Saturday, June 29, 2002

RR Aspen Grove Trail Half

Race Report
Aspen Grove Trail Race
Aspen, CO
13.1 miles
June 29/02

As I had informed y'all in earlier reports I decided to run this race just to stay in shape for my upcoming 199th marathon. The race offered both a Half and full Marathon but I was limited to the Half; otherwise it would mess up my marathon schedule.My sports manager and I left Summit County early Friday morning so that we would arrive in Aspen early afternoon which would give us some time to explore the resort town. We took the short cut via Leadville and up over Independence Pass. This is a very pretty but scary drive!The road over Independence Pass is a narrow, two-lane road that twists and turns with many switchbacks - and no guard rails - as it climbs more than 4,000 feet to the top of the pass at 12,000+ feet. The scenery is spectacular but the drive is scary. One little mistake and the car would not stop rolling or flipping for about 2,000 feet! We made it safely and in fact I didn't seem to be as scared as the last trip over the pass. Maybe all these trail and mountain runs are helping me overcome my fear of heights?The drive down into Aspen is not as spectacular and soon we were in the resort village. We had spent an afternoon in Aspen a few years back but had never really explored the resort town so now was our opportunity. It didn't take us long to determine that we did not like it! It is a nice town, very picturesque, clean and meticulously groomed but there is a haughty, snaughty attitude that permeates everything. Example - there are only two gas stations in the town - both built to blend in with the old Victorian architecture of the town. Maybe that is why gas cost $2/gal? Gimme a break! I thought we were being screwed in Summit County paying $1.35/gal? A hotel in town costs $200+ per night - I had to search on the net to find a hotel on the edge of town for $125. As we were passing one of the many art galleries in town I noticed a Marc Chagell in the window - I didn't go in to ask the price! And finally real estate - from what I could determine our Summit townhome is worth about $1.5 Million in Aspen! Sorry - even if I had the money I wouldn't enjoy living in Aspen!But then we weren't there to buy a home - but to run a race. I also had a second agenda. I was hoping to run one or two of the 14ers that are close to Aspen. So I visited one of the mountaineer shops in town to gather information on the Maroon Bells. There are two peaks: the Maroon Peak (14,156ft) and the North Maroon Peak (14,014 ft). I was hoping to run both on Sunday if my legs and body were not too beat up by the race on Saturday? Well the manger of the store, an experienced climber who had climbed both peaks many times, cured me of that silly notion quickly. He warned/advised me that the saddle between the two peaks was extremely difficult and dangerous and that I should not attempt it without climbing gear and experience! But he did feel that I could run/climb the Maroon Peak and showed me the safest and esaiest way up. Later that day Nicole and I drove out to the park and trailhead for the Maroon Peaks and I must admit - they are awesome and INTIMIDATING! The last 1,000 vertical feet are ragged rock cliffs that seem to go straight up? I would have to wait and see how my legs felt after the race - I definitely was not going to attempt that run/climb on tired legs!Now back to the purpose of the trip and report - The Aspen Grove Trail Race. After treating my sports manager to a Happy Hour drink and the usual pasta dinner we found the race registration and packet pick up. I confirmed, after talking to a few runners, that the race was indeed challenging as advertised and that there were only three aid/water stations which meant I needed to carry water with me. The start time had changed from 8:30 am to 9am which would make it harder for those of us with early check-out times at the hotel. The race director kind of worried me when he advised all runners to purchase 'National Park Rescue Insurance' that provided for helicopter rescue and extraction from the mountains? But I figured since I had survived the Pike's Peak and Breckenridge Crest Marathons that I could make it out on my own?Saturday - Race day! I lined up at the start with another 130 runners (only 15 in the marathon). The course was a half-marathon loop - the marathoners got to do it twice. I was already thankful that I had been forced to register only for the Half! The race started about 10 minutes late. I already had a time crunch. Check-out at the hotel was 11am but I had asked for a one-hour extension. I needed to run this race under 2:30 to get back to the hotel in time? Wer'e off! The course started at the Aspen Art Museum (7900 ft) and immediately turned on to the Hunter Creek Trail - and proceeded to climb 900 feet over the next two miles on a rocky, treacherous single-track trail. It was impossible to run all of this section because of the steep grades and rocks. I followed the tail end of the lead pack and reached the two-mile mark in 26 minutes! The course then flattened out at 8,800 feet out for about 1/2 mile as it crossed the meadows of the Hunter Creek Valley. I almost got lost along this section as I missed a turn. The course/trail was marked with pink ribbons - there were no support staff nor mile markers to direct the runners. Fortunately a female runner behind me shouted at me and I back-tracked to follow her.I continued to follow her as the course climbed 1,500 feet over the next 2 1/2 miles to 10,300 feet to the Four Corners region on Red Mountain overlooking Aspen on one side and the Maroon Bells on the other.That female runner was a good trail runner. She ran that whole 2 1/2 mile climb without walking once! I had to resort to my usual power walk/run technique but I somehow manged to stay with her. When we crested that trail/hill the course turned on to a 4X4 logging road that traversed Red Mountain. 2nd water stop - about 5 miles into the race. I thought that I would overtake my female guide/runner on that dirt road but she would not let me pass her. And then we turned on to another single track trail that ran through a few miles of Aspen groves (hence the name of the race). It was very pretty but I was only able to steal a few glances because I was too afraid to take my eyes off the trail. There were too may rocks, stumps and roots waiting to trip one up if you didn't focus constantly on where your feet were. It was impossible to pass her on that trail so I decided just to continue to follow her.However the trail then started to drop and it almost seemed like magic, but POOF- she was gone! I couldn't believe that she had left my sorry old ass behind so quickly. I became concerned that I had missed another turn in the trail - surely I should be able to catch a glimpse of her ahead? Finally after about 1/2 mile I saw another pink ribbon which meant I was on the correct trail. I had to face the fact/truth - she had left my sorry old ass in the dust as soon as the trail has started downhill because she was a much better trail runner than I am (or ever will be!).Soon the trail emerged from the Aspens and began the truly horrendous descent that we had been warned about. The trail dropped more than 2,000 feet over the next two miles - on single track trail that was rocky and covered with layers of dry, slippery dirt/dust. I was actually afraid! I had my quads on full brake force and I was still losing control on some of the switchbacks! Every once in awhile there would be a short section that looked manageable and I would let my stride lenghten out to take the stress off the quads but I would soon be out of control and screaming at myself to slow down! I finally decided that I had to stop and walk -downhill- at certain times just to maintain control and relieve the stress/pain from my quads! About half-way down that section of the course I had to move aside and let some other runners blow on by. They were going hell-bent-for-leather and completely out of control. At that point I concluded that you must pass two important tests to become a GOOD trail runner:1) You must be CRAZY - I pass that test with flying colors2) You must have absolutely no fear or concern for your health or safety - Unfortunately I fail that test.Having been forced to recognize and accept my weakness I continued to slowly and SAFELY wind my way down off that terrifying trail/mountain. Finally I reached the last water stop (11 miles) that was supposed to be close to where the trail merged on to a paved bike path. I had made it without falling!Yeah! Right STUPID! Counting your chickens before they are hatched! As I grabbed a bottle of water and continued running down the last of that trail I was also patting myself on the back for making it safely down that descent - AND for completing my first-ever trail race WITHOUT falling when POOF again! I found myself flying through the air?I can so vividly recall what I saw and thought in those few terrifying milliseconds! My water bottle went flying out of my hands to land about twenty feet down the trail. I was flying through the air horizontally - BUT the trail dropped at about a 20 degree angle - how and where was I going to land on that trail to minimize the pain and injury that was surely about to happen? I manged to get my arms out to cushion the impact and twist my body to the left. I think that my left foot must have caught a rock or root to start this horrifying/exciting air flight? I landed on my left side in a soft pile of thick black dirt/dust and slid about five feet down the trail leaving some skin and blood along the way before I was able to push myself back up and regain control of my momentum. I didn't/couldn't stop moving downhill so I surveyed the damage as I struggled to maintain control of my momemetum. My left side and front were covered in a thick layer of black dust ( looked like I had attended a coal miner's convention?) and blood was oozing through the dirt in several places. From the severe stinging I was experiencing I knew that I had lost skin on my arm, hip and leg but I couldn't see any cuts or abrasions because of the dirt? I thought that I should try to wash off the dirt but I had already passed the water bottle and besides I figured that the dirt was coagulating the blood and slowing the flow? So I continued on down the trail to the bike path - ONLY 50 feet! I was so pissed off that I had only 50 more feet of trail to navigate to complete my first trail race without falling! Oh well! I kept my record intact - four trail races and I've fallen in all four! Back to the race. I was now on the paved bike path with 1 3/4 miles left to the finish line. The time was 2:20. All I could think of (besides the stinging going on all down my left side) was that I needed to finish this damn race in 10 more minutes to get back to the hotel! At least I was now on my turf - pavement- so I pushed the old bod as hard as it would go. I even managed to catch and pass some of those young jocks that blew by me on the terrifying downhill. There were several people using the bike path and I got numerous strange looks and comments such as " You look terrible. What happened to you? Are you OK?" in those last few miles. Finally I crossed the finish line in 2:35:52 and the race director commented "You look like shit! Are you OK?" I ignored his compliment and question and proceeded directly to the water table and tried to clean myself up. BIG MISTAKE! HURT! PAIN! HURT! PAIN! The water was just washing more dirt into the wounds. So I gave up that Nurse Nightingale shit and decided to go back to the hotel to clean up.When I entered the room my Sports Manager exclaimed "You look terrible! What happened? Are you OK?" I was getting kind of tired of these comments/questions - I thought it was pretty obvious what happened? But she did give me some good news. She had requested another hour for check-out which meant I didn't need to rush my shower. So I headed straight into a scalding hot shower. After much screaming and cursing as first the dirt and then the soap washed out my cuts and abrasions I was finally able to asses the damage. Not bad! A few minor cuts and abrasions on the left elbow, hip and knee. Only one cut on the elbow refused to quit bleeding. Most had already formed scabs thanks to the dirt. I would live for another day and another trail race! And mark my words - there WILL BE another trail race! As much as I hate them I will not retire/quit until I run at least one trail race -WITHOUT FALLING!But now I had a more immediate desion to make. Actually I had already made it on that terrifying downhill section when my quads were screaming at me. Should I stay over till Sunday and run Maroon Peak? NO! Even the MADDOG is not crazy enough to tackle that mountain on sore and tired legs. Go home Stupid!The wisdom of that decision was confirmed on Sunday morning when I ran a slow, easy 7 miles along Lake Dillon. My legs were very sore and tired! So you see - even crazy people can make smart decisions once in awhile!

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