Going for Gold
Basalt’s Ron Lund has competed in the Golden Leaf Half-Marathon a few times. Actually, come to think of it, he’s competed in more than a few.
“Last count, I think I’ve run them all,” Lund recalled with a laugh. “Just to see it develop into the elite trail race that it is has been fun. Early on, I never envisioned I’d have the streak going. It turns out I’ve been fortunate enough and healthy enough to do it 37 times. I’m going to do it as long as I can run.”
Lund is as good as it comes in the Roaring Fork Valley. Earlier this year, at age 59, Lund completed a Nevada marathon in 2 hours, 59 minutes, 16.56 seconds. Those tenths of a second were a big deal, as it put him into an elite club — he is one of only 30-some people to run a sub-three-hour marathon in five different decades.
This should be reason enough to believe Lund when he says the Golden Leaf Half-Marathon is one of the premier trail races of its length in the country.
“If anybody has been on that trail this time of year, it kind of speaks for itself. It’s pretty picturesque,” Lund said. “I actually recommend people get on the trail before the race, because in the race, you are so focused on the trail and the obstacles, you don’t really ever have the chance to look up and appreciate how beautiful it is.”
In its 38th year, the long-sold-out Golden Leaf Half-Marathon will take place Sept. 24. Beginning in Snowmass Village, runners will put their lungs to the test in a 13.1-mile race through gorgeous singletrack, ending in Aspen’s Koch Lumber Park, located just west of downtown.
But this isn’t your normal half-marathon. The technical terrain, while beautiful and full of colorful aspens, is silently brutal and unforgiving. And that’s why nearly 1,000 people — that’s the limit allowed per the U.S. Forest Service permit — descend upon Snowmass each year to compete.
After all, what runner doesn’t appreciate the cramp-inducing 980 feet of elevation gain and 1,712 feet of descent in less than a dozen miles?
“If I have newcomers that want to run something and want to challenge themselves in a different way, I recommend that one,” Stevie Kremer said of the Golden Leaf. “It’s relentless. There is no easing up at all for 2 miles. But once you hit the trail, it is gradually up and down on beautiful trails. You forget you are even running. It’s just so amazing.”
Kremer, 32, is an elite distance runner and mountaineer based out of Crested Butte. Her name should be familiar to Golden Leaf Half-Marathon die-hards, as she has won the women’s portion of the race a record six times, including each of the past three years.
Kremer doesn’t know if she’ll make it this year, saying it will be a “last-minute decision,” but her fondness for the race is unquestioned. With Kremer only having become a competitive runner in the past decade, the Golden Leaf Half-Marathon was one of the first races she competed in outside of the Gunnison Valley.
“The leaves are always at their peak. It’s just the most gorgeous time. The temperature is perfect,” Kremer said. “Although there aren’t many spectators along the course, the finish line has so many spectators that when you cross that finish line you feel like you accomplished something huge. And it’s always fun to run across the finish line with the announcer greeting you personally.”
Kremer, admitting she goes against the grain with this preference, said she enjoys the brutal climb at the start of the race. Beginning on Fanny Hill near the Snowmass Mall, the first 2 miles are almost straight uphill toward the first aid station. With the race as a whole being a net downhill course, most of that 980 feet of ascent will take place right out of the gate.
“How hard do you run the hill? If you didn’t go hard enough, then you have people that you can’t get around because of the singletrack,” Lund said of the start. “And if you went too hard, then you had to recover from that initial surge across the middle portion of the trail. So there is definitely some strategy involved.”
From miles 2 to 5, it’s mostly rolling singletrack through the forest between Snowmass and the Buttermilk Ski Area. The second and smaller of two big uphills occurs around mile 5, leading to a rapid descent from miles 7 to 10. The final couple of miles are relatively flat — including a short stretch on pavement — although, according to Kremer, it’s anything but easy.
“The last 2, 3 miles are pretty brutal,” Kremer said. “It’s a more difficult trail race because of the steep climb it starts with for 2 miles. Then it finishes for 2 or 3 miles on flat pavement. Mentally, I think it’s very tough.”
The race begins at 8:30 a.m. from Snowmass. There will be six waves, each about five minutes apart. The winners usually finish in around 90 minutes, so spectators can expect to see runners start trickling into Koch Park between 10 and 10:30 a.m.
Carbondale’s Casey Weaver won the 2015 race in 1:29:22.4. Kremer won the women’s race a year ago in 1:37:36.8.
An awards ceremony is scheduled for around 12:15 pm.
Fundamentally, the race isn’t any different from previous years. But Paul Perley, one of the race organizers, was told by a Snowmass mountain manager to keep a sharp eye out for this year’s new obstacles, which are large, hooved and unkind to runners who should dare to run into them.
“He says there has been a lot of moose present on the east side of Snowmass and that we could see them on race day,” Perley said.
Oh, and Lund? Yeah, he’ll be there, competing in the 38th annual Golden Leaf Half-Marathon just like he’s done nearly every year for almost four decades.
For more detailed race information, visit http://www.goldenleafrace.com.
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