Ready to take flight
Valkyrie Multisport Relay Race descends on Durango for second year

Ready to take flight

Boats line up along the Animas River for the paddling stage of last year's Valkyrie./ Courtesy photo

Missy Votel - 04/04/2024

It’s spring in Durango, which means it’s time to dust off the mountain bike. And road bike. And running shoes (trail and road); kayak; SUP; road bike; and wetsuit. That’s because, after a long, muddy winter, we want to feel the sun on our vitamin D-deficient, ghostly skin and the wind through our helmets. And also because the second annual Valkyrie Multisport Relay race is but a few short months away: Sat., Sept. 14, to be exact.

Why am I telling you this now, especially in a town that prides itself on being oh-so off the back when it comes to planning its outdoor extracurriculars? Well, for starters, the earlier you sign your team up, the cheaper the registration cost. And secondly, if you start training now, maybe, just maybe, you can win the coveted Valkyrie trophy. Which is sort of like the Stanley Cup of Durango outdoor enthusiasts, but a lot less shiny, and you probably can’t drink champagne out of it.


But most importantly, do you really want to miss out and have to listen to all your coworkers and friends blab on about how much fun they had? Without you? After all, FOMO is a powerful motivator, something race organizer Erin Hughes is counting on.

“We had 35 teams last year and about 220 people,” Hughes said of the race’s inaugural event. “Everyone who did it last year said, ‘We had so much fun, we’re doing it again, and we’re bringing our friends.’”

There were even a few – we’ll just go ahead and say it, freaks of nature – last year who did the entire race solo, Hughes said.

And what exactly is it that people are signing up for? Well, depends on your appetite for adventure, and yes, suffering. The Valkyrie, which features seven legs – road running, trail running, mountain biking, stand-up paddle boarding, open water swimming, road cycling and paddling – comes in two sizes: the regular team relay (up to nine people); and individual (sprint or regular distance.) Folks can also sign up a la carte, only paying for the legs they wish to race.

“My husband and I did it as a two-person team,” said Hughes. “It was a big day.”

Hughes, a nurse and mother of four, insists she does all the aforementioned activities, but “not well.” But in the next breath, she also rattled off a long list of races she’s done, which included some Xterras and the words “Iron Man,” so we’re not really sure if we believe her. Nevertheless, she said it’s always been her dream to host a multisport relay race in her hometown of 20 years.

She said the seed was officially planted when her brother, Dan Merkley, and friend, Shawn Snow, organized a similar race in Heber City, Utah, a town outside Park City where the family grew up.

“I told him, ‘That is my race! It needs to come to Durango!’” she recalled. “It’s such a quintessential Durango race.” 

And in case you’re not up on your Norse mythology, the valkyries were a sort of winged female angel (beautiful, too, since that is how most myths go) who would swoop up soldiers who had died valiantly on the battlefield and deliver them to Valhalla, the Norse heaven. (We are sure in this day and age, the valkyries are equal opportunity and now represent all genders.)

Hughes said the local reception to hosting the race has been amazing, with the City – particularly Community Events Administrator Ellen Babers – bending over backwards to help. CommonSpirit Mercy Hospital (formerly known as Centura) – where Hughes works as a nurse and her husband, Dave, as an ER doc – also stepped in to sponsor the event.

“We couldn’t do it without them,” said Hughes.

As you can imagine, the logistics of such an event, which encompasses Horse Gulch, Lake Nighthorse, the Animas River Trail and Animas River, and Santa Rita Park are a petite bit complicated. As such, “We’d love to have people sign up earlier this year,” she said.

Hughes also noted that the mountain biking leg, which took place in Twin Buttes last year, will happen in Horse Gulch. However, consider this fair warning, mountain bikers will have to ride up the Lake Nighthorse road when they’re done to hand off the baton to their swimmers and SUPers. (The road climb will not be timed, so don’t get too stressed. Plus all you maniacs out there will probably enjoy it.)

Hughes said she hopes to double participation in the race this year, eventually adding a wellness fair at the Santa Rita Park start/finish – to complement the beer – and make it a huge annual community event, like Animas River Days.

“I really want people to know this is about locals – I want it to be a big local party,” she said.

Still confused? Don’t have a team? Wonder what the heck an “open swim” is? Don’t worry. All these questions and more can be answered next Tues., April 9, from 6-8 p.m. when the Valkyrie hosts an informational/team finding/registration night at the Union Social House, 3062 Main Ave. For more info or to sign up, go to: