Thomson sets Power of Four 50K record

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
J. Marshall Thomson of Crested Butte talks about his second consecutive win in the Powr of Four 50K on Sunday morning in Snowmass Village.
Dale Strode/The Aspen Times |

J. Marshall Thomson may live in Crested Butte, but he owns the Aspen Power of Four 50K trail race.

Thomson, 35, repeated as the Power of Four 50K winner Sunday when he shattered his own course record for the 31-mile torture test that showcased all four ski areas in the Aspen/Snowmass area.

He completed the race that started at the base of Aspen Mountain and finished at the base of Snowmass Ski Area in 4 hours, 35 minutes and 7 seconds, breaking his previous record by 14 minutes.

In between Ajax and Snowmass, of course, Thomson and the rest of the intrepid field in the 2014 trail race climbed and descended Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk — 10, 000 feet of climbing in all.

Another record

Runner-up Paul Hamilton of Durango, 28, also broke the 2013 mark when he crossed the finish line in 4:43.

Likewise in the women’s division, the course record fell to the fast feet of Boulder ultrarunning star Leila DeGrave, who had finished second in the Aspen-to-Snowmass race last year.

DeGrave, a decorated trail runner who has won in places like Leadville, broke Silke Koester’s record of 5:52.

“It was nice. It was a lot cooler than last year,” DeGrave said in the finish area just minutes after her record run. “It was nice to come back and run a little better.”

The 36-year-old runner/graphic designer said competing in the 2013 Power of Four race helped tremendously this year.

“I think it was really helpful to know how long the climbs are,” said DeGrave, a former winner of the Leadville Silver Rush. “This time it wasn’t a surprise when the climbs kept going up.”

She said the day represented a solo experience out on the trails around Aspen.

“It was such a solo day. There wasn’t a lot of leapfrogging. It was just a nice day of solitude,” DeGrave said, adding that she hopes the trail race continues to grow “and people realize how great a course this is.”

Off to Europe

Sunday’s 50-kilometer trail run was DeGrave’s last big competition before heading to Europe for the famed Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) in the Alps.

Men’s repeat winner Thomson also will head to Europe for his next set of races.

The Crested Butte ultra athlete, who also competes in ski mountaineering races in the winter, had company in the form of the tall, lanky Hamilton for the first 18 miles of Saturday’s race.

“I was out there with a guy named Paul (Hamilton), and I would break away on the climbs. Then, he would pass me on the descents,” Thomson said.

Knowing the final segment of the race was a long, five-mile downhill, Thomson said he knew he needed to create some space with Hamilton.

His steady, relentless pace pushed him into an insurmountable lead and Sunday’s record victory.

“I just kind of ran comfortably. I didn’t go out with a bang like I sometimes do,” he said.

With a trip to Switzerland for a race next weekend, Thomson said he wasn’t sure he would race in the Power of Four 50K this year.

He decided Friday to enter.

“I just figured what a better way to warm up for Switzerland than to come here,” he said. “I had a horrible race a couple weeks ago. It’s been bugging me. I had to do something after that bad race.”

He did.

“That was great to come back after the worst race of my life to win and break the record here,” Thomson said. “But I was never that confident.”

Early company

That’s because Hamilton, who moved to Durango earlier last year from Fort Collins, challenged the leader.

“I stuck with him early. We traded spots for probably the first 18 miles,” said Hamilton, who grew up in Colorado Springs.

But after the next aid station, “I never saw him after that.”

Hamilton, a former avid backpacker who only graduated to trail running two years ago, finished second at the recent Speedgoat 50 at Snowbird, Utah.

“This race is more runable than Speedgoat, and I think that hurt me a little,” Hamilton said, describing the steep power hiking of the Speedgoat event. “I didn’t feel as strong today as I was hoping I would.”

Hardrock 100

Hamilton also got a taste of the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run in his new home in the San Juan Mountains this year.

“I had a great time pacing at the Hardrock this year,” he said of the 100-mile trail test between Silverton, Telluride, Ouray and Lake City. “It was a great experience.”

Hamilton, who works in a Durango health-food story, ran part of the Hardrock trail with 2014 winner Kilian Jornet of Spain, considered the top mountain trail runner in the world.

Jornet broke a longstanding course record in winning the 2014 Hardrock.

“I got to share a little bit of trail with him; that was really cool,” Hamilton said.

Aspen’s Ted Mahon, a perennial top runner in the Hardrock, finished 10th in the 2014 record-setting race. He was third in 2013.

Yet another record fell Sunday in the 50K relay event when two valley mothers — former college roommates — teamed to win the overall relay title in 5:14. Robin Severy-Pfautz and Carrie Messner-Vickers, two former running teammates at the University of Colorado, blitzed the field and broke a record set last year by two men who split duties in the 31-mile trail run.

Severy-Pfautz and Messner-Vickers were two of Colorado’s premier high school runners at Aspen and Mullen high schools respectively.

Each took a collection of state medals to Boulder where they were roommates and part of the record-setting University of Colorado track and cross country programs. Messner-Vickers was a four-time All-American at CU and a former American champion in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

The two valley moms celebrated in the finish area with their husbands and five children.

Full results will be available on the website of the Aspen Skiing Co., sponsor of the Power of Four Events.