Golden Leaf Half Marathon

13.1 What a place to run! Snowmass Village, the race start,  is tucked up a winding road off the main highway in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley. We drove early from Shelby’s home in Breckenridge – a 2 hour sprint on an empty Interstate 70. I was very awake due to the time difference and cool morning weather. I made sure I drank during the drive, a popular altitude remedy is good hydration.  When we arrived, we had a hurried affair looking for packet pickup. On the way up the sidewalks from condo-land to the base lodge area, we saw a bear cub wandering around on the patios of ski homes, not too afraid of humans or the commotion of the race. I wasn’t able to get a photo of it, but my guess is it was a cub about 4 ft tall. I picked up my packed merely 30 minutes before the start of the race. I was in wave 2, Carol Hahn was also, the rest of our girls were in wave 6. I met Scott Jurek at the start, he was very nice and accommodating for a quick picture. I went to the front of the first wave and also got a great photo of Lance Armstrong leaving the start line. When I started, I wanted to keep a modest chug going uphill and control my breathing. It didn’t take long to realize the difference in fitness exertion at altitude. I was breathing heavy, running steady, but getting tired. I ran a small bit with Scott Jurek, he was pacing or just running the race next to a friend. he said he was doing a fall tour of races and putting together a vegan recipe book for athletes. About 80% up the first and largest hill of the race, I noticed many of the people around me had switched to a brisk high cadence walk, and they were at my same pace! I slowed to walk like they did, until I reached a curve where the course swung into a series of downhill switchbacks that led over the front of a hill. From up there I could see far across a valley and the colors of hundreds of blooming trees. The yellow or “golden leaf” aspens appeared as if they were plugged-in they were so bright! It was distracting, because all around me were amazing views, yet below my feet there were rocks, roots and a single track trail. I had many runners come up on me at a high pace, so I yielded to them whenever I saw a good passing or pull-over opportunity. It was easy to pass, as long as you communicated. The course wound through open fields (ski slopes) and other well-forested pieces of land. Some smaller climbs were hidden in treed areas, some tricky footwork things, stream crossings and a log balance beam also were on the trail to Aspen. There were 3 aid stations and water stops. At one I refilled my handheld bottle, the others I just took a water cup as a quick splash down my throat. I settled into the pace I was comfortable with once I was  past most of the climbs, now we had a series of quick and challenging descents through winding corkscrew trails. I passed and then was passed several times by a small powerful local runner from Vail, Erica Gunn. Finally we spoke to each other after multiple back-n-forth passes and agreed to stay on each other’s pace. She knew the trail going down to the town and and wanted me to pace her on the flat brush and street portion of the course near Aspen. I stayed close enough to see where she was stepping, but not too close that I couldn’t make an alternate decision if I wanted to. That takes getting used to, the locals ran very much more relaxed as they were better adjusted to this exercise! Once we hit the street, the locals faded, they apparently prefer the trails and find the transition to road a cramp inducing event. My opinion was,”Finally I can run and daydream or look around!” I went a bit faster on the street, then into a sagebrush field with fire road width trails. I was passing people and leaving no one the idea to come and give chase, they saw a considerable pace difference and didn’t answer back. The course had some odd mile markers, one said 13 mi but the dash to the finish was very much more than .1 of a mile. The finish was in a park in Aspen, well attended with a Salomon display truck full of trail shoes. They are a new sponsor of the race, and from what I gathered, this was a record year. Male course record was broken, Lance Armstrong finished 2nd in my age group, all of our girls finished in times they were happy with. This race is locally very popular, with only 1000 entries selling out in days. I’d come again to race here, knowing how the course runs and what I’d try to do training-wise, I think I could shave time off to finish under 2 hours next time!

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