Aspen Valley Half Marathon (#14)
There is a running life after Boston. The Newtown hills are daunting, but they seem quaint in comparison to the mountain trails of Colorado. Fortunately, the Aspen Valley Half Marathon (July 16, 2016) route wound its way between the mountains, and only ascended a couple of times above the 7,900 feet starting altitude.
Together with the race, Marsi and I travelled to Colorado to see friends and relatives, sightsee, and escape the east coast humidity. We were not disappointed as we drove the triangle from Denver, west to Aspen, and then northwest to Fort Collins. We spent only one day in Denver, but were able to fit in a mini-tour of the River North District (grabbed some coffee at The Source) and a brief urban hike around the South Platte River in downtown. We were surprised to see kayaks and rafts navigating whitewater just 50 yards down from the REI Store. We walked the Highland’s neighborhood nearby, taking in the turn-of-the-century architecture and grabbed a quick lunch a the Wooden Spoon Cafe. We stayed with our friends Matt and Suzanne (and their beautiful daughters) who live north of Denver. It was great catching up and we were able to fit a dinner of Boulder and quick tour of area before departing the next morning for Aspen.
There are a few ways to get to Aspen from Denver. You can drive “around” most of the mountain ranges by taking Route 285 or Route 70 or you can go “through” the mountains via Independence Pass on Routes 70/91/24/82 into Aspen. We went “through” on the way and “around” on the way back. Thankfully, Marsi was sleeping during most of the white knuckle driving parts and as we passed over The Great Continental Divide (in red in the picture).
We took an extended break in Leadville, CO. I was familiar with the town because of the notorious Leadville 100 mile running and cycle races up and down a set of mountain peaks (12,600+ feet of elevation gain). Hard to fathom. We walked the town and found a great antique cooperative —
Western Hardware. Pretty amazing place where I purchased two Sports Illustrated magazines from the 1960’s — one with Bob Hope in a Cleveland Indians uniform (he was a part owner) and the other one with a young Arthur Ashe on the cover. Marsi happen to see a sign for a local Jewish synagogue established in the 1890’s. Fascinating place and it really highlighted Jewish immigrant life in West (a Guggenheim lived in Leadville and perished on the Titanic in 1912). We had pizza for lunch at the excellent High Mountain Pies just down the street.
We arrived in Aspen around 4 pm and I headed over to pick-up my bib at the registration location. It was very chill as the registration/bib pick-up was at a hotel pool bar. It took just a few minutes. Luckily, I checked the bag as I was walking out and discovered they had given me the wrong bib. The exchange took just a few minutes and Marsi and I connected at the car for a 20 minute drive over to our condo in Snowmass.
We stayed in Friday night and I picked up some carbo-loaded Italian food at a local restaurant. I had wanted to pick-up some pasta and make it at store, but it took until Saturday before we figured out there was a fully-stocked grocery store just down the street from the condo.
The logistics turned out to be really easy for the race as the parking lot for the bus that would take us to the starting line of the race was just at the bottom of the road up to Snowmass. I got up around 6:00 AM, had my usual bagel with peanut butter and some yogurt, got dressed, and drove down to parking lot where the bus would meet us. Marsi would take a bus out to Basalt to meet me by the finish.
The race would pretty much follow the Rio Grande Trail about five miles from Aspen to the town of Basalt. The temperature was around 70 degrees with very low humidity when the gun (or someone yelling “start!”) went off at around 7:30 AM. The marathoners started earlier in the morning and we had a few overlaps with them on the route. I felt really good and started out at 8:09 pace except and pretty much held that with the the exception of an 8:40 at mile 11 where there were some hills.
The race was a net downhill, but there were some some subtle rolling hills along the course. The runners were very friendly and I had this feeling that a lot of the local runners (particularly the younger ones) woke up the morning of the race and decided to run a half marathon. They were in great shape from skiing, hiking, etc., and they had plenty to get themselves through the race. They seemed to be running fairly uneven paces as they would pass me at high speed and then I would pass them at my more even pace a few minutes later.
About 3 miles or so out of Basalt, I started counting steps. 10001, 10002, 1003, etc. Getting to 1075 is about a quarter of a mile and then I started over. My legs were aching, but my breathing was fine and I wasn’t feeling any ill effects of the altitude. Marsi caught a nice video of me coming across the finish line at a solid 1:49:30.
Basalt is a beautiful little town and there was a celebration in the park with great food including an incredible salad and a complimentary Aspen Beer.
We liked the town and the route so much that Marsi and I rented bikes the next day and road from Aspen out to Basalt on the same trail (about 19 miles). Really beautiful. We also spent the next few days exploring Aspen. We headed up to Maroon Bells that evening — simply spectacular.
We drove out of Aspen on Monday to drive to Fort Collins to Marsi’s cousin’s Steve and Debra. We stopped for a few hours in Glenwood Springs to check out the caves. They are pretty cool and it was worth the stop (even though the tour was a bit longer than necessary). We had a great time in Fort Collins and much enjoyed Colorado.
14 down, 37 to go with Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island scheduled for this September and October.