“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?

415aa61d1b814e1888160d232b5da6a4-2 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.

1003157_10200720550749180_377956935_n-2 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?

20130719_204914-1024x768-1-2 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.

2013071995213033-1024x768-1-2 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?

993355_10200720551109189_16653621_n-2 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.

994534_10200923689726342_759451929_n-2 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.

p1010195-1024x768-1-2 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?!”

1014154_10200923712246905_131295725_n-2 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.

1000112_10200923729847345_2022186178_n-2 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!

p1010202-1024x768-1-2 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.

1070023_10200923734087451_734878933_n-2 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.

p1010208-300x225-1-2 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.

1069240_10200923737047525_1957253158_n-2 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?

1069214_10200923739367583_623975708_n-2 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.

1011995_10200923747207779_1698613948_n-2 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.

1069852_10200923752327907_684044825_n-2 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.