narbona Pass Classic. For more information including course maps, or if you'd like to register for either the 5K or 10K runs, check out the official website,