Sunday, July 26, 2015

Aspen Valley Marathon Recap

While trying to plan my races for the year I decided I needed to visit my family that moved out to Colorado a few years back.I hadn't been out there yet and figured that I can add a race and kill two birds with one stone.After weighing the options as well as the proximity to my family I settled on the Aspen Valley Marathon. I also wound up deciding to get there and get it over with rather than trying to adapt to the altitude.

I flew out for my race on Friday and landed in Denver bright and early. From there I took a shuttle to Vail. Then my cousin's coworker picked me up and then my cousin took me to his home. His girlfriend then took me to my aunt's place. Finally my aunt took me to the airport to rent a car to make the rest of my journey down to Aspen. It was a long day to say the least.I made it to town with about an hour to spare for packet pick up. Aspen itself was very walkable and full of characters from what I could tell. I wound up just getting my packet, a quick dinner, and then crashing.

Race morning came much too early. I was definitely sleep deprived. Luckily this wasn't a goal race.I got to the race site a bit early and walked around to stay loose. Oddly the race didn't have any port-o-potties at the start, but instead relied on a public restroom. I know there were only about 250 runners, but 2 stalls isn't going to cut it. Being there early enough helped and I took care of business with plenty of time. I also met and chatted with some fellow Marathon Maniacs at the start, including 1 who was pacing for 3:40 aka the fastest pacer for this race.

Quiet start area

Now this course likes to advertise itself as fast. The race shirt itself even bills the race a Boston Qualifier. This isn't without reason since the course has a net loss in elevation of nearly 1500 feet. The problem is the race starts at an elevation of nearly 8000 feet. Unless you're adapted to the altitude, you won't do nearly as well. I came in the day before so you can see where this is going.

Nice downhill for 20 miles

Soon the race started and we raced our way through downtown Aspen. I hung in behind the 3:40 pacer who may have shot out a little quick himself. I struggled to breath for the first mile or so and figured this was going to be a long day. After a bit we hit the Rio Grande Trail and I settled into a comfortable pace. By about mile 3 I was actually running quite relaxed with my heart rate and cadence both slowed down to training run efforts. Perhaps it was the scenery or running along the river that calmed me.

I eventually fell in with a group of runners for the next 8 miles. We broke off from other nearby runners, but couldn't lose each other. I finally started talking with the others and found out that one of the girls was shooting for a BQ after failing a few weeks prior and the guy was running his first marathon with only a long run of 16 miles under his belt. They were from Fort Collins and shocked that I was holding my own so well on my first high altitude run. I eventually lost them around mile 11 as I surged a bit and they faded.

Around mile 14 I felt a familiar rumbling in my tummy. One of the aspects of being at high altitude is that it can also upset the stomach. You would think by now that I would learn to take Imodium before a marathon, but haven't quite grasped that lesson yet. The downside of this race was that the aid stations were pretty far apart i.e. only 2 in first 7.5 miles and not all of them had restrooms. I had to wait until mile 16 to use the facilities. I wound up losing around 4 minutes here, but felt much relieved after.

Once back on the course I really picked up steam for a bit. I guess I was a bit determined to get back that 4 minutes I had lost. I passed a lot of runners and eventually re-passed the group I was running with before. They had broken apart as the girl was struggling and knew a BQ was out of site. The guy was still going pretty strong when I caught him, but soon started to fade. I also caught and passed the 3:40 pacer for the time being.

After the first 20 miles the course turns into rolling hills. I managed to keep strong until mile 22 when I finally decided I didn't like running uphill anymore. At that elevation I was getting winded just climbing stairs, so running up a hill felt like having a heart attack. I eased off and went with a walk/run approach from there to the finish. The temperature also had been rising and we no longer had the shade from trees on the path.

The final stretch of the race involved running into downtown Basalt. There were more people around here and I picked my pace back up. I also was nearly hit by cars twice in this stretch. First a guy making a right out of a parking lot kept looking left and never looked right to pull out. He decided to pull out when I was within feet of his car. I screamed at him and fellow onlookers couldn't believe it either. I also managed to capture this all on my GoPro. Then when nearly to the finish there were people directed traffic and apparently weren't paying attention since they directed a car to cross the intersection right in front of me. I did make it to the finish without any further incident.

At the finish line we got our medals. I got a fist bump from the 3:40 pacer who congratulated me on a job well done. I also got a wonderful cold and wet towel to wipe down with. I guess I missed it in my initial post race haze, but there was also champagne at the finish line. I wound up heading straight for the beer line and got an Orange Shandy from Aspen Brewing Company. Definitely the refreshment I needed. The race also had a salad bar, but who eats salad after a marathon?

I liked the race other than the few bumps with the bathrooms and near misses. The course was absolutely stunning. I'm glad I had my GoPro on me and took clips throughout the race. The people were all also super friendly. I don't think I've ever talked so much to fellow runners as I did during this race. After spending several days with the family it was determined that I had to make this race an annual thing, an excuse to come back and visit. 

As for the final results - I finished in 3:45:48 and 33rd out of 226 finishers. If you course correct for the conditions and altitude, this time would be the equivalent of around a 3:25-3:30 in Chicago. I'm extremely pleased with that result given that much of the race was spent running conservatively. All that downhill did do a number on my quads and toes though. This now gives me 8 marathons in as many states in the last 10 months.


  1. Congrats on the finish. Looks like a beautiful course. Hope your quads are feeling better. All of that downhill running would probably trash my legs for a couple of weeks, since I hardly ever run downhill! How hot was it for the race?

    1. Definitely the most beautiful course I've ever run. The quads are mostly back to normal now. The toes not so much. The race was actually a nice 55 at the start, but it warmed up to mid 70s by the finish. The sun is definitely more intense at altitude too which doesn't help.

  2. OMG WHO EATS SALAD AFTER A MARATHON??? Seriously. I'm having trouble understanding that one.

    1. Oh I know right? Damn Coloradans are all healthy or some crap. I high tailed it out of there and got some proper meat.

  3. A salad bar? That definitely is ridiculous! Great job on this race. Oh, and that is crappy about the driver that almost hit you.