Longtime friends complete virtual NYC Marathon try in Aspen, keep streaks going
After falling through a trapdoor in his Telluride home a couple of weeks ago, Chris Busbee wasn’t sure if he’d be able to keep his streak going. He had run in every New York City Marathon since 1998 and was going to run it virtually this year in Aspen before his spill put all that in jeopardy.
“It was like somebody had beat me up with a baseball bat. But I guess the bottom line is it could have been 100 times worse,” Busbee recalled. “I can sit here in the house and watch college football and be miserable, or I can go walk/run down the Rio Grande Trail and if I’m miserable, at least I’m miserable with a great view with great weather with a great friend. Thinking that was the lesser of two evils, I got in the car and drove to Aspen.”
Busbee, 57, wasn’t alone in wanting to keep his streak alive. Close friend Mike Kloepfer, 66, has been by his side through most of it. The two ran their first New York City Marathon in 1996, before they had met, and Kloepfer hasn’t missed one since. Busbee skipped the NYC race in 1997 for another, but returned in 1998 and the duo has kept each other accountable from there.
The New York City Marathon was first held in 1970 and is considered the largest marathon by participation in the world, with more than 50,000 taking part each year. The 2020 race would have taken place Sunday, Nov. 1, but was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. In lieu of the real race, a virtual option was available with Busbee and Kloepfer opting to run theirs along the Rio Grande Trail from Aspen to Carbondale last weekend.
“I’m like a sea-level sissy … he chose it and he roped me into it,” said Kloepfer, who lives in San Francisco, about Busbee picking Aspen for their virtual marathon. “That trail was gorgeous and it was a beautiful day.”
Both have ties to the area, so picking Aspen wasn’t anything exotic. Kloepfer lived in Colorado when he was younger, and Busbee has long had a love for the Roaring Fork Valley and even lived in Aspen one winter back in the day. A former NYC resident who is originally from Texas, Busbee has continued to make the trek to this area in recent years for both skiing and lacrosse.
“I felt like this would be something fun and unusual and different,” Busbee said. “That’s just one of the most beautiful walks, runs, bike rides in the world on the Rio Grande Trail from Aspen to Carbondale. It was just spectacular. It really exceeded my expectations. We went real slow. The time went by quickly and it was a lot better than sitting in the living room watching football.”
GETTING TO THE STARTING LINE
With or without Busbee, Kloepfer was going to spend that weekend in Aspen, mostly thanks to a non-refundable deposit on lodging. They ran their virtual marathon on Saturday, Oct. 24, just getting it in before last weekend’s snowstorm.
However, Busbee only made the decision to drive to Aspen that Friday, a mere three days after his accident. That Tuesday, after a short run in Telluride, Busbee walked into his pantry for a snack and fell through a trapdoor he said was left open by the plumbers. He fell about 7 feet and broke a couple of ribs, among a smorgasbord of other injuries, many of which required stitches and left him bruised.
“The next thing I know the wind has been knocked out of me like I’ve fallen on a football and people are screaming,” Busbee said. “I didn’t hit my head hard enough to have a concussion or anything. Really lucky it wasn’t a lot worse and I was still kind of able to function.”
Determined to keep his streak alive, Busbee made the most of it. It was hardly a traditional marathon, with both deciding to walk or jog most of the 26-plus miles. They even stopped to refuel at Woody Creek Tavern, finally making it to the finish line in Carbondale in a touch under nine hours after their 8 a.m. start in Aspen. Back in their heyday, both men could run around three-hour marathons.
The pair had plenty of company along the way, with family and friends joining in for various parts of their downvalley journey.
“I never intended to run it very quickly,” Kloepfer said. “It was kind of like a walking party. We were probably walking/jogging about 15-minute miles. It took us 8 hours and 46 minutes. We both felt great at the end. My wife had a couple cold beers for us in Carbondale.”
Both Kloepfer and Busbee have long run the NYC marathon as part of Fred’s Team, which supports pediatric cancer research through Memorial Sloan Kettering. Busbee estimates they have raised around a half-million dollars over the years.
Those interested in donating can find the link here.
Busbee also said the charity part of their experience has been life-changing, on par with what the New York City Marathon itself has meant to them over roughly a quarter of a century.
“The doors that have been opened to me and the people I have met, it’s almost incomprehensible over the years,” Busbee said. “I hope we can do it for another 20 years. I’m not sure, but we’ll both keep going until we can’t. I’m shocked and as surprised as anybody that both of us have made it this many years.”
A FRIENDLY WAGER
A key piece of Kloepfer and Busbee’s friendship is their bet, which is to see who can become the first to run in 25 New York City Marathons. Counting this year’s virtual run, Kloepfer has now completed 24 and Busbee 23, his absence in 1997 keeping him one back of his friend.
Kloepfer said he was having a bit of an ethical dilemma about possibly running without Busbee had his injuries kept him from joining last weekend.
“I said to my wife, ‘Is this like putting my foot on his throat if he’s hurt and I go ahead and do this?’” Kloepfer said. “She said, ‘He’d do the same to you.’ It’s a fun, friendly rivalry.”
Should Kloepfer finish his 25th next year — virtual or not — he’ll take the prize. The winner gets dinner from any restaurant in the world, obviously paid for by the loser. Barring a late rally, Busbee looks forward to paying off the bet when Kloepfer gets to that milestone number.
“I’m very fearful of Mike reaching 25 because he’s a foodie, and he’s very experienced in eating expensive meals globally. I guarantee you when he wins, the first part of this bet we will eat somewhere where a plate of asparagus costs $125,” Busbee joked. “I’m sure it will be something where I will say, ‘Losing this bet, I got two or three times my money’s worth.’ There is no question. And I look forward to that day of him ordering that ridiculously expensive bottle of wine. I really hope we get there and I’m confident we will and I can’t wait to pay it off.”