Friendly rival keeps Power of 4 winner on course

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times

Thank you, Matthew Barlow.

Crested Butte’s J. Marshall Thomson was first to cross the finish line Saturday morning in the inaugural Power of 4 50-kilometer trail race.

Then, Thomson was first in line to congratulate Barlow on his runner-up finish and first to thank Barlow for keeping him on course and out of the woods.

“He saved me,” an animated Thomson said as he graciously thanked the Aspen runner for saving him from what could have been a disastrous wrong turn near the top of Elk Camp at the Snowmass Ski Area.

“I didn’t really know the course or do my homework,” Thomson said. “Yeah, then the third time I got lost, I thought the course must go up. So I was going up.

“Luckily, he saw me and started screaming, ‘Wrong way! Wrong way!”

Thomson, with arms outstretched in the finish area at the base of Snowmass, told Barlow that he would have been hopelessly off course if not for Barlow’s competitive camaraderie.

“It was just past Elk Camp,” said Barlow, who finished second earlier this summer in the Aspen Backcountry Marathon. “I had run the course earlier in the week. And I’ve run with (Thomson) before. I knew he should be about 20 minutes in front of me.”

But Barlow looked up as the course turned down.

“I saw him up there, and I knew something was not right,” said Barlow, who bellowed out to Thomson.

Barlow had encountered Thomson earlier in the four-mountain traverse that started at 6 a.m. Saturday at the base of Aspen Mountain.

“I tried to stay conservative to Tiehack,” Barlow said. “But I was coming down Midnight Mine (Road), and I saw him up ahead of me, so I … picked it up.”

He said the two ran together briefly as they worked their way up Aspen Highlands, the second of the four mountains in the Power of 4.

“Then, he (Thomson) just blasted down Highlands,” Barlow said of the route down Summer Road to the base village.

Thomson extended his lead across Tiehack and Buttermilk, climbing the Government Trail to Snowmass.

With the course correction at Elk Camp, Thomson rolled home.

Barlow finished the 31-mile trail run in 4 hours, 50 minutes and change.

“That was about 10 minutes faster than I thought I could run,” Barlow said of the course with more than 9,000 feet of climbing and a similar amount of descending.

He was just a few minutes behind Thomson, an accomplished ski mountaineer who has competed numerous times in the Grand Traverse ski race from Crested Butte to Aspen. Official results will be available on the Aspen Skiing Co. website (www.aspen

Thomson will compete in another high-altitude test next weekend when he’s scheduled to race in the Quandary Crusher, a race in Summit County near Breckenridge.

“That’ll be a quick up-and-down, an hour and 20 minutes of puking,” said Thomson, a popular bartender in Crested Butte when he’s not running trails. The Summit County race will take runners to the top of 14,000-foot Quandary Peak.

“Then, the next week, I’ll do Pikes Peak,” he said. “That’s a big one.”

Barlow is headed to southwestern Colorado next for the Imogene Pass Run.

“And I’m on the list for the Run Rabbit Run,” he said of an upcoming 50-miler in Steamboat Springs.

Aspen ski patroller Max Taam finished third overall in Saturday’s trail run — the first to complete the Power of 4 double. He finished sixth in Saturday’s Power of 4 Mountain Bike Race.

For more on Taam’s endurance double, see the sports feature on page A14.

Brandon Stapanovich, a decorated trail runner from Manitou Springs with 50-milers to his credit, finished fourth. He promptly headed for the Red Bull ice tub in an effort to ice down and cool off his burning legs.

Valley runner Alex Tiernan, who was as far back as 12th in the second half of the race, rallied to finished fifth. Lindon Mallory, of Aspen, was sixth.

While the men’s top finishers shared the trials and tribulations of the trail, so too did the women’s leaders.

“Yes, it was friendly company. We know each other,” women’s winner Silke Koester said.

Koester, from Boulder, finished just a few minutes ahead of Leila Degrave, who lives at 10,000 feet in Leadville.

“It was a lot harder than I was expecting,” the women’s winner said. She finished in under six hours (5:56). “Even though the climbs got progressively easier, they felt harder.”

“I felt a little slow in the first half (of the race). But then, I kind of warmed up,” said Degrave, who recently finished ninth in an ultra-mountain run, the Western States 100.

“I couldn’t catch her, though,” she said, motioning to Koester. “She was too steady.”

Degrave this year already has completed two 50-milers and the 100-miler.

“This was a little shorter run for me,” she said, joking about coming down in elevation from her home at 10,000 feet.

“The air feels a little bit richer here,” she said.

“It’s really fun competing here,” Koester said. “The first half of the course, you have some amazing views of the Maroon Bells. It was just stunning. That’s why I do this.”

Aspen’s John Hughes and Brian Johnson teamed up as the first two-person team to finish Saturday.

Matt Huber and Ben Carlson were second in the unofficial results.

Mary and Giles Cote were the first coed team to finish the event, sponsored by Aspen Skiing Co.