Golden Leaf lives up to name | AspenTimes.com

Golden Leaf lives up to name

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A summer-long drought couldn’t keep the Golden Leaf Half Marathon from living up to its name.

Despite fears of a few competitors, the race along scenic Government Trail provided stunning views of both Aspen and Snowmass Village backcountry. All 24 years of Golden Leaf racing have given competitors a tour of the valley’s pristine trails and emerging fall colors ? and competitors reported that harsh summer weather did nothing to affect those colors.

“There were some sections where the whole ground was covered with gold. We were talking about it as we were running,” said Holly Richardson, a Glenwood Springs resident and second-year Golden Leaf racer. “It was really beautiful. I was surprised, too, but it was gorgeous.”

A few of the nearly 450 Golden Leaf competitors that turned out for the race ? sponsored by local outfitter Ute Mountaineer ? were surprised to find something a bit more challenging than a walk through the changing trees. The race sent competitors on a scramble beginning up Fanny Hill at the Snowmass Ski Area, down Government Trail and through a series of paths that ended in Aspen’s Koch Park.

“I came out to see the aspen leaves ? I thought it would be a nice, relaxing run,” said Denver resident Vicki Fragasso. “You barely got to look. It was gorgeous, but you were constantly looking at your feet.”

David Witte of Yorktown, Virginia, ran Sunday’s race with five friends in preparation for an Outward Bound trip later this week.

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“We were looking for a training run today, and one of the guys saw this advertised half marathon,” he said. “It was fun ? probably the funnest race I’ve done. It’s probably because I’m used to flat, paved runs out east. This is a nice trail run.”

Nice, Witte hedged, once the first three miles were behind him.

“The beginning was the hardest because it was straight up,” he said. “My lungs had to get used to the altitude.”

Richardson said she ran into problems early on, too, but her experience with the Golden Leaf course helped her finish the race with an improved time.

“Because I did it last year, I knew how to pace myself,” she said. “What happens in the race is you basically climb for three miles and then you start going over, heading toward Aspen. If you’re not prepared for that, you get to that three-mile marker and you feel like you’ve been running double that.”

Sunday’s race celebrated a few new standouts ? Silt resident Bernie Boettcher won the men’s division in 1 hour, 28 minutes and 52 seconds, over two minutes faster than last year’s winning time, while Aspen resident Thaddeus Reichley took second place in 1:30:06. Boulder resident Scott Elliott failed to score a Golden Leaf three-peat ? the two-time defending champion was third in 1:33:28.

Rounding out the half marathon’s Top 10 were a number of valley residents, including local high school cross country coaches Chris Keleher (Aspen High) in 1:40:34 and Ron Lund (Alpine Christian Academy) in 1:44:25. Lund is known for his frequent Golden Leaf appearances ? he’s run in each of the race’s 24 incarnations.

Crested Butte’s Jill Van Tier finished at the top of the women’s division in 1:50:50 (for 26th overall). Megan Kimmell of Durango placed second among women (1:51:30), while Aspen’s own Robin Severy was third in 1:55:13.

The race also gave competitors a chance to remember a fallen friend. The Golden Leaf is often run in honor of recently deceased community members ? Chris Severy, a former Aspen High all-state cross country champ, was recognized after his death in 1999 ? and this year was no exception. Robbie Wade, the 19-year-old son of Ute Mountaineer owner Bob Wade, was killed in a skateboarding accident on Aug. 4. Competitors in Sunday’s race had the option of dropping off donations to a foundation for Robbie Wade’s two favorite causes: disadvantaged valley youth and the Prineville Smoke Jumpers.