Challenge Aspen’s ‘Sole Mates’ combine trail running and nonprofit fundraising
Runners more than halfway through training for Catalina Island races
It’s a motivated bunch of runners who meet up every Wednesday and Sunday in the Roaring Fork Valley to train for a day of trail racing on California’s Catalina Island come October.
Some are “never-evers” who are totally new to the racing scene while others will be pushing to win their respective races, but they’re all united by a goal to raise funds for the adaptive sports nonprofit Challenge Aspen, according to Jenni Petersen, the coordinator for the team.
The “Sole Mates” team is more than halfway through a 20-week training program and has already raised more than $30,000 this year, according to a landing page for participant fundraising efforts.
“These people are really motivated — I find that every year, and we’ve been doing this since 2003. … They’re really great ambassadors for Challenge Aspen and our programs,” said Petersen, who has led recruitment and registration and helped participants with fundraising and training for nearly a decade and a half. (She’s also the chief financial officer for the Snowmass Village-based organization.)
All told, 31 racers will be running on Catalina Island on Oct. 9 in 5K, 10K or marathon distances; seven more won’t be racing but have joined the training program with a donation to the organization, Petersen said.
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There are local racers, like Petersen herself, and some other members of the broader Challenge Aspen community; one participant is training from Seattle, another from Wichita Falls, Texas.
Each runner commits to raise a minimum of $2,400 (down to $2,250 after participants pay a $150 registration fee) but participants are encouraged to garner more than that in donations.
The money raised helps fund Challenge Aspen scholarships and programs that offer year-round adaptive recreation opportunities — skiing, snowboarding, biking and water sports among them – for people with disabilities.
The fundraiser makes a big difference and produces “hundreds of ambassadors” for the organization because each racer is spreading the word to their own network and new racers have joined repeat participants over the years, according to Petersen.
“The number of donations that come in, the number of constituents that we get from this is really significant,” she said. “And the marathon itself, because we really don’t have any advertising costs, and it’s only really my time, there’s really no overhead cost at all, so the return on investment is really great on this one.”
Local fitness trainer Jen Mendez is the one who coaches participants through the race preparation process.
Though most participants meet twice a week in the valley for those workouts and long runs, Mendez’s calendar can apply anywhere, which comes in handy when racers are out of town part of the summer (or are spending most of the season in Texas or Washington).
Petersen said Mendez is a “life coach” as much as an athletic one who helps racers stay motivated throughout training.
On those toasty summer days deep into the training cycle, the ultimate goal of supporting Challenge Aspen can be motivational too.
“It’s a really cool thing about this time in the whole training process; you’re getting a little tired of going out. … You kind of hit the wall. It’s like training so much every week, and the summer is kind of hot and long, but then your fundraising picks up and it kind of keeps you going, which is great,” Petersen said.
The community aspect of group training helps too on those longer jaunts on the trails, she said.
“I can’t say that I look forward to the 20-mile run all the time, but once you get out there and you’re with everyone and you’re supporting each other, you’re just chitchatting along the way, and all of a sudden you’ve run like 17, 18 miles and it’s the greatest feeling,” Petersen said.
It’s that camaraderie that keeps Petersen coming back to train for the marathon every year.
“When you’re on the trail, like there’s no status, there’s no anything — you’re just out there in nature, and you’re just getting the most incredible experience and just getting to know people who are trying to do the same thing,” she said. “It just makes the happiest and most incredible memories, and then again, that you’re doing this week after week and you’re also fundraising for Challenge Aspen. … It’s just such a feel-good thing all the way around.”
“You have a huge goal at the end, and then when you see your teammates cheering you at the finish line, it’s like, ‘I’m hooked, I can’t stop doing it.’”
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Mountain Rescue Aspen had a busy day Thursday responding to two separate incidents.