Thursday, September 29, 2011

Golden Leaf Half Marathon

On Saturday, I ran the Golden Leaf Half Marathon in Aspen with Ben. This was my first ever trail half-marathon. I know, weird, huh? Considering my first true trail race was the Leadville Marathon, which was followed by the Trans Rockies. Talk about big races and high expectations to compete with!!

I had never been to Aspen before this weekend and only really knew of it from pictures and of course, Dumb and Dumber. It is kind of an odd place to be quite honest. It is a mix between mountain and arid. At this time of year, it is beautiful! The colors are amazing to say the least.
Anyways, the Golden Leaf begins in Snowmass and ends in Aspen, after 981 feet of gain and 1712 feet of descent (so their website says). Packet pick up occurred at a hotel on the day of the race, with no option to pick up the night before. Thankfully, the start was just outside the door. The race was divided into waves that began five minutes apart in order to prevent too much clogging on the single track trails. Once we started, we were welcomed by a nice, long ascent in which you cover what feels like most of the 981 feet of elevation you will gain. For some reason, my lungs were screaming at me during most of the climb (turns out I may have been coming down with something).

At the top of the climb (roughly 1.5 miles), we were met with some amazing views! After the initial climb, the trail is mostly single track with several technical sections due to rocks or roots and climbs and descends throughout. There are also several stream crossings. The first one is at about 2.5 miles. The stream is not very deep or wide but the rocks are exceptionally slippery. For some reason (even in my smart wool socks), I thought I would try to tip toe over the rocks to cross. Needless to say, this was an awful idea and my knee ended up in a pretty big fight with a rock. (Based on the discoloration of my leg, I would like to think there is a big dent in the rock). After one more near miss crossing a stream in this stupid tip-toe manner, I realized I am better than that and decided to just go right through any remaining crossings.

At about five miles, the trail took another steep climb just prior to the six mile aid station. From here, the trail wound its way up and down through single track trails surrounded by changing aspens. At times, the trail became very technical with rocks and easy to miss roots. At times, it was easy to get caught in a long line of about 20-30 people going down a steep hill with no way to pass. Killer on the quads!! The last two miles of the race gave weary runners some rolling hills and lots of sun exposure, but being able to hear the cheering at the finish line made it all worth it. The finish line was positioned on a path that ran alongside a park in Aspen where supporters and runners greeted the finishers.

Personally, I had a very difficult race. My lungs were not happy with me from the get go (allergies, gunk, you know, the usual). Ben and I have our best ‘discussion’ while trail running and this race was not immune to that. We ended up separating for a period of time, which we try really hard not to do while running. It was a really good reminder that trail running is so much more fun when you are able to share the experience! Ben did wait for me after only a couple of miles, and we were able to cross the line together.

The race bag was small, but the race shirts fit well and are short sleeve technical tees (granted, this is my second purplish shirt of the year and purple is not really my thing). Overall, the course was more difficult than expected but with the single track trails, views, and aspens in the middle of changing colors it was an amazing course. In fact, the views made almost made it tough to pay attention to the course itself. In addition to the course, the aid stations were well stocked and volunteers were helpful. The trail was well marked and easy to follow. At the finish, the medical support was also fantastic and provided me with a clean wound and a nice big bag of ice. The post-race meal was different than most other races I have done, but still very good with pasta salad, sandwiches, brownies, and lemonade. The biggest disappointment was that there was no beer at the finish line!

The raffle at the finish line was worth staying for. All runners were entered automatically into the raffle. Prizes that were given away were incredible and ranged from Camelback lumbar packs, Arc’teryx jackets, technical shirts, Suunto heart rate monitors, and a three night stay at a nice hotel and more. Ok, so we did not actually win anything, but it was still a relaxing afternoon.
Some logistics...

We did not realize how far away Aspen is from us, so we scrambled the week of the race to find lodging. The night before the race, we stayed at the Snowmass Mountain Chalet, which was pretty close to the start line. We got a great rate, so it was no surprise that the bed was not exactly comfortable. The staff was exceptional and even offered to let us use their showers after checking out the next day and eat breakfast prior to finishing set up. On the way home, we stopped in Glenwood Springs and had lunch at Uncle Pizza. It was an unusual experience as the guy working went on several rants but the food was amazing!!

So now, it is back to road racing for a while and hoping my knee heals quickly!

Would I do this race again? Of course
Would I recommend it to a friend? Absolutely
Would I change anything? Of course… banging up the knee, crossing the stream like a pansy, and getting stuck behind a long line of people while running down hill.
Is it worth the value? The views, shirt, crew, and post-race party (yes, even without beer) made it worth the value
Overall race experience: Fantastic!

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