September 18, 2003
The footrace is as old as some of the aspen trees lining the course, and in good years the route weaves beneath canopies of gold. In other years, equally memorable, the annual pilgrimage from Snowmass Village to Aspen has been a muddy, cold and even snowy (just once) mess.
But rain or shine, this Sunday, Sept. 21, for the 25th annual Ute Mountaineer Goldenleaf Half Marathon, valley residents Ron Lund and Barry Mink are running. And, you can bet, finishing as well.
Lund and Mink are, shall we say, the Goldenleaf’s “silverstreakers.”
Lund and Mink have raced all 24 Goldenleafs, dating back to September 1979. And neither plans to end the streak anytime soon, certainly not for the silver anniversary race.
“We don’t schedule vacations anymore around this time, my wife can’t plan anything,” says Dr. Mink, 62, an internist at the Aspen Clinic. “Yeah, it’s a big deal.”
“We know the streak’s there, and we just kind of grin about it when we see each other,” says Lund, 46, the coach of Alpine Christian Academy cross-country and Basalt High School track and field.
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Founded in 1979 by a group of local “trail runners,” in a time when trail running was new and unknown, the Goldenleaf was spearheaded by Bob Wade, owner of a newly opened shop named the Ute Mountaineer.
“My friend John Dozier and I were new to town, and our buddy Merle Frazier used to take us out on runs all around,” said Wade. “He took us out on Government Trail once and it just kicked our butts.
“And we decided we wanted to share that pain with all our friends.”
Nowadays, depending on weather and conditions, 400 to 500 runners join the valley’s oldest footrace – 13.1 miles mostly on Government Trail, from the Snowmass Village Mall to Koch Park in Aspen. The course has changed slightly over the years, not that Mink has noticed much.
“When I run that race, I run it a lot for nostalgic reasons, not for competition or times anymore,” said Mink. “I used to do it that way and try to win the age group. But now, boy, you run on that trail and you see a lot of old ghosts, you get a lot of memories, and it just feels good that time of year – it’s almost like an instinctual thing now.”
All in the family
Like Dr. Mink, Lund moved to Aspen in 1978 for the skiing. The 21-year-old Lund had a friend who worked for the Aspen Airport Business Center Company, and he managed to land a job mowing lawns at the ABC that summer. Twenty-six years later, Lund is the company’s field manager.
A native of Manhattan Beach, Calif., Lund grew up running, following in the footsteps of his older brothers. He ran track and cross country in high school, and eventually got into road racing and marathons.
The first Goldenleaf, however, was not entirely appealing to him.
“I hadn’t been much of a trail runner prior to that, but when I heard talk about a race from Snowmass to Aspen I thought it just sounded cool,” Lund said. “But I didn’t know the route. And the first couple were tough. It wasn’t my favorite, by any means.
“It wasn’t until the 10th annual that we realized that there were three of us who hadn’t missed one – so the streak comes into play. And now, the more that I’ve raced it, the more I’ve learned the course. And of course the more I’ve trained specifically for the race, the more it became one of my favorites.”
Lund’s best finish came in 1994 – third overall with a personal-best time on course. He has 12 other top-10 finishes, and last year, hardly slowing down, he finished 11th.
Lund and his wife, Kate, also a runner, live in Basalt with three daughters who – you guessed it – are runners too. Megan Lund, 19, a sophomore at University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, runs track, indoor track and cross country there. Whitney, 17, and Amy, 14, attend Basalt’s Alpine Christian Academy, where they both run for their dad on the school’s cross-country team.
Ron Lund founded the Alpine Christian cross-country team in 2000 while Megan was in high school. There wasn’t a team in the midvalley, and Megan had raced for two years with Glenwood Springs High School. That first year, Alpine finished second at the Class 3A state championships, losing by one point to Denver Christian. The following year Alpine came in third at state, and last year the team – despite a high school enrollment of less than 30 – was eighth.
“It’s been exciting to see this team come together and have some success,” said Lund. “But whether the team’s good or not, just giving them the ability to pursue something they have a passion for – because I have a passion for it – that’s what it’s all about.”
Barry Mink visited Aspen in the early 1970s and skied with instructor John Callahan. Mink had been drafted and was serving with the U.S. Air Force at the time, but he immediately began laying plans to return.
“John Callahan and I kind of hit it off, and even though I still had another year in the service, I said, `Gee, do you need a doctor around here?'”
Callahan suggested Mink speak with Dr. Harold Whitcomb, and in 1974-75, Whitcomb asked Mink to come on board.
Mink was a skier then, not a runner. In fact, he first took up running in 1976 on a dare from his cousin, who wasn’t a runner either, to join him in running the Chicago Marathon.
“I remember running in old Converse tennis shoes along the Roaring Fork,” Mink said. “After a mile, I was dying.”
Mink showed up for the Chicago Marathon, along with his cousin, and finished the race. His cousin didn’t. “That’s when I realized, `Maybe this running has something to it,'” Mink said.
In 1983, Mink finished the inaugural Leadville Trail 100 (mile) race, though it would stand as his only 100-mile finish after withdrawing from the race around mile 75-80 in eight later attempts. “I finally realized, well, maybe I shouldn’t do this anymore – stick with the Goldenleaf,” he chuckled.
Mink has had to summon his medical expertise during two Goldenleaf races, once when a racer dislocated a shoulder in a spill on muddy terrain. “I had to stop and help,” he said, grinning. “As a physician you take the Hippocratic oath, which supersedes the idea to get the ribbon.”
For the first time in the history of the Goldenleaf, this year’s event also includes a mountain bike race over the same course.
With all the permits, paperwork, volunteer race crews and logistics in place for the footrace, the Ute Mountaineer’s Wade figured why not include cyclists too? There used to be a Government Trail cycling race in the mid-’80s, Wade recalled, “and people really liked it.”
Both races start at 8:30 a.m. from the Snowmass Village Mall: cyclists on Saturday, runners on Sunday.
Mink, who might just be the only person to finish both the inaugural Leadville Trail 100 running race and the mountain biking race, says he’ll pass on Saturday’s bike event. “Naw, no, nope, nope,” he said, laughing. “I just want to finish the run in relatively good style; I don’t want to be crawling in.”
As for running a trail that’s been chewed up one day earlier by a mountain bike race, Mink and Lund aren’t worried. They’ve seen it all before.
“Part of this race is that the trail is a trail,” Mink said. “There’s rocks and mud and sometimes good conditions and sometimes very poor conditions, major uphills and major downhills, and it’s certainly demanding running because of the terrain. I don’t think it matters if the bikes chew up the trail or not. It wouldn’t bother me, I know that.”
“A gnarly course will add minutes, just because you really have to be conservative so you can stay on the course, but I don’t mind a muddy, beaten-up course,” added Lund. “In fact, I feel it’s an advantage. I know the course. Barry knows the course. We know every turn coming up.”
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