The Aspen Backcountry Marathon
The inaugural Aspen Backcountry Marathon was this past Saturday. Christy and I both took part in the fledgling event that saw 240 starters, a majority of which seemed to be from out of town, an impressive number considering it’s first year status.
Kudos to Aspen’s Special Events Department for getting this one off the ground. Permit issues and liability concerns can make it nearly impossible to start new events these days, yet the surging popularity of races demands more capacity. Since many events sell out to their maximum permitted sizes, sometimes so quickly a lottery is needed to determine who gets in, new races are needed.
The good sized field started out from Wagner Park at 6am Saturday, and followed popular biking, hiking, and running trails that were carefully connected so as to make a big loop around town. It first climbed Smuggler, then cruised through Hunter Creek and Van Horn Park, along the Hobbit Trail to Four Corners and then down the Sunnyside Trail. From there, a paved stretch took the runners to the base of Tiehack for a jaunt on and around the Government Trail, after which it headed towards the finish back in town, but not before a punishing stretch up the Little Cloud switchbacks and down the Ajax Trail. The course:
Everyone who finished set their own personal course PR’s, which is a nice feature of a first year event. But just to be fair in my write-up, and to offer some constructive criticism for the organizers, the race didn’t go off without a hitch. Unfortunately, some deficient course marking near the finish led to frustration for at least a few people out there. One fairly significant case involved the winner, who missed the Little Cloud turnoff and was told to return from the finish to complete that stretch, whereby his nine minute lead became just one. He wasn’t happy about it, but at least he was able to hold onto the win. Another racer missed the turnoff to the Oregon trail and ended up at the base of Buttermilk, and had to follow the highway back to town. Ouch. And for the second time in three races (Lake City was the first), course marking affected my day a bit. As I worked to maintain a small lead over one guy through the last few miles, he somehow made it to the finish line several places ahead of me. After accidentally missing the Ajax Trail turn, he just headed straight to the finish, which was more than a few minutes faster.
Now I wasn’t about to make a fuss to the race director about 19th place, but if I realized I missed a turn or otherwise didn’t follow the course, I would go back and redo it if were possible. But at a minimum, I would let the finish officials know about it.
All-in-all it was a great event. The course has a good flow through the finish of the Sunnyside Trail at about mile 18. After that, runners who didn’t know to save a little something for the last 1/3 of the course might have suffered a bit. It’s a tough course with a tough finish, at least that’s how Christy and I felt. Hopefully it becomes a regular event on the race calendar here.