“What’s the worst that could happen?” – Aspen Valley Marathon Race Report

So, here’s something I didn’t know about Colorado: it can be boiling lava hot. Apparently because you’re an entire mile closer to the sun, the UV index is like 4 million and the very pale (my people) get sunburned here in about 10 seconds. You wouldn’t think that a mile closer to the sun would make a huge difference in the scheme of 92,960,000 miles, but apparently it does. Remember this, it’s very important.

Amanda and I headed to Aspen on Friday afternoon, figuring we’d get there with plenty of time to pick up our packets, head to the Maniacs dinner, and get our lives together before the race the next day. At this point, I still wasn’t 100% sure about what I was going to do during the race. Ok, so if you’ve never been to Aspen, there are apparently two ways to get there. The first is on a major highway pretty much the entire time. The second is about 2 miles shorter and goes through the mountains on a narrow, winding road in the middle of nowhere. Guess which way our GPS told us to go?

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I think I just figured out the problem.

So we had rented a car and it happened to be a Ford Fiesta. In addition to many other unfortunate qualities, the Fiesta would start violently shaking as soon as you applied the brakes when driving over 60 miles per hour downhill. We’re talking it feels like the entire car is going to explode. Not exactly a confidence booster when you’re driving up and down through the mountains! The drive quickly became the most terrifying thing of my life when the road suddenly narrowed to one lane as we drove around sharp mountain curves and our gas light came on simultaneously. We were now in the middle of nowhere, on a one lane road where two lanes of traffic have to drive, and we are coming dangerously close to running out of gas. I was leaning forward in my seat, hands clenched around the steering wheel, teeth gritted and praying for a miracle. It was the longest drive of my life, and we made it to Aspen with 9 miles to spare on our tank, just in time to discover Aspen prices and pay $4.72 a gallon to refuel. Thanks, Aspen!

It sounds silly to say, but the drive sapped me of all my energy. I was so stressed out by the entire process that I was angry. When we got to the Maniacs dinner, I learned that we were not the only ones to experience this pain, and we found out about the alternate route that we would surely be taking home. Amanda and I ordered our pizza and chatted with some Maniac friends, and we waited. And waited. And waited. And everyone else’s food came out except for ours, even people who came much later, and eventually we realized that they had completely forgotten to make our pizza. No harm done though because I successfully lobbied for free beers as a result.

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What’s that? Free beer sounds like the beginning of the end? Yup.

After the party broke up, Amanda and I decided to head over to the Aspen Brewing Company because it was still pretty early and well, beer. It didn’t take long before we were fast friends with Craig, the bartender, who was super impressed when we told him we were running the marathon the next day. “Dude, you’re running a marathon tomorrow and you’re in here drinking right now? That is so hardcore!” Yes Craig, it is hardcore. It’s also maybe a bad idea, but I like hardcore better. What’s the worst that could happen?

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Did you guys ever notice I never take sweaty selfies, just drinking selfies? What does that say about my life?

We fascinated Craig with our tales, and by that I mean I mostly embarrassed Amanda by talking to complete strangers, like always. As the night wore on, Craig was giving us free beer and I started to get courageous. I saw a man who appeared to be ordering a drink who had a box of those delicious frosted sugar cookies that you get from Walmart. You know the ones I’m talking about? They’re perfectly circular and have frosting and sprinkles on them and they’re the best things ever? Yeah. So obviously, I went up and asked him whose cookies they were. And he was like “Yours, obviously! Take as many as you want!” This is why it’s always important to ask for free stuff, even if you think you won’t get it. I realize now that it was probably dangerous to take cookies from a stranger, but hindsight is 20-20. Sorry, Mom.

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He was all “Let’s pretend like you’re stealing the cookies!” and I was all “I am!”

And that was just beginning of the freebie bonanza. The delicious cookie gave me sugar courage to add to the liquid courage the beer was giving me, and we were having a great time. Craig was serving us beer in really fun glasses, so I told him very plainly that I wanted to steal one. “Don’t do that,” he said. “Those are dirty. Take these.” And handed us clean ones. And then koozies. So it was basically the best night ever. In further evidence that I’m rubbing off on Amanda, it was ME who had to be the responsible one and cut the night short, because she was prepared to order more beer. I’m so proud of her lately. Meanwhile, I was sending semi-drunk tweets saying things like “Slightly drunk the night before a marathon because ‘yolo.'” Drunk tweets are the new drunk texts, by the way.

The boiling lava sun in Colorado rises bright and early, and I mean very early. Before we knew it, it was time to get up for the marathon. I had been guzzling water all week in preparation for how hot and drying it is out here, so even though we had had a few beers the night before, I felt relatively prepared. My leg, source of my potential DNS, seemed to loosen up a bit and I knew I was going to try and run the marathon. I basically decided that if I ran the half and ended up feeling great, I would have been really angry, so it would be better to try the full and DNF if needed. I realize that’s somewhat backwards logic, but I operate a somewhat backwards blog, so there you go. And after all, what’s the worst that could happen? Are we sensing a theme?

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Race morning found us sprinting to make the Maniacs picture, as always.

Thankfully, the place we were staying was walking distance from the race start (and the brewery, of course), so we made it in time. I was surprised by the number of Maniacs in this very small race, but I guess you have to be kind of crazy to run marathons in the summer anyway. Amanda and I quickly met up with Terri, who was running the marathon on her birthday, and the three of us decided to stick together! By far the best decision of the day.

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Probably the first time in about a year that Amanda and I are not wearing matching outfits.

As the race started, we wound through the beautiful (albeit very overpriced) town of Aspen. It really is very nice and a cute ski town. The early portion of the course wound along a bike path that went through the woods and over some gorgeous creeks and past houses that I will never be able to afford. I was excited to see the shade even though I had applied sunscreen that morning because I never run well in the heat, and Colorado is surprisingly hot, as previously mentioned. It also generally lacks clouds. And trees.

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The early part of the course was completely stunning.

I had noticed in the race information packet that the aid stations were pretty sparse by marathon standards – the first one wasn’t until 3.5 miles in, and after that, they were rarely closer than every 2 miles. I was really concerned about that because of the heat and lack of shade, so I made Amanda carry a water bottle with her (I carried my traditional apple juice) and I basically saved her life. She is undoubtedly thanking me now. For some reason, from the very beginning, the race was going by realllllyyyyyy slowly. My leg would hurt off and on, and when it did, we stopped to walk. We were having a great time chatting away, but the miles just seemed to go by really slowly even though we were running at a decent pace. We got to mile 6 and all I could think was “OMG 20 more miles?!”

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Not mile 6, but a good picture.

Amanda and Terri seemed to be in agreement that the race was going surprisingly slowly even though we were having fun. It was about to get a whole lot slower and a whole lot less fun, though, as we ran out of the shade and into the sun for the remaining 20 miles of the race. Oh, and did I mention the race started at about 8000 feet elevation? These sea level girls were toast – literally.

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Just hanging with some Maniacs in the blazing sun. It’s fine.

Despite the sun, it was one of the most beautiful courses I’ve ever run. The mountains surrounded us the entire time, and due to the general absence of trees, we could always see them!

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Not mountains, but another picture I like from early in the race. Sorry, I’m the worst.

My leg would hurt anytime there was an incline, so even though there weren’t very many, we walked them all just to be safe. As the day wore on, the heat started getting to us. Although we hit the half at a respectable pace, everyone was starting to get worn down. No one felt much like running, so we started walking a little more because it was easier on my leg and easier on everyone’s breathing/heart rate. I think I should move to Colorado just so altitude races don’t kill me, because seriously.

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Another picture of one of the many gorgeous, treeless views.

We were all pretty much toast by mile 16, and Terri was starting to feel sick. I was having a hard time keeping my heart rate in a safe range, so I think we actually walked all of miles 16-18. We talked about a strategy for how to finish the race, because basically none of us wanted to be out there but we were obviously committed by this point. Some of the aid stations had run out of water cups, which was obviously concerning given how few aid stations there were, but we decided to make the best of the beautiful scenery and keep going. I came up with the idea to run for half a mile and then walk for half a mile until we got to the end of the race – the running part existing solely for the purpose of getting us to the finish line faster.

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Pretty much the entire race was on a bike path, so I’m not totally sure where this picture came from, but you get the point.

I could literally feel my skin sizzling as we kept running along the path. The sun was at our backs, at least, but I knew that the situation was going to be ugly when I got home. That whole UV index of 10 thing? Yeah, totally came back to bite me in the ass legs. My sunburn would make grown men cry.

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So happy to have shade around mile 20.

You might have noticed (ok, you almost definitely did not notice) that I am wearing some new fashions in these pictures. I made the switch to compression shorts for my summer marathons in the interest of preventing chafing and stemming the excessive sweating that made my other shorts unbearable this time of year. I can’t say I’m loving the world’s least flattering silhouette, but like I always say, there’s no dignity in marathoning, so whatever.

We were all very sick of the race by this point, no matter how pretty it was. Somewhere around mile 21.5, as we were basically crawling along a long, straight, asphalt road, we met up with a girl named Kaitlyn who was running her first marathon that day, and it happened to be her birthday too! She and Terri chatted on for quite awhile bemoaning the fact that no one famous has their birthday. Kaitlyn was definitely relieved for some company, as she was struggling at the end of the race and it’s lonely out there by yourself. And hot. Did I mention HOT?

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The birthday girls!

The last few miles seemed to drag on forever. Isn’t it funny how some races just fly by, even when you’re running slow, and some seem like they’ll never end? This was definitely part of the latter, unfortunately. Terri kept borrowing phones to call her parents, who were waiting for her at the finish line, and every time she did, our projected ETA got later and later. I haven’t had a race like that in quite awhile, so it was kind of defeating. Just when it seemed like the torture would never end, we were running it in to the finish. The point-to-point course had taken us all the way from downtown Aspen to downtown Basalt almost entirely on a multi-use path! How cool is that? Take notes, South Carolina. Get some freaking paths.

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They gave us champagne at the end, but all I wanted was really cold water.

Our finish time ended up being right at 5:30, which I was simultaneously ok with and disappointed by. On the one hand, I’m thrilled to have made it through the race with a somewhat bum leg (which is still somewhat bum, by the way, but not worse) and survived in conditions that were tough for us. I’m disappointed because we’ve been running faster lately and feeling much better than this during most of our marathons, so it felt like taking a step backwards. Whatever, there was free craft beer at the end, so I got over it.

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Not only was there free beer, it was local beer! Colorado for the win.

After a shuttle ride back to Aspen, Amanda and I were ready to get cleaned up and head back to the brewery, of course. We had promised Craig that we would come back, and we would hate to go back on a promise. Well, one beer turned into a few thanks to Craig’s special happy hour price of “free,” and it wasn’t very long before we were chatting with more of Aspen’s locals. So Amanda and I now have a place to stay if we come back to Aspen to go skiing this winter, and we’ve got marathon lodging in Salt Lake City from a guy who possibly lives in a tent full time almost fell off his chair when he found out we don’t smoke pot. So, I guess you could say it was a pretty successful weekend.

44 thoughts on ““What’s the worst that could happen?” – Aspen Valley Marathon Race Report

  1. Great report! And I can make you feel better…..petrol (or “gas” if you must) is around $6.5 a gallon in England. But we do have much better beer 😛

    1. That does make me feel better, but it was like $1.20 higher in Aspen than in Denver. That’s crazy! And I don’t know about better beer…y’all drink it warm, right?

      1. Te he. You don’t all still think that do you? Our lager is served very chilled and real ales a little warmer or you lose the taste 🙂

  2. WHEW … I have to confess with all of the ‘it gets worse’ talk, my expectation was that you were going to have a crappy race, and end up hurting your leg at mile 25 or so …

    So by those standards I would call it a ‘meh’ race, but it could have been much worse!

  3. good job! elevation and the heat is baaaaad! That’s why they say “train high, run low”. The opposite, not so much…:)

  4. We have a Ford Fiesta and we love it! And we live in Colorado. I bet that because it was a rental, the brakes had been abused. Sounds like the brake pads were worn out.
    I considered running this race, but I am sure that sun would have killed me! Instead I ran a relay with 11 other girls across mountain passes at 10,000 ft in that same intense heat this weekend. Rough.

    1. Ok, I am glad that not all Ford Fiestas are that terrifying because I thought for sure the car was going to break in half! I would say the relay sounds like the smarter choice, but higher elevation is unimaginable to me. I would have died.

  5. You did it!! You sound bummed but you would have been so much more bummed if you didn’t do it, so no worries on that time. Blame the sun anyways.
    No pictures of Craig?
    I now am going to try & use the words “Sugar Courage” in a sentence today 🙂

  6. I don’t want to say it out loud because it’s terrifying, but I really want to be a 50 stater. Even though this race sounded semi-terrible because of the heat/elevation, there honestly doesn’t sound like a better way to travel the country! Colorado looks rad.

    1. There isn’t a better way to see the country! This race was pretty hard, but there are plenty of other races in Colorado that are much more enjoyable, I’m sure. I would recommend being a 50 Stater to anyone. I would also recommend setting a more reasonable timeline than I have, because it gets expensive (and exhausting) but it’s worth it!

    2. Trice – it is a frightening proposition. I would love to set a ’50 by 50′ goal for myself, but I know that since I’ll be in the midst of putting two kids through college over the next few years that the sort of travel budget required just wouldn’t happen.

      But this coming weekend I am entered into a marathon in the state next to mine. So that will make me a 2-stater. This fall I re-run my local marathon in hopes of a BQ – which would be 3.

      My wife was conversing with a high school friend on Facebook the other day and actually said ‘my husband is on the marathon circuit’ … so whether or not I make 50 doesn’t matter, I have started the journey. And really, running one local and one in a nearby state isn’t too hard, and is a great way to start!

  7. Oh Gosh, Danielle, I have been on that road!!!! My brother and I drove that MANY years ago because on the map it was the shorter distance. Holy cow, it freaked us out. There were motor homes coming the other way and I swear, I think I was crying! LOL, sounds funny now, but when you are not used to that kind of road…..I love your blog-this one is hilarious. Running at altitude is tough on a Sea level person, and then add the heat. Great job. You always make marathons seem fun.

    1. It was absolutely terrifying!! I was so exhausted when we finally made it to Aspen. On the way home, we wised up and took the highway the entire time. The whole way to Aspen I was thinking “WHY WOULD ANYONE EVER GO HERE?” But now I know – they’re just smarter than us and take a different road 🙂

  8. Most people hear “Aspen” and think of the beautiful scenery and slopes all I can think about is Dumb & Dumber LOL! I imagine they jack up the prices like crazy but what can you do?! I agree with everyone else about it being a “meh” race for you but you still got out there and did it and for the most part had a good time. Any pics of the sunburn?! Also how is the leg feeling?

    1. I forgot to take pictures of the sunburn, unfortunately. But people that I walked past literally gasped. That’s the level of greatness that we’re talking about here. THe leg is meh. I think I need to stretch, ice, and roll the crap out of it. I’m hoping it’s just some tightness but we’ll see.

  9. Seriously impressed. I don’t think I’ve ever gone out drinking the night before a race – pretty sure it would leave me dry heaving on the side of the road – especially in full sun and heat. Yikes. Congrats on making it through!

      1. This is the funniest blog I have ever read!!! I met you at the end and was complaining about missing my BQ time by 6 seconds?
        Believe it or not the past two years, the weather has been cloudy and cool. I ran 7 minutes faster both years….
        I have got to keep reading this blog; I laughed out loud all the way through!!!

        1. Hahaha thanks! I definitely remember meeting you at the end, and I’m sorry about your BQ 🙁 I wish we had had cloudy and cool weather this year! I hope you’ll keep reading!

  10. Yeah, I’m always flabbergasted by the potential for upper 90s in Colorado. It’s a state that I rarely visit in summer, so in my head it’s always below 30, frosty and ready for hot tubs.

    Glad to see that you were able to get through the race. Hopefully you’ll recover well and you’ll be able to finish your upcoming 50k with flying colors. As for this race, I’m surprised that it wasn’t a trail race. On name alone, I thought it’d be through a secluded forest, stopping only to cut through alpine ski paths.

    But hey, at least it wasn’t humid, right?

    1. I had the exact same problem. I’m convinced Colorado is always cold, so I packed a bunch of leggings for my trip out there and then barely had enough clothes to make it through the week. Funny you mention thinking it would be a trail run, because I picked it specifically because it was NOT a trail run. For as much of a running state as Colorado is, it’s a trail running state, and there actually aren’t that many road marathons there. Not as many as I expected, anyway. And yeah…at least it wasn’t humid. There was that.

  11. Congrats on doing the full! Great recap.

    I have family in Colorado and have done exactly one run there ever, and it was miserable…I just did not anticipate that difference that altitude makes. It explains why Colorado sports teams always win home games!

    And I’ve been over those mountain passes before…yikes. Bumpy and not for the weak of heart!

    1. It’s crazy what a difference it makes! The first few days that I was there, I could barely even walk without getting winded.

      1. Yeah … I am in the same boat. All my post-weight loss shorts are 5″, and on long humid runs I get thigh chafing. So the compression shorts might be the way to go this weekend for me (PA Grand Canyon Marathon).

        And Scott – Band-Aids. And for me, shaving off some chest hair in humid weather to be sure they stick. Proper fitting shirts help as well, even if you don’t want a compression shirt.

        1. I use corn plasters, the ones that are small rings of foam, that way no shaving required and they are a fraction of the price of nip guards but do the same job

    1. It is just the opposite for me. Compression shorts are to hot! I use something with my regular running shorts that I know will make everyone think I am crazy but it works. Before the run, I spray Tanactin (yeah the foot stuff) where the rubbing will occur. As soon as the race is over, I shower and spray again. It prevents the chaffing and cr*tch r*t. Warning: it stings.

      1. Scott – I will have to check those out. Interestingly I ran for 23 years without issue, but above ~6 miles I need protection. And given my average daily run is 7.5 … I am constantly wearing something! I just use cheap Curad bandages (<$1 a box of 30).

        Mark – my running tights are warm and get me to <20F, but a couple of months ago I bought a pair of Nike 'Hypercool' ventilated shorts … and they are awesome.

  12. We too attended the race and even met you all at the finish line. After timing issues at the 2013 race, I would Re-Consider the Aspen race if you’re running for a Boston qualify. They don’t take timing serious in Aspen, must be the pot. I’ve talked to several runners who missed BQ by seconds. Unless you’re running for fun, why invest the money in room and transportation to Aspen, this was our 3rd race there, we live in Colorado. Timing is everything and Aspen just did not take timing seriously this year.

    1. I remember meeting y’all at the finish line! I think it’s definitely the pot 🙂 Aspen is way too expensive of a destination for a race if it isn’t taken seriously. I couldn’t agree more!

  13. Thanks for another great race report!

    Every time I read them I get less scared of my own first Marathon, because you show me that it’s allowed to have fun during a marathon and that it’s not all about those who do sub-3’s. To be honest, I hope my first marathon will be a sub 4.30, but hey, the first one is always a PB! The experience, meeting people. I’m almost jealous I do not live in the US, for joining Marathon Maniacs would be something great.

    However, luckily I’ve got my own little running club here in the UK which are as supportive and awesome, and it’s with them that I’ll be running my first Half Trail Marathon in October, on my way to the Causeway Coast (Trail) Marathon in Northern-Ireland in September 2014 and perhaps, if I get through the ballot, the Virgin London Marathon in April next year.

    People always made me feel like I couldn’t do anything right, or proper, but since I started running, I know there’s a lot I CAN do and that makes me happy, and because it makes me happy I meet more people through running which makes me even more happy. Having a bad day? Go for a run, succeed and feel like a winner. Feeling off? Go for a club run and have a laugh. If I can run 10 miles, I can also finish this thesis, for 5 years ago, I couldn’t even run 500 meters without collapsing :D!

    So well, thanks! For this amazing report again, and I’m looking forward to the next one! Very inspirational.

    1. Wow, Gaby, thank you so much! Isn’t the power of running amazing? It has made me feel so much more capable and strong than I ever thought I could. I totally relate to what you are saying! I bet your first marathon will be a huge success and a great experience no matter what your time is. I’ve found that no matter how bad you might feel during a race, there can always be something good or fun that comes out of it!

      Just so you know, the Marathon Maniacs is an international club! We have lots of UK members and people all over the world and on every continent! Check it out – we’d love to have you!

  14. I am running/pacing the Half this year, so was searching for race recaps, and came across yours. Great info and hilarious, too!

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