My number one goal for the Golden Leaf Trail Half-Marathon this year was to not fall down like I did last year. Twice. My friend Britt and I still like to joke about how she found me at the finish line of the race at the First Aid tent. I was a little bit bloody.
Despite my injuries last year, I remembered the race fondly and signed up for the 2012 race this past May as soon as registration opened. I made Britt sign up too, and we had great intentions of doing a lot of training all summer for the race. You see, the first 1.5 miles of the race is basically straight up a ski hill and completely brutal. But since we knew this ahead of time Britt and I had grand plans to run hills and really be in shape for the race.
Of course life happened and neither of us felt very ready for the race. Once upon a time I used to actually train for races. Sigh. The month before the race I was maybe averaging 1-2 runs per week? I mean the last time I ran double digit distances was seriously the Garden of the Gods 10 miler in June. I was completely banking on my CrossFit training and hiking over the summer and hoping it would be enough to get me through the race.
All hustle. No training.
The Golden Leaf is limited to 1,000 entrants, and it’s definitely a small race. The course essentially follows a single-track bike trail from Snowmass ski area down to the town of Aspen, and since the trail is narrow the start is done in a series of waves. Out of six waves, I was in wave 4.
At 8:45 a.m. the gun went off and I started running up a monster of the hill. After three minutes of jogging, I started just power hiking. There comes a point in trail running when your pace hiking quickly is actually faster than your pace jogging. As a person completely unprepared for this race, I reached this point quickly!
Power hiking up this beast.
The first aid station was conveniently placed at the 1.5 mile mark at the top of the ski hill. I glanced down at my watch at this point and I think it took me around 25 minutes to get up there. Winning. Luckily, after the aid station, the course really gets fun and heads down single track trails into the magical aspen forest. Of course my trail running shoes weren’t tied tightly enough for a technical downhill ascent, so I had to stop for a few minutes and get situated. Finally, I was on my way!
Within the first mile, I started running behind a lady who had a pretty good pace. It gets a little crowded trying to pass people on the single track sections of the trail, so I was happy to be running behind someone that was keeping a manageable pace. I soon started talking to the lady, Teresa, and we became quickly acquainted. I did not trust myself to pace smartly on my own, and I think if left to my own devices I would have burned out around mile ten.
The course mostly consisted of fun bridge crossings and meandering through the aspen groves from mile 1.5 to mile 10. There was one other major hill at mile 7, which Teresa and I jogged/power hiked. The yellow on the aspens was beautiful, but it almost looked like the foliage peak had been the previous weekend, as some of the leaves had already fallen.
Thanks to Teresa’s pacing, we got to the final aid station at mile 10 still feeling strong. We ran down the hill from the aid station together, and then I took off when we got into town. I’ll be honest – the last three miles of the Golden Leaf are not fun. The course runs through the outskirts of town, and it’s dusty with little shade. Also the 12 mile and 13 mile marker signs are in the wrong locations, so you falsely think you’re a lot closer to the finish than you really are. I crossed the finish line at 2:31:29, a time that I was semi-impressed by considering my complete lack of training!
Britt was in the wave behind me, so I had some time to kill before she finished. She was also running with a cold because she’s hardcore like that. I had fun not hanging out in the First Aid tent (zero falls this year!) and watching the other finishers come across the line.
I was so stoked when Britt crossed the finish line. As we were sitting in the grass and recovering, the awards ceremony started and we heard the name “Lance Armstrong” announced. We both kind of looked at each other like, “What?!” Yes. Indeed, Lance had also run the same race as us and we had no idea.
Luckily Britt and I have an excellent post-race tradition of eating an awesome brunch somewhere. We found this great crepe restaurant in Aspen, and ate our feelings back. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a creme brulee carmel crepe. Then, we drove back through Independence Pass to Denver, a gorgeous fall drive.
Highway 82. Classic.
I’m probably done running any races until 2013. I don’t believe in doing races during the winter because skiing usually trumps everything in my life, including running. I plan on running the Golden Leaf half again next year, and since I have now perfected the art of not falling, my new goal is to actually train for the hills!