At the age of 16, when most kids are fixated on getting their first cars, Bethany Buchanan was dreaming of an entirely different form of transportation.

She wanted to run with donkeys.

Ten years later, her dream is coming true.

The Dillon, Co., native is training for her first pack burro race this weekend in Idaho Springs. Actually, Idaho Springs is really just a trial run before she tackles the World Championship Pack Burro Race in Fairplay on July 25. There, she’ll run the short course; although it seems ridiculous to call a 15-mile run in the Rocky Mountains, short.

The race is part of a festival called Burro Days, which Buchanan and her family have been attending for a decade. After all those years of watching, Buchanan decided that she would finally give it a try for herself. Unlike my preparation for the Idaho Springs race, this is no half-assed effort for Buchanan. The recent recipient of a Master’s degree in English Literature from Boston University, she is dedicating her summer to the endeavor and postponing a PhD program in the process.

It was nice to chat with a fellow novice, even if Buchanan is already far more experienced than me.

Anyone Can Enter: What inspired you to do this?

Bethany Buchanan: I’ve just always wanted to do it. The people that do it are so hardcore and it’s hilarious to see the donkeys and the humans interact. I just got my Master’s degree and it was a really intense program. I felt like, if I could get through that, I could get through a 15-mile race and reward myself by taking the summer off and training with the burros.

Anyone Can Enter: Most people reward themselves with a trip to Cancun or a shopping spree. You chose burro racing?

Buchanan: I think it also has to do with growing up in the mountains. Growing up a mountain girl, I have a little different mentality. The winters are so intense—there’s snow on the ground 9 months out of the year. I think it’s just a little different mindset.

Anyone Can Enter: What did your friends say when you told them you were doing this?

Buchanan: Mostly, it was a lot of ass jokes. People don’t understand why I would want to do it … but for me, this race is bigger than getting my Master’s. I think a lot of people have a hard time understanding the attraction. I think my future mother-in-law thinks I’m crazy.

Anyone Can Enter: You grew up in Colorado, but you’ve been going to school in Boston. Now that you’re back, you probably have a good understanding of what it’s like to adjust to running at such a high altitude. Since I’ll only have a few days to adjust, am I going to die while running up these hills?

Buchanan: You won’t die. The truth is that not everybody runs up the hills. I don’t. I walk up them and run down. But (adjusting to the altitude) is tough. You feel like you can’t get enough air. It just feels like your muscles are OK, but your lungs are screaming.

Anyone Can Enter: So far, what’s your favorite thing about this sport?

Buchanan: That it’s not just about who’s the fastest runner. It really has to do with the dynamics of the human-burro team. It’s not just about who has done the most training. It’s about who’s getting dragged and who’s dragging ass. These burros have such a sense of humor and you just have to laugh at them and yourself because they’re so unpredictable.

These big goofy animals teach me so much about myself. They teach me about patience and persistence and, without waxing too sentimental or metaphoric, they teach me about life. About getting through the tough spots and being stubborn and going through with it anyhow. They teach me about the encouragement necessary to go uphill.

Plus, they are always good for a long hug and an ear rub that is sure to bring your blood pressure down and leave you, not only with dirt under your fingernails, but a smile on your face.

Follow Bethany’s journey on her blog: Getting My Ass Up the Pass.

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