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Backcountry marathoners go up, up, up

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
Aspen's Max Taam heads down the trail near the finish of the Aspen Backcountry Marathon last year. Taam finished second to Casey Weaver, who set the course record in 3 hours, 30 minutes, 4 seconds.
Dale Strode / The Aspen Times |

When Shawnie Mulligan decided to run in her first trail marathon, she looked up.

Mulligan, a longtime mountain biker from the Vail area who completed the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race last year, wanted lots and lots of climbing in her first official marathon as a runner.

She got what she wanted Saturday morning in the third annual Aspen Backcountry Marathon, which featured 4,000 feet of climbing.

She also got a victory in her very first marathon.

Mulligan, 35, won the women’s division of the 26.2-mile trail run around Aspen in 4 hours, 3 minutes. Aspen’s Julie Rowland finished second among the women.

The overall race winner Saturday was 24-year-old Casey Weaver of Carbondale (3:30), a former standout prep runner for the Basalt cross country program and a former NCAA Division II runner at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.

Aspen’s Max Taam, ski mountaineering racer supreme, finished second (3:49).

“I actually like the uphill better,” Mulligan said after her first marathon. “I’m a climber. That’s what I’m good at.”

The course, after starting at Koch Lumber Park in downtown Aspen, then made its way to Smuggler Mountain for the first, long, hard climb of the race.

“That thing (Smuggler) was brutal. It’s like straight up on the road; your ankles are hurting … brutal,” Mulligan said behind a brilliant smile. “But I said, at least, I’m getting the vert out of the way.”

Mulligan, who won her first trail run a month ago (a 13-miler), decided to get into trail running after years of mountain biking.

“I did a snowshoe race on Vail Mountain,” Mulligan said. “And I was pretty close to a girl who’s a really good Vail runner. So … I’ve been doing more (trail) running.”

Mulligan, a former alpine ski racer who grew up in Fort Collins, said the course and the weather were perfect Saturday morning.

“Everyone on the course was super-nice and friendly; that’s what I like about these (events),” Mulligan said of the Aspen Parks and Recreation maarathon. “The weather was perfect. I wore a jacket to start. And it was a really well-marked course. Beautiful … amazing trails.”

Weaver, the overall winner in a course record time of 3 hours, 30 minutes, agreed.

“The volunteers … everyone was great,” Weaver said after accepting congratulations for his record finish from last year’s winner, William Morgan. Morgan helped prep Weaver for his 2014 victory.

“It was a beautiful course … excellent course markings,” said Weaver, who took the lead early on the climb up Smuggler. He ran out front solo for the rest of the way.

His only wildlife encounter was a young deer, trailside in the Hunter Creek Valley.

“It was my first time on this course … it’s a good one,” said Weaver, who competed as a collegian in the top NCAA Division II conference in the nation — the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.

Weaver’s UCCS teams raced against perennial national champions Adams State (Alamosa) and Western State (Gunnison).

Individually, Weaver ran against those same national champs and more than a dozen Olympians from various countries.

“Yeah, the joke around the RMAC was that it’s harder to make all-conference than All-American,” Weaver said.

He said that he knew the last few miles of the Aspen Backcountry Marathon would be tough.

“Anytime you run a marathon, you know the last few miles are going to hurt. But coming across Castle Creek, that felt pretty good,” Weaver said.

For full results of the 119 starters in Saturday’s event, visit http://www.aspenbackcountrymarathon.com.

dstrode@aspentimes.com


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