Aussie settles for win in Aspen marathon
July 1, 2002
Australian Jonathan Workswick arrived in the States last week expecting to run a 100-mile endurance race through the Rocky Mountains. Instead, he had to settle for a paltry marathon through Aspen’s foothills.
Workswick was a bit overqualified for Saturday’s Aspen Grove Trail Races – though the event boasted a 26.2-mile marathon, 69 of the race’s 84 participants signed up for either a half marathon (13.1-mile) or 10K jaunt along Aspen’s scenic hiking trails. However, many of those racers stuck around to see Workswick cross the finish line Saturday as he claimed a first-place finish in the marathon with a time of 4 hours, 27 minutes and eight seconds.
“This is actually short for me,” Workswick boasted shortly after crossing the finish line. “I do ultra distance – 100-mile, 50-mile races – so this is a bit quick for me.”
Workswick and his wife arrived in Boulder last Wednesday to visit friends and prepare for a 100-mile race scheduled in Silverton. When wildfires forced the cancellation of that race, Workswick scoured the Internet for a comparable event.
“I only saw this race advertised two or three days ago,” he said. “I entered this morning (Saturday) and drove up yesterday from Boulder.”
Though he finished less than 20 minutes behind the trail marathon’s record – 4:10:02, a time recorded in 2000 by Aspen resident Stephen Parzialle – Workswick expressed disappointment in his time. He blamed a combination of jet lag and altitude sickness as well as a challenging course.
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“If I knew how hard it was, I would have gone for a run yesterday,” he said. “I’m not climatized yet – I came from sea level a few days ago. On the second lap, I couldn’t run up the hills, so I was sort of walking and breathing heavily. As soon as I hit the downhills I’m fine – it’s the uphills that are just a killer.”
Fellow racers also cursed the uphill portion of the Aspen Grove race – the race course began with a daunting two-mile climb up the Hunter Creek Trail and into the Hunter Creek Valley. From there, racers crossed the 10th Mountain bridge toward Four Corners, then over Red Mountain and down the Sunnyside Trail onto McClain Flats Road. Competitors finished with a jog to the Rio Grande and back to their starting point, the Aspen Art Museum. Marathoners like Workswick completed the 13-mile loop twice.
Though Aspenites are familiar with many of these well-traveled trails, a good percentage of Saturday’s racers were using vacation time to compete. Race organizer John Oliva reported that many racers – some from as far away as Texas, Alabama or Montana – registered online using athlete-specific Web sites like active.com, while others spotted advertisements in Runner’s World Magazine.
“I think a lot of people either plan their vacation around this or vice versa – their vacation happens to be in Aspen around June and they tweak it to make it fit in this weekend,” Oliva said.
Annette Burenheide of Lubbock, Texas, spent a few days in Aspen with two friends during the first leg of a week-long “girls’ trip.” While Burenheide signed up for the Aspen Grove 10K, her traveling companions – identical twins who crossed the finish line hand-in-hand – finished the half marathon.
“They like to run so much that a race had to be wherever we took our trip,” Burenheide said.
Though visitors weren’t afraid to attempt the grueling race, Burenheide said she heard many of her fellow competitors found difficulty when dealing with the elevation gain.
“The altitude was something that we were really concerned about,” she said. “It was hard to get adapted to, but once we got up there and it leveled out, we were okay.”
Robin Etu of Boulder tried her hand at the 10K, while her fiance fought his way through the full marathon. Though Etu was accustomed to the altitude, she reported that the trails themselves also offered a few hazards.
“It was definitely challenging,” she said of the race. “There were parts where hiking fast was encouraged as opposed to the running.”
One such area, the scree-filled Sunnyside trail, caused a few tumbles among racers.
“I think it was the steep section on Sunnyside – that really loose, rocky section,” Oliva said.
Oliva reported that only three of Saturday’s 84 racers suffered injuries on the course. Luckily, the racers who suffered twisted ankles and scraped knees were able to finish the race on their own.
The Aspen Grove Trail Races will be back for a third year in 2003 – however, Oliva reports that the race will kick off at 7 a.m. next year to help competitors avoid the afternoon heat. This weekend, a few racers were forced to drop out of the marathon to avoid the 90-degree temperatures that scorched the race course.
Oliva also hopes to expand the event in order to draw racers of Workswick’s caliber to Aspen.
“We hope to make it a little bigger, with maybe 200 people next year,” he said. “We don’t want to make it huge because we don’t want to destroy the environment back there [on Aspen’s trails], but we want to grow it a little bit.”
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