Apparently most of the REAL trail runners live in Colorado. After coming here for a double-header of half marathons in the Fall, I can see why! No postcards can do this area justice when the fall aspens are turning. The leaves are amazing, lighting up the hillside with yellow and red, and the hills just go on forever. My face hurt every day from smiling. And the trails always seem to be in immaculate shape.
As the Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series nears the end of the March-Sept season, I found myself having some work travel in the Aspen area, and a perfectly good excuse to try a 1/2 marathon double header. Through e-mail exchanges, I discovered that Michael Robbert and his wife (whom I had met at the Park City Marathon) were also doing both races. That was great for two reasons. First, he's an awesome runner. Second, I think he and I are roughly tied for the Overall Champion for the Trophy Series, so it would be good motivation to do well. We both know that we have our age group championships locked up, but hey, who's willing to settle for #1 when you can have two #1's? Michael is a total gentleman - I would be honored to finish second to such a good athlete and a good soul.
The first run was The Autumn Color Run in Buena Vista, CO, put on by the super-friendly Michelle Liverman and some of her favorite locals. In addition to the 1/2 marathon, there was a 10k, 5k, and insanely cute 1 mile kids run. The 1/2 marathon started with a bouncy bus ride up to 11,000 feet where the race would begin. I'm telling ya, the air is THIN up there! If it was any solace, the 1/2 marathon course would drop about 2,200 feet over the first 10 miles, where you could "glide" down the streets for the remaining few miles. Most of the runners were in amazing shape, but then again, Buena Vista is smack dab in the middle of half of America's 14k+ peaks, so monstrous quads were a regular thing. Everyone was in great spirits, and the weather was cooperating nicely.
As the runners stretched out and warmed up, somebody yelled "go" and the next thing you knew the race had begun (with an additional shot of adrenylin to overcome the lack of preparation). I found myself in sixth place right away, cruising along the downhill fire roads. A young Andy Rinne and the amazing 5'3", 40 yr old Anthony Surage immediately started clocking sub-6 minute miles, and as much as I would like to say I was "holding back for tomorrow", there was no way I was going to keep up. I did move up two places and began pacing with Daniel Gabalski, who was running about a 6:10 mile pace around mile 5.
Now, the dilemma. Daniel looks like he's in my age group, but I can't really tell. Should I try to pass him, or would that suck so much out of me I'll be dying tomorrow? An age group win would be great for the Trophy Series, but it would cost me in Aspen.
Aw, hell. You only live once. So I tried to pass him. FOUR TIMES. Each time he pulled away with ease, but then slowed slightly in his recovery pace (ie, down to a 6:15 mile, then a 6:20 mile, etc.). In the end, I thought maybe I could break him, and gave it all I had. I finished four seconds behind him (and yes, he was in my age group...darn!) in 1:22:15.
Wait a minute...1:22:15? That's a trail run PR! And that also means....I'm going to be hurting tomorrow! Oops. Oh well, how can you feel bad about a PR? I scooped up a disposable camera, and took the slow 2 hour drive back to Aspen to take some photos and try to rest my legs. Tomorrow would be another high altitude race - The Golden Leaf 1/2 Marathon in Aspen.