Roger Marolt: Meet me at the intersection of Yellow Leaf Road and Memory Lane
I saw my friend, Ron Lund, after the Golden Leaf Half Marathon on Sept. 28.
“Pretty nice day for a run,” I remarked
“Yeah,” he replied. “For the 41st time.”
At first I thought it was a quip about how many times he’d already replied to the superfluous meteorological observation that morning. I understood. After running 13.1 miles through the woods, you can’t blame a guy for not having the energy for small talk about the weather. I’d probably heard the remark at least that many times myself. I was a little tired of it and I didn’t even run in the race.
Then it occurred to me; he wasn’t being curt. He meant that the day was about as perfect for running this race as it had been for the previous 40 of them. In other words, he’s never missed one!
On one hand, that is a truly remarkable accomplishment. On the other, it is about what I would expect from the longtime Basalt High School cross country coach and legendary local runner who won so many running races that his name appeared in the sports page about as often as the word “the.”
It got me thinking about how cool this event is. Start with the fact that you begin in one beautiful town and finish in another. Then consider that you are running through a forest in the mountains. Throw in that it happens when the autumn leaves are so mesmerizingly brilliant that many athletes forget that they are actually running 13.1 miles, and complete the picture with a finish line set up in the middle of a community picnic.
It is no wonder they have to cap the number of participants at a 1,000 and probably turn down that many again each year.
When my kids were in college, approaching the day of reckoning when that would all come to a sudden end and they would have to go out and seek their fortunes, they asked what I did after I got out in 1984.
The truth was that I didn’t have a lot going on. The country was in deep recession and work was tough to find. Still, I felt like I had to tell them something. “I ran the Golden Leaf Half Marathon that fall,” I said proudly. I also mentioned that I did the short-lived Aspen Triathlon and swam laps in the lake on the 16th hole of the Aspen Golf course for training. The second part of the story didn’t excite them too much, but the first did.
“I want to do the Golden Leaf!” My eldest daughter exclaimed. And a spark was lit under my wife’s feet, too. And, so, they trained the summer she graduated and did the race together before she started work in Denver.
There were many lessons learned. The one I remember most happened in the middle of a training run on the course when my daughter was suffering. The way she tells it, she stopped in the middle of the woods somewhere up on Government Trail, pulled out her phone, and tried to cancel her entry online, right then and there.
After crying a little upon discovering she had no cell service there, she pulled herself together and finished the training run. Reluctantly, she woke early the following Saturday and went through with the race. I’ll never forget the pure joy in her exhausted countenance as she came across the finish line. There had been a transformation somewhere along the stony path. And, a family tradition was born.
My son, who graduated this year, ran the race with my wife last weekend. It has become a bonding experience with our kids at a transitional point in all of our lives exactly when we need it most. It has become sort of symbolic for us — moving on at different speeds, but wholly together. Even I, the support crew, have an important role to play.
Our youngest daughter is a sophomore in college but is already talking about her first shot at the Golden Leaf in a few years. Let’s just say she’s tinkering with the trail shoes already, trying to get a jump on the competition that loves her most.
I hope that someday maybe we can all run the race together, at our own paces, covering familiar ground our own ways, sharing hugs and tears and great stories at the finish line, just like we will live our lives now. It seems like it might be a long shot at finishing a good metaphor, but who knows? If my friend, Ron, has completed 41 of these races and is still going strong, who can doubt the magic here?
Roger Marolt wishes he still had his T-shirt from the 1984 Golden Leaf Half-marathon. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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