Aspen Times Weekly: On the Run |

Aspen Times Weekly: On the Run

by Rick Carroll
The Mount Sopris Run-Off takes runners across 14.5 miles of varied terrain outside of Carbondale.

If you lived in the Aspen area in 2010 and happened to be a runner, you either needed to board a plane, train or bus, or drive an automobile to the nearest marathon. Sure, there were shorter races that presented formidable challenges — the Mount Sopris Run-Off and Golden Leaf Half Marathon come to mind — but to get your fix for a marathon or ultra-marathon, a trip out of the Roaring Fork Valley was required.

No more. In 2011, both the Aspen Backcountry Marathon and Aspen Valley Marathon debuted, and this summer, an ultra-marathon — the Power of Four Trail 50K — is sure to test the lungs, legs and wills of those runners up for the painful challenge.

Demanding trail races with lots of descents and ascents, especially in mountain towns like Aspen, have taken off.

“It’s a trend across the nation,” said Austin Weiss, an accomplished runner and trails coordinator for the city of Aspen.

Brion After, who owns and operates the Independence Run & Hike store in Carbondale, said the allure of ultra races and trail events draws in many runners who feel they’ve done just about everything.

“I think people want to differentiate themselves from marathons,” he said. “That’s why we’re seeing more of these difficult races.”

But not all runners need to take on a marathon or ultra-marathon. And this summer’s and fall running season has something for just about everybody, be it the Race for the Cure, the Aspen Summer Uphill or the Boogie’s Diner Annual Buddy 5-Mile Race, to name a few.

Here’s a recap of upcoming races in the upper Roaring Fork Valley, starting with Saturday’s Aspen Backcountry Marathon. Only published races are on the list, and be mindful that the fees listed are pre-registration rates.




date: Saturday, June 29

Organizer: Aspen Parks & Recreation

Contact: 970-429-2093 or

Fee: $90

Registration: or visit http://www.aspenbackcountry

Worth noting: If you haven’t been putting in the hours or miles, it’s probably best to sit this one out. “I would say toward the end of your training, you need to running 50 to 60 miles with a long run of four or five hours,” said Weiss, who plans to toe the line with the hundreds of others expected to show up. “And I think it’s really about pace and making sure you don’t go out too fast.”

The marathon starts and finishes at Koch Park in downtown Aspen, with 3,806 feet of vertical gain and 3,737 of decline. The first significant climb starts up Smuggler Mountain, and then it’s off to the 10th Mountain Trail that connects to the Hunter Creek Cutoff Trail. From there, runners take the Iowa Shaft to the 10th Mountain Bridge, before heading down to the Hunter Creek Valley floor and ultimately heading down Sunnyside to the Rio Grande Trail. From there, runners go up Cemetery Lane before taking a right on Silver King Road. Then it’s off to the Maroon Creek trail and then on to Government Trail, which will take runners up Buttermilk and eventually down the base of Tiehack before crossing through the Marolt Open Space and on to West Hopkins Avenue, which will connect runners to the Midland Trail, then up the Little Cloud Trail and down the Ajax Trail to the finish line.

This is the earliest time of the year the Aspen Backcounty Marathon has been staged; in both 2011 and 2012 it was held in August, but Weiss said potential bear scares prompted organizers to move it up in the year.

“The Forest Service had some concerns about when we were running the race,” Weiss said. “They were worried that the bears are starting to pack on the pounds (in August) and they wanted to make sure the bears aren’t disturbed.”

While bruins might not be a concern to runners, Weiss said participants should make sure to arm themselves with fluids and food for the trek. There will be aid stations, but in a race like this, runners need to be prepared.

“Don’t simply rely on the aid stations,” Weiss noted.

Boogie’s Diner Annual Buddy 5-Mile Race

Date: July 4

Organizer: The Buddy Program

Contact: 970-274-0805 or visit

Contact Form

Fee: $40


Worth noting: So maybe the Aspen Backcountry Marathon is a hard act to follow, but there’s no mistaking that this traditional Independence Day race has its own set of challenges at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level — namely, striking the right running rhythm. The race starts and finishes in front of Boogie’s Diner in downtown Aspen. Those who get caught up in the fast pace of the race’s fast first two miles are certain to be saddled by the course’s own version of Heartbreak Hill — a term popularized by the Boston Marathon — on the climb up the Cemetery Lane bridge. Seasoned runners of the Buddy 5 will say you’re not done climbing after that initial ascent; following that, it’s a gradual uphill most of the way until runners reach the Marolt Bridge. Then a slight downhill begins downhill on West Hopkins Avenue, before runners take a right on Galena Street, then a left on Cooper Avenue toward the finish in front of the diner. On a good year, the race will attract more than 1,000 runners. No matter how many show up, it’s a good time to catch up with old running buddies or meet some new ones.

Komen Aspen Race for the Cure (10K, 5K, Family Fun 1-mile or Paws for the Cure Dog Walk)

Date: Saturday, July 13

Organizer: Komen Aspen


Fees: Multiple prices —


Worth noting: Any race will reveal the competitive side of runners, but the Race for the Cure means so much more to many of its participants. It’s a race to raise money and funds for breast cancer awareness and research through the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Individuals or teams can enter the race, which starts and finishes at Rio Grande Park. Both the 5K and 10K meander through Aspen’s West End neighborhood before taking the switchbacks behind the Aspen Meadows onto Rio Grande Trail. From there, 5K runners take a right onto the trail and head up toward the finish line. The 10K racers take a left, head up the Cemetery Lane hill, run a loop through a nearby neighborhood, and then head back down the hill and up Rio Grande Trail for the finish. Like the Buddy 5, both the 5K and 10K races, while much shorter than other local races, can make it tough to find a rhythm in one of Aspen’s more traditional-style footraces. The Food & Wine Classic Charity run, held June 14, covered the same 5K course, but an extra quarter mile was tacked on because of construction at the Theatre Aspen venue. Course maps for the Race for the Cure show runners will take the same detour, so expect to run farther than the distance advertised.

Aspen Valley Marathon Half Marathon and 5K

Date: Saturday, July 20

Organizer: Kat Fitzgerald

Contact: 970-309-7214 or

Fees: $120 for marathon, $105 for half marathon, $50 for 5K

Registration: or visit

Worth noting: The marathon is indisputably faster than its Aspen Backcountry counterpart, with an elevation drop of nearly 1,000 feet. Likewise, the half marathon, which starts outside of Woody Creek, also is sure to produce fast times and potential PRs.

The marathon starts at Wagner Park in Aspen and meanders through downtown before hitting the Rio Grande Trail at Herron Park. And it’s all downhill from there. Well, almost. By the time runners get to Emma, they’ll go off trail and be tasked with some hills around mile 23 before heading up to the finish line at Lions Park in Basalt. The marathon is a qualifier for the Boston Marathon, in which participants need to be eligible by running a certain time based on their age and gender.

The half-marathon has attracted more participants in the first two years, and combined with the 5K, the event drew more than 400 runners last year.

Mount Sopris Run-Off

(14.5 miles) and 4-Mile Fair Run

Date: Saturday, July 27

Organizer: Independence Run & Hike

Contact: 970-704-0909 or

Fees: $30

Registration: or in person at Independence Run & Hike, Carbondale

Worth noting: There’s some debate just how old this funky race is, but Brion After, of Independence Run & Hike, maintains it’s 34 years in the running. When After took over the race a few years ago from founder Bruce Gabow, he shortened the distance by nearly 2.5 miles by relocating the start from the 7-Eleven in Basalt to the old schoolhouse in Emma. Now, the Mount Sopris Run-Off covers 14 miles and some change, taking West Sopris Creek Road on to Prince Creek Road, then to Highway 133 — you’ll be blazing hot by then — and to the Carbondale Mountain Fair. The course climbs 1,500 and offers a thigh-busting descent of 1,700 feet.

“You’ll definitely feel it in your quads,” said After. “But you’ve got a beer garden at the end of the race.”

There’s nothing sleek about the Sopris Run-Off — course arrows are painted on rocks, as are the mile markers. And that’s part of its charm.

“It’s more of a locals’ race,” After said.

Power of Four Trail 50K

Date: Sunday, Aug. 4

Organizer: Aspen Skiing Co.

Contact: Justin Erickson, 970-300-7031 or

Fee: $75


Worth noting: This is the runner’s version of the Power of Four Mountain Bike Race and Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race, also staged by Skico. This marks the debut of the footrace, which also includes a two-person relay version, in which the exchange takes place at the base of Tiehack. The race starts at Ajax Tavern at the base of Aspen Mountain and finishes at the Base Village in Snowmass. And did we mention it includes four mountain climbs? Well, it does, and includes the descents of the four ski areas that are more famous for alpine skiing than uphill running. First is Aspen Mountain, then Aspen Highlands, then Buttermilk and finally Snowmass. That equates to 8,000 feet of vertical climbing. Piece of cake, right?

Basalt Half Marathon

Date: Saturday, Aug. 10

Organizer: Ron Lund

Contact: 970-618-2063

Fee: $55


Worth noting: This is another longstanding, no-frills race that starts at Reudi Reservoir and takes runners 13.1 miles down the scenic Frying Pan Road into downtown Basalt. Put on by Ron Lund, a longtime local running coach and runner (who’s also posted some pretty solid times over the years), the race draws up to 200 participants in a year. Runners follow the pristine Fryingpan River for a bulk of the race, which has been known to yield some swift times over the years. The winners typically crack the 1:20 barrier, if not 1:15, and the post-race party includes not just food and beverage, but a pretty decent raffle as well. It’s the perfect race for the first-time half-marathoner, but also popular with those seeking a fast time or just a morning along one of the most scenic races in the valley, as well.

Aspen Summer Uphill

Date: Sunday, Aug. 18

Organizer: Chris Keleher

Contact: 970-319-7519

Fee: $20


Worth noting: You will not find a reprieve in the Aspen Summer Uphill. It’s pretty much up, up and up. It starts on Summer Road at the base of Aspen Mountain, finishing at the Sundeck at the top. It’s 4.6 miles to the top, with 3,400 feet of climbing. The race benefits the Aspen High School cross-country program. Last year’s winner might ring a bell: Lance Armstrong.

Salomon Golden Leaf Half Marathon

Date: Saturday, Sept. 21

Organizer: Ute Mountaineer

Contact: 970-925-2849

Registration: Sold out

Worth noting: With a gain of 980 feet and a 1,712-feet descent, the race looks easier on paper than it actually is. That’s because a bulk of the race is on Government Trail, which is full with enough rocks, roots, twists and turns to keep runners focused the whole way. Weather is always tricky this time of the year, too — snow is not out of the question. But it’s also one of the most gorgeous times of the year, hence the race’s name. The 1,000 available spots already have sold out. The race starts at Fanny Hill in Snowmass and finishes at Koch Lumber Park in downtown Aspen.

Chuck Severy Cross Country Challenge

Date: Sunday, Oct. 6

Organizer: Chris Keleher

Contact: 970-319-7519

Fee: n/a


Worth noting: This 5-kilometer race is held in conjunction with a high school cross-country meet that brings in teams from all over the Western Slope. Keleher doesn’t cut any corners in making this a true cross-country course, set on the Aspen High School campus and nearby open space, throwing plenty of rolling hills in what’s traditionally the last race of Aspen’s running season. Like the Aspen Summer Uphill, Keleher has been known to give age-group winners some of his mother’s homemade cookies, which is the perfect motivation for the final sprint home.

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