Aspen Times Weekly: The Running Issue | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Times Weekly: The Running Issue

Kelly J. Hayes/Aspen Times Weekly

As we all know, Aspen is first and foremost a ski town.

But in the summer, spring and fall, it morphs into a running town. From dawn to dusk, and sometimes even under the serious moonlight, runners step out onto our streets and trails, defying the altitude with an attitude that is committed to accomplishment.

From the Food & Wine Classic 5K to the Boogie's Buddy Race to the Aspen Valley Marathon to the Power of Four 50K Trail Run, runners of varying ages and skills train regularly for races that can both challenge and inspire them. But perhaps even more pervasive are the cadre of cruisers who don't run for the competition but put one foot in front of the other as a way to get out into nature and put a little sweat on the brow.

In Aspen, it doesn't matter how far, how fast or for long you run, it only matters that you get out there. Running is the most primal of all of our sports, going back to the first steps of our ancient ancestors. All that is required for a trot these days is a pair of shoes and a path, trail or road, and you too can be an athlete.

What follows are a few bits on running in the Roaring Fork Valley that may inspire you to lace 'em up and hit the road in whichever way strikes your fancy.

Trey Barnes and the Aspen Trailheads

The sun has yet to crest the peaks beyond Independence Pass and the temperatures are just barely climbing out of the 40s at 6:30 a.m. on a July Tuesday morning.

But with cobwebs still in their heads and stiffness still in their muscles, a dozen or so runners are arriving in the shadows at the outdoor track at Aspen High School. They are there to participate in a one-hour workout with the Aspen Trailheads, perhaps the most egalitarian and certainly the most casual of all the Roaring Fork Valley's collection of running clubs.

Colleen, a local architect, says to her running buddy Candice, "I wonder what the punishment is today?" Nick, a CPA and one of the strongest runners in the group, stretches his calves getting ready to run as he greets the others with small talk. There is a sense of shared achievement among the group for simply showing up before first light for this endeavor.

A tall, thin blade of a man with a long beard is writing the day's workout with a marker on a white board. "OK, today it's an 800-meter with a minute rest, followed by a 400. We'll do that three times with three minutes rest between each rep." Trey Barnes, the founder and leader of the Aspen Trailheads, has just revealed the "punishment" for the day.

For four years now, from May through October, Barnes has hosted this Tuesday morning gathering for anyone who wants to come out and run. "There is no admission, no charge, no rules," he says. He just hopes people show up and sweat a bit. There are regulars; Colleen the architect and Sam, a newspaper publisher, for example, have been there since the beginning. But others come and go depending upon their schedules or the races they may be getting in shape for.

Barnes is a healer/teacher/ultra runner and environmentalist. His myriad activities include work as a certified therapist at the yoga studio 02 Aspen, a coach at Aspen CrossFit, an outdoor guide with Aspen Alpine, and he works on projects for Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers. He also produces, helps with organization, or volunteers for other local running events and, oh yeah, he has run 87 Ultra events of 50 miles or more — and won five of them. Raised in Lenore, North Carolina, the former basketball player (he stands a towering 6-foot-6) came to Aspen in 2014 following a stint running his own running shop in Encino, California.

"I had set up running communities all over the country in my past job before coming here and when I got here I just saw a need," he says about the genesis of the Trailheads get-togethers.

Today, the Aspen Trailheads do their Tuesday morning track thing, and then also meet each Tuesday and Thursday evening at 6 p.m. at the Aspen Dancing Fountain on the pedestrian mall. From there, they depart for one-hour trail runs that are again both casual and social. Beers post-trot are a regular occurrence. It has as much a feel of an ad-hoc get-together of friends who run as it does an organized event. And the runners like it that way.

"I just like to run with people," says Candice, who works with the Carbondale Fire District when asked why she is on the High School track at 6:30 in the morning. "And when I'm done I feel there is a sense of accomplishment that lasts for the rest of the day." Ben, a former hockey player, likes the simplicity of the morning schedule. "You show up and Trey has the workout on the board. You don't have to think about anything." And Silke, who grew up as a state champion 400m and 800m runner in Karlsruhe in Northern Germany, gets to show off her still-championship form.

As both the sun and the temperatures rise, Barnes and the Trailheads go through their paces. Bringing up the rear is a sexagenarian who is nearing his expiration date but running hard nonetheless. When all are finished, high-fives are exchanged between those who ran first and those who ran last.

For the Aspen Trailheads, it doesn't matter how far or how fast, it only matters that you run.

All you have to do is show up

If you want to run with the Aspen Trailheads, all you have to do is go to the Aspen High School track (on the road to Aspen Highlands) at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, or the Dancing Fountain by Grey Lady at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There is a little more information (but not much) on the Aspen Trailheads Facebook page.

The Aspen Valley Marathon

Coming on the heels of the Lake Christine Fire, which has burned for over a week on the outskirts of Basalt, this year's edition of the Aspen Valley Marathon may hold just a bit more meaning for the runners.

On Monday afternoon, after consultation with the town of Basalt, the Eagle County Environmental Health Department and local EMT personnel, organizers of the event received the go-ahead to hold the races Saturday, July 14, as originally planned. It was good news for those who have trained and planned for the event.

At 6 a.m. on Saturday a crowd of approximately 250 runners will line up at Wagner Park in Aspen for the start of the. 26.2-mile race. The course runs along the Roaring Fork River on the Rio Grande Trail, before finishing in Basalt Lions Park. A Boston Marathon qualifying event, perhaps the most beautiful qualifier anywhere, the race is noted for a 1,418-foot elevation drop from start to finish.

While that may make the marathon a touch more palatable, it is still a challenge with an starting elevation of just below 8,000 feet.

In addition to the marathon, the events also feature a 13.1-mile half marathon that begins at 7:30 a.m. at the W/J Ranch in Woody Creek, and a 5K Fun Run at 10:30 a.m. in the Basalt Lions Park. The total number of runners is expected to exceed 600 for the three races.

This will be the eighth Aspen Valley Marathon, which was started in 2010 by Kat Williams, a well-known local runner, mother of twins and operator of a local landscape business. Part of the proceeds go to local charities Aspen Strong, Challenge Aspen, The Hope Center and Aspen Youth Center, each of which commands a water or volunteer station on the course.

And this year, there will be a special donation-based cash fundraiser at the Athlete Registration locations and at the finish line in Basalt Lions Park to support the firefighting efforts. All proceeds will go to the local Salvation Army and firefighting organizations.

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If you're not feeling up to speed for the full marathon, you can enter any of the three races that you feel most comfortable running, but you must do so in person as online registration is closed. You can register in person Thursday at the Aspen Clinic in Basalt (located on the second floor of the Mid-Valley Health Institute Building: 1460 East Valley Road, Basalt), from 2 to 7 p.m., and on Friday at the Aspen Square Hotel in Aspen (617 E. Cooper Ave., Aspen, also from 2 to 7 p.m.

If you wish to enter, you may receive a discount of $30 off of any of the races by using the code AVM Local.

FIVE ASPEN RUNS

Go any direction on your compass from Aspen and you’ll find amazing places to run. Here are five:

EAST: Lost Man Trail

Ever run at the top of the world? The 4.6-mile Lost Man Trail loop starts out at 11,500 feet before topping out at 12,850 feet. This is for those who train to run the Power of Four or the Four Pass Loop events.

WEST: Rio Grande Trail

From here to there and back again, this mostly paved trail starts at Herron Park in Aspen and terminates 42 miles later in Glenwood Springs at Two Rivers Park. A local gem, this Rails to Trails project is the best place for novice runners to build up their mileage.

NORTH: Smuggler

Maybe the most popular trail in all of Aspen, this 1.44-mile trip to the Overlook provides an uphill challenge for those who want it steep, close and quick. Smuggler also serves as a gateway to a plethora of other backcountry trails. Get there early, though.

SOUTH: Summer Road or Aspen Mountain Trail

Yes it is all uphill, but the 4.8-mile trip up Aspen Mountain from the Little Nell to the Sundeck in the summertime provides epic views and irreplaceable bragging rights.

Not for the faint of heart, the hike features nearly 3,300 feet of elevation gain.

THE ASPEN HIGH SCHOOL TRACK

While Aspen High School is home to the Skiers, it also welcomes runners on a world-class, rubberized all-weather track. One of the best track surfaces in the state, it also offers some of the best views on any track.