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Inaugural Peace Trail Race to help rebuild Tibetan monastery

By Michael Sandrock, Boulder Daily Camera, June 23, 2008

RED FEATHER LAKES, Colorado (USA) -- Jon Pratt stops in the middle of the single-track trail that winds down the middle of a beautiful valley on this national forest land just north of the Shambhala Mountain Center. After waiting briefly for a couple of running companions to catch up, Pratt says, "This is just about where I heard a very loud noise coming up the valley one day when I was out running here by myself."

Turns out the noise was a herd of roughly 100 elk that were themselves running up the valley for some unknown reason. Pratt took refuge behind a large ponderosa pine and stood in silence as the elk thundered by on either side of him. And thus the place has come to be called "Elk Valley," at least by runners fortunate enough to run here.

The trail, on Roosevelt National Forest land about a two-and-a-half hour drive northwest of Boulder, is the course used the past two years by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche in his "Running with the Mind of Meditation" weekend retreat. The response to the group run was so positive that the Sakyong, head of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage, a New York Times best-selling author and a 3-hour marathoner, agreed to host a trail run, if the Forest Service granted permission.

Now, after a busy winter of preparation, the permit has been approved and an out-and-back 15K course laid out and readied for the inaugural Shambhala Peace Day Trail Race. The race, set for July 20 and limited to 250 entrants, is part of the Shambhala Mountain Center's annual public celebration, which includes music, food and tours at this 600-acre meditation and teaching center.

The centerpiece of the site, and of the Peace Day Trail Race, is the majestic Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, which the Dali Lama visited last fall at the invitation of the Sakyong (an honorary term meaning Earth Protector). The 15K, and the accompanying 5K, will both finish at the Stupa. (Be forewarned: the Stupa sits on a hillside above the center, meaning runners will be finishing with a rigorous climb). The races are a benefit for the Konchok Foundation, which raises money to rebuild one of the monasteries destroyed during the Chinese occupation of Tibet.

While it was a coincidence that the Peace Trail Race was started this year, it is timely in view of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, as the Peace Run is a way to show support for Tibet without the rancor that followed the Olympic torch on its journey around the world to Beijing.

"Peace" is one of the themes of Sakyong Mipham's teachings, and the Great Stupa itself is called "an extraordinary expression of peace." Sakyong Mipham-explains the connection with running this way: "With a body made joyous through movement, the mind is able to relax. With mind/body balance, we can take the power of feeling good and generate compassion."

Those racing the 15K will perhaps feel the same sense of satisfaction I felt one early morning last month when running the course with Pratt. It twice crosses a stream, winds through shady stands of pines and through a large meadow before looping back and returning to the Shambhala Mountain Center through "Elk Meadow." The climbs are tough, and the views worth the effort.

An extra treat will be the chance to race with the Sakyong. He is a world-famous Tibetan lama, who is greeted with deference and honors nearly everywhere he goes. But for an hour or so on the morning of July 20, he will simply be another runner enjoying a wonderful Colorado summer trail run.

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Those wanting another mountain trail race can head to Steamboat Springs Saturday for the 2008 U.S. trail championships. This is a 12K for men, 8K for women and juniors, that saw some exciting racing at the bottom of Howelsen Hill last year when Boulder's Rickey Gates won the U.S. title in a sprint finish. A $5,000 purse is offered. Details: www.runningseries.com.

If you go

What : Inaugural Peace Trail Run 15K and 5K fun run to benefit the nonprofit Konchok Foundation, which is rebuilding the Surmang Monastery in Tibet

Where: Shambhala Mountain Center northwest of Fort Collins

When: July 20: 9 a.m. for 15K, 9:05 a.m. for 5K. Race officials recommend arriving by 8:15 a.m.

Registration: $35 at Fleet Feet Sports or www.active.com. After July 1, registration increases $5. In addition to race T-shirt and post-race food, finishers get "an unusual surprise gift." The course will also be used in the Aug. 21-Aug. 24 "Running with the Mind of Meditation" running/yoga/meditation retreat.

Details: www.shambhalamountaincenter.org or 888-788-7221



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