The 45th annual pack burro race in Buena Vista saw two new runners and their donkeys crowned winners of America’s “other” Triple Crown race series.
Louise Kuehster came in first in the 13.1-mile race through Buena Vista’s Midland Hill system of trails, earning her the women’s Triple Crown title.
“It was definitely awesome to win the race and beat the guys, and it was especially awesome to win the Triple Crown, especially since I’ve never done the long women’s before,” Kuehster said.
Leadville’s Marvin Sandoval came in third overall. Sandoval and his burro, a mini named Buttercup, won in both Fairplay and Leadville over the two previous weekends, and, as the first male runner across the finish line on Main Street, took the men’s Triple Crown title.
Buttercup is the first mini in the sport’s 71-year history to win the Triple Crown. Sandoval is new to the sport, having recently adopted Buttercup and raced with her for the first time in Creede this year.
An accomplished ultra-runner, Sandoval was also scheduled to compete in the Leadville 10K at noon. The Buena Vista race began at 10 a.m., and the first three finishers trotted across the finish line a little after 11:30. After sharing some smiles, hugs and congratulations on his and Buttercup’s feat, the runner quickly disappeared.
Kuehster, 23, a second-generation burro racer from Castle Rock, is no stranger to the sport, having competed in her first short race at the age of 10. However, this season was the first time she tackled the huge hikes up Mosquito Pass in Fairplay and Leadville.
The light rain that fell as the race took off Sunday morning quickly cleared up, but a persistent wind remained, keeping the course cooler than in past years. Compared to the Leadville and Fairplay races, Buena Vista’s course is an all-out sprint: shorter and with less elevation gain, taking place largely on single-track mountain-bike trails that offer little opportunity to pass.
“My game plan was mostly not to fall too far behind, because it’s harder to catch up than to keep up,” Kuehster said. “Once we got to the end (across Barbara Whipple Bridge over the Arkansas River) we were able to pass them and run to the finish.”
Kuehster said that she and her donkey, Pandora, “were pretty consistent throughout. There was one part where we fell behind in the single track before you get to the railroad grade.”
“Pandora did a good job of catching up,” she said.