GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) — Kara Roper is looking for a fifth consecutive victory in the Rim Rock Marathon that winds through the majestic Colorado National Monument with its breath-taking views.

The Rim Rock Run takes place on Saturday, and consists of the 26.2-mile marathon, a half-marathon and a marathon relay.

Roper, a 36-year-old mother of two, is the four-time defending champion in the women's division, winning last year's event in 3 hours, 17 minutes and 58 seconds. Roper placed fifth overall.

The course boasts scenery unlike most other marathons. It features towers of monoliths, vast plateaus and canyon panoramas. You might even run across some bighorn sheep on a course of twists and turns surrounded by sheer-walled, red rock canyons. There's an elevation gain of 2,500 feet over the first 4.5 miles and a peak height of 6,640 feet above sea level.

"Compared to other marathons I have run this is my favorite because of the scenery and terrain," said Roper, who has competed in races in Alaska and Hawaii as well as Colombia and Mexico. "It is beautiful, spectacular and inspiring."

Runners from dozens of states, including California, New York, Louisiana, Minnesota, and, of course, Colorado, as well as from far away as Britain and Romania, are entered for a race that has been growing in popularity the past few years under the guidance of the Greater Grand Junction Sports Commission.

Steve Robicheaux is heading to the race from Shreveport, Louisiana, to run with his daughter, Christine, who lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.

"It will be her first and my sixth overall marathon," he said. " I recently completed IM Boulder this past June. I love Colorado because of the fantastic weather and majestic scenery."

Roper has won this race in familiar fashion each year, start strong on the uphill climb on the east side of the monument, and enjoying the downhill portion on the west side that leads to the finish line in the town of Fruita.

"I was going downhill as fast as the wheels would roll," said Roper, who grew up near Logan, Utah, and now lives in Grand Junction, of last year's victory.

Last year's men's winner was 20-year-old Riley Murray, who competes on the marathon team at the Air Force Academy.

Mackennea Broyles, a student at the University of Colorado, said after last year's race she and eventual women's half-marathon winner Emily Renner of Montrose, Colorado, encountered a family of bighorn sheep along the way.

"I was running behind Renner and these bighorn sheep were right there. They were in between us," said Broyles. "I had to stop and wait for a minute as a family of four went through."

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Website: http://rimrockmarathon.com