As I sit here on the couch, still in complete recovery mode from an epic weekend of running, my thoughts are now gathered and ready to recap the first of two races.
The Aspen Valley Half Marathon – Colorado
My plane ride to Denver was uneventful, and arrived right at 8pm local time. Since I traveled from the east coast, it was 10pm, “my time”. I took the shuttle out to the rental car pickup, and within a speedy 20 minutes, was off and driving west. I had mapped out my journey west prior to getting there, but included none of the necessities like finding somewhere to buy a drink for the trip, and also stopping for a bite to eat before the epically dark trip into the mountains. I knew it would take about four hours to drive from the airport to Aspen, without stops. Once I found a place to stop off and grab some food and drink, I was on my way.
Being completely unfamiliar with the area, I tried to stay focused on the road. I took Interstate 70 west. I’m sure the drive is tough enough during daylight because, let’s face it, you’re driving through the Rocky Mountains, but driving it in total darkness added more interest and intrigue. In other words, stress!
I had to come up with plan “B” more than an hour into my trip, because in the darkness, I completely missed the first exit that I needed to take. Once I noticed it, I decided I would just go up to the next exit, and come back around to make the correction. Well, the next exit was too far away to double back around so I just decided to keep going and take the longer interstate route. It was a long drive! Making it worse and even more stressful were two incidents. The first being a car fire. Not mine. As I was driving west of Vail, I started seeing smoke in the distance. As I got closer I realized that a car on the side of the road was completely ablaze. I mean, ON FIRE! Luckily there were already a few cars stopped to help the passengers of that car, and I could see the fire trucks coming in the opposite direction. I slowed down, and carefully passed, although for a moment I thought, watch it explode as I drive right next to it.
Another 1/2 hour later there was road construction happening, where the interstate was closed in my direction for repairs. That meant we were merged into one lane for eight miles. Complete agony! I was so tired, and this wasn’t helping. Needless to say, the trip was long, and taxing on my body, after having flown for almost four hours to Colorado. My ass was killing me from all of the sitting! I finally made it to my hotel at 1am. (3am, “my time”). Exhausted, I fumbled around getting my race stuff ready for morning, and hit the hay about 1:45am.
I woke up about three hours later to get ready for my Half. I was thanking my lucky stars that I was only running a half marathon and not a full. Plus, the fact that I was there to pace the 2:15 group, I knew that even being so tired, I could still manage that. After meeting up with fellow pacer, Jill, from the Denver area, we made our way to the parking lot about five miles away to get ready, and wait for a shuttle to take us to the start. Jill had never paced before, so I gave her some advice while swapping running stories. Jill, if you ever read this, it was a pleasure meeting you!
We met up with other pacers for the Half, and I took a few photos before we boarded the shuttle.
I have never been to Colorado, and since I arrived in the dark the previous night, I was just in awe of the natural beauty of the mountains.
The starting line was just so picturesque. I knew it was going to be a beautiful run from Snowmass to Basalt. I got rid of my drop bag, and we all got lined up to start the race. I met up with a bunch of runners who wanted to run with me. Tricia was the most vocal. She was a part-time resident of Colorado, part-time New Yorker. She told me she would be running the New York City Marathon, so maybe we will bump into each other there later this year.
The run was beautiful. My plan was to keep an even pace, so once we broke out of the crowd, I settled into a 10:14 per mile pace, allowing a tiny cushion just in case. I had no issues with the high elevation, the air was so crisp and clean. Chatting with runners all around, we made our way down the Rio Grande Trail toward Basalt. Even pacing, perfect pacing and company, it was a very enjoyable run.
Most of the course is downhill, but a few uphills on the final miles were just enough to test your legs. I had no trouble, but many folks were having to walk the uphill portions. I guess my hill work paid off!
Nearing the finish I started thinking about having to race again the following day. I was happy I was getting in the shake out run I wanted, but worried that it was too much. I didn’t have any leg issues, and no trouble breathing. Pacing the 2:15 was really a great warm up. I hope I felt that way later in the day.
Coming through the finish line, I grabbed a medal and water, and waited to welcome in folks from my pace group that had faded along the course. We high-fived and chatted before heading over to a nice picnic area set up as the finisher village. There was all sorts of food from custom made salads, to donuts, coffee, beer and more. There was music and friendly runners everywhere.
My finish time was 2:14:41. 19 seconds under the goal. I thought I ran it perfectly. My pace after mile 1 never wavered more than two seconds from my goal pace. What a great, relaxing atmosphere to soak up an achievement. I relaxed with some other pacers for about an hour before we hit the road back to Denver. I had an expo to attend, so I needed to get going. That is a story all itself, as I traversed through Independence Gap, and over the Continental Divide.
Wow! What an amazing and tiring trip so far. I wouldn’t have done it any other way! The Aspen Valley race was very well done. If you ever find yourself in Colorado in July, I would surely recommend this race.