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Brandon Yonke wants you to experience the iconic Leadville 100 trail race, and he’s doing the hard part for you.
This past August, using his own macgyvered GoPro rig—engineered using an underground sprinkler hose frame stuffed into his Ultimate Direction hydration pack—the Colorado-based ultramarathon runner and coach covered the first half of the out-and-back course, documenting every angle of the route to create a first-of-its-kind, 360-degree virtual reality course preview of the 100-mile ultramarathon. The resulting 8-hour, 6K HD video for Run Infinite, Yonke’s and his wife Kaitlyn’s coaching company that offers training plans for a variety of race distances and running excursions, allows smartphone viewers to use their fingers to pivot around the video frame, as Yonke advances along the trail and comments on waypoints and crucial turns along the route.
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This isn’t his first rodeo, either. Buoyed by a desire to create virtual training routes that would familiarize athletes, and those interested in trail running, with key intersections along trails and race courses, Yonke hit the ground running in 2021. Prior to his release of the Leadville 100 experience, Yonke had documented more than a dozen other popular trails in Colorado, Arizona and Utah in the same virtual-reality (VR) format, including the Colorado-based High Lonesome 100 race route.
These virtual reality experiences are all part of what Yonke boasts as the “world’s first 360-degree VR library” of trails, all accessible via Run Infinite’s website. The collection is a free resource that Yonke hopes everyone will use, featuring options for any level of athlete, from the more approachable trails of Lakewood’s Green Mountain trail system to a more hefty excursion along the Four Pass Loop in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. In addition, a compilation of popular 14er routes can be found in the library, too. Each trail includes a thorough description, map, virtual reality photos and, in some cases, a virtual reality video.
“There is such a diverse range of uses for VR, but as trail use grows, and as new people begin to experience the outdoors by hiking or trail running, [Run Infinite] wants to provide ways for them to get out there safely and be informed about the trails they are using,” says Yonke.
Already, Leadville 100 racers have told Yonke they appreciated using the VR experience to study the daunting route up Hope Pass, easing their fears about one of the race’s main climbs, he says. In the same vein, Run Infinite’s High Lonesome 100 VR experience highlighted a few spots where a wrong turn on the course could send a racer on the wrong side of the Continental Divide and miles from human contact. These spots, usually accessed after dark during the race, were filmed in daylight for the VR experience.
Besides serving as a handy navigation tool for racers, Yonke hopes these virtual reality experiences along some of Colorado’s most beautiful single-track trails will also influence conservation efforts to preserve these spaces for future adventures come. “Hopefully it can inspire people to explore the world around them and create a new generation of advocates for preserving these wild places.”
To access the full library of VR trails, visit runinfinite.com. Check out Run Infinite’s newest additions to the virtual library, a VR tour covering Leadville’s Turquoise Lake and a fall morning run around Clinton Gulch Reservoir near Copper Mountain.