Aspen runner conquers prestigious 100k in Alps
Running for 17 hours straight is exhausting. Watching someone else run for 17 hours is even more exhausting, especially when that person happens to be your husband.
“He looks exhausted when he finishes, but I feel like we are more exhausted, or I’m more exhausted, from worrying about him while he’s out on the course,” Kim Marshall said. “It’s hard to rest because you are afraid he could be coming quicker to an aid station or you are going to miss something. So you are just kind of on guard for a long time.”
This, however, is life when married to an endurance runner. Kim’s husband, Jeff Marshall, a former baseball player originally from Oakland, California, has devoted himself to ultra running for the past three summers. Jeff, 32, has lived in Aspen for 11 years and originally stepped into long-distance running as a hobby to keep up with the rest of the locals.
Then, last year, he picked up a sponsor in Adidas Outdoor and has taken his skills far beyond the Rockies.
“I started getting into the endurance world after living out here and realizing that’s kind of what you do. In order to hang out with people, you have to be strong and spend days out in the mountains,” Jeff Marshall said. “The thing that really draws me is not only the surrounding terrain, but it’s incredible to see the potential the human body has. What you can do over an extended amount of time is amazing.”
The highlight of Jeff’s running career so far came at the end of the summer, when he competed in the Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc CCC 100-kilometer race. The CCC begins in Courmayeur, Italy, and finishes in Chamonix, France, the midway station being located in Champex-Lac, Switzerland. Officially 101-kilometers (roughly 62.7 miles), the three-country course does a half circle around Mont Blanc, which at more than 15,700 feet of elevation is the highest mountain in the Alps.
With five major summits, runners climbed a total of 20,000 feet.
“Terrain-wise, it’s definitely the hardest race I’ve ever done,” Jeff said. “The major climbs you were power hiking because they were too steep to physically run. You could probably run the first climb, but then you’d be really setting yourself back for the rest of the race.”
Competing in the CCC had been a goal of Jeff’s for many years. In order to be one of the 1,900 people lucky enough to race, athletes had to first qualify by competing in select events around the planet. For Jeff, his qualifying races included the Leadville 50 and 100 and the North Face 50 in California.
After qualifying, athletes were then put into a lottery, and making the final cut was literally the luck of the draw.
Which is why, when Jeff hurt his knee just before the midway point of the race, giving up was only going to be the last option.
“We kind of were worrying about him because he was a little late to the aid station from what we were expecting. When he finally showed up, he did not look good,” Kim said. “You kind of know when he would be done, and you kind of know when he just needs to be motivated to go back out because he’d be even more disappointed if you kind of encouraged him to stay and not go back. You kind of have to balance that in a way. But most of the time he is capable — he just needs a little bit of motivation. He has more than enough strength to get back out there.”
After taking a half-hour break in Champex-Lac, Jeff decided to continue on and finished 100th, just under 17 hours after starting. His goal was to finish in the top 25, but considering he ran the final 60 kilometers on a bum knee, he was simply happy to finish.
“When I saw my wife at 54k, I didn’t think I could go on because my knee hurt so bad,” Jeff said. “It was probably the greatest running experience of my life. I can say that with confidence. Being in that landscape is so inspiring because the peaks and the surrounding areas are not only so beautiful, but so dramatic and so extreme that it’s hard not to be inspired by them.”
As a reward, the Marshalls spent the next week exploring the rest of France and the week after relaxing in Iceland.
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Aspen Skiing Co. will delay the opening of Aspen Highlands until Dec. 18 due to lack of a base and scant snow in the forecast.