Need directions to a trail around Aspen?
Ask Megan Lund Lizotte or Morgan Williams. They certainly know their way around.
Williams and Lizotte, a pair of Roaring Fork Valley runners, successfully navigated the area’s backcountry trails Saturday morning to win the third annual Aspen Backcountry Marathon.
Williams, a longtime trail runner from Carbondale, completed the 26.2-mile trek that included nearly 4,000 feet of climbing in 3 hours, 38 minutes, 45 seconds.
He pulled ahead of Michael Barlow, of Aspen, on the final big ascent of Buttermilk to win the men’s division of the race, sponsored by the Aspen Parks and Recreation Department.
Lizotte, a Basalt native and member of the U.S. Mountain Trail Running Team, won the women’s division Saturday and finished third overall in a blazing 3:55:15.
Second and third in the women’s division went to the mother-daughter duo of Anita and Amelia Ortiz, of Eagle.
Jason Murphy finished third in the men’s category (4:09).
“The temperatures were amazing (Saturday),” Williams said in the finish area at Koch Park. “It was nice and cool. We even got a little rain up in Hunter Creek, which was super-helpful.”
Williams led virtually from the start, which left Koch Park at 6 a.m. Saturday.
By the time the runners started up Smuggler Mountain, Williams already led the field of 140 backcountry marathoners.
After climbing Smuggler, the course dropped into the Hunter Creek Valley.
From there, the runners worked their way up and around the Sunnyside Trail, including the treacherous downhill section.
“Coming down Sunnyside, (Barlow) caught me. He was really cruising downhill,” said the 32-year-old Williams. “I’m not super-strong on the downhills.”
But when the course turned flat with the slight climb up Cemetery Lane, Williams regained the lead for good.
“When we hit the uphill, I knew my legs were toast,” said Barlow, who practiced the tricky Sunnyside descent before this year’s race. “That was the one part of the race for me last year that was really lacking.”
This year, he made up ground and even took the overall race lead on the downhill.
But, he said, he didn’t have the legs to finish strong on the crossover to Buttermilk, the climb up Buttermilk and the traverse back into Aspen via the Midland Trail, with a finishing stretch on Little Cloud Trail and the Ajax Trail, leading right into Koch Park.
Barlow, a 27-year-old who competed in ski-mountaineering races over the winter, said a race highlight was seeing a fox as he ran down into the Hunter Creek Valley.
Originally from east Tennessee, Barlow moved to Aspen after attending Colorado College in Colorado Springs.
“I tripped coming down Sunnyside, and I took a tumble,” said Williams, who recovered to win the race. Williams, a teacher in Carbondale, is a former prep standout in track and cross country in Phoenix.
He ran one year at the University of Colorado, he said, before he discovered kayaking, skiing and trail running for fun.
“This is a beautiful course. At the end, I was tired going up Buttermilk. But the climb wasn’t so bad. And it felt good coming back toward Aspen,” Williams said.
He also achieved his goal of running the course in under 3:50.
He’ll race next in Telluride at a 38-mile trail run with 12,000 feet of climbing.
Lizotte, the women’s winner who also won the Aspen Food & Wine 5K three weeks ago, will race next in the USA Mountain Running Championships. Then, she’ll target a big, international trail race in Switzerland — a race she’s won before.
She dominated the women’s division Saturday, running some of her favorite upvalley trails.
Lizotte, a standout at Basalt High School, ran at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs before turning pro.
“The course was wonderful. It was perfect weather,” Lizotte said, adding that the Sunnyside section was a critical part of the race.
“I ran the Sunnyside section a couple of days ago to get an idea of what the course conditions would be like,” Lizotte said. “Coming down, I was tripping over everything.
“But for some reason (Saturday), it went great, and I didn’t trip at all.”
Saturday’s trail marathon was her longest race of the year as she prepares for the U.S. championships.
She also used Saturday’s race to practice refueling and hydrating for longer, tougher races.
“I wanted to use this as practice for the race in Switzerland, practice for my fueling,” she said, adding that she is learning to eat and manage nutrition for longer endurance events.
“Really, I felt great the whole time (Saturday),” Lizotte said.
While runners from the Roaring Fork Valley dominated the entries in Saturday’s Aspen Backcountry Marathon, the Front Range had strong representation from Denver, Boulder, Evergreen, Golden, etc.
Other runners represented San Francisco, New York City, Marietta, Ga., and Rio Rancho, N.M., among others.
Results of Saturday’s race will be available on the race website at www.aspenbackcountrymarathon.com