Marathon returns to Aspen Saturday

Tim Mutrie
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The enduring distance in endurance running, the marathon, originated well before the concept of running as sport.

As the legend goes, in 490 B.C. a Greek soldier ran from Marathon to Athens to herald the Greek victory over an invading Persian force twice its size. After staggering some 25 miles from the site of the battle to the Greek capital to share the news, it’s said the soldier-turned-runner then expired.

Since then, the marathon has grown (and not just to the standard distance of 26.2 miles) to attract runners of abilities from all over the world, drawn to its unique combination of simplicity and difficulty: Anyone who puts in the training can do it, but the distance never gets any shorter or easier. Each year, thousands of marathon junkies flock to cities like Boston, New York and Chicago to join the masses of bounding bodies on historic courses.

Aspen, while home to many endurance athletes, doesn’t have a rich marathon tradition. But that might be changing with the Aspen Grove Trail Races, set to start its second event in three years, Saturday at 8:30 a.m. from the Aspen Art Museum. Featuring three distances – 10K, half-marathon, and the full 26.2-miler – all the racers will follow the Hunter Creek Trail up into the Hunter Creek Valley. The 10K runners will complete a loop in the valley before descending back down to the museum on the Hunter Creek Trail, while the marathoners and half-marathoners will continue up to Four Corners near the summit of Red Mountain and descend back to the valley floor via the Sunnyside Trail and then back to the museum on the Rio Grande Trail. The marathoners will complete the 13.1-mile loop twice, for a total elevation gain of 4,600 feet.

“The marathon’s pretty grueling,” admitted race director John Oliva. “I think once might be enough, especially once you figure out you’ve got to do the loop all over again.”

At the first Aspen trail marathon event in 2000, the first marathon to start and finish in Aspen in 19 years, Aspen resident Stephen Parzialle ran largely uncontested to victory in the marathon in 4 hours, 10 minutes, 2 seconds. The next finisher, Katherine Gangler of Dillon, completed the two loops in 4:48:20 to win the women’s division.

Bjorn Grass of Bad Driburg, Germany, won the men’s half-marathon event in 1:47:22, while the women’s winner, Kirsten Newhard of Basalt, finished in 2:08:56.

“Hopefully, it won’t be too hot,” said Oliva. “But it was pretty hot last time and they put up some amazing times considering the elevation gain, the base elevation and the terrain.”

Runners may register for the event at the Ute Mountaineer in Aspen through 8 p.m. tonight, or beginning at 7 a.m. at the Art Museum on race day. (Registration costs $30 for the 10K, $40 for the half-marathon or $50 for the marathon.) Oliva expects a field about 130 starters.