Wheelchairs roll at Aspen Valley Marathon
The Aspen Times
Grant Berthiaume won the Aspen Valley Marathon on Saturday.
By an hour.
In a wheelchair.
Berthiaume, from Tucson, Ariz., and two wheelchair racing colleagues rolled into the third annual Aspen Valley Marathon as part of a national campaign to promote research and treatment for those with spinal-cord injuries.
They are in the midst of competing in 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 weeks to raise money for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the leading force in spinal-cord research,
Saturday’s primarily downhill 26.2-mile route along the Rio Grande Trail from Aspen to Basalt fit right into their 50-week race schedule (www.50abilitymarathons.com).
And they obviously liked the course profile.
“It was perfect wheeling conditions. The downhills were pretty fast,” Berthiaume said. “I just tried to maintain a good pace.”
He said the Aspen Valley Marathon was a special treat after the trio battled a hilly course in the recent Tacoma City Marathon in Washington.
Enjoy the ride
“This was kind of the opposite,” Berthiaume said. “It was fun, and you got to enjoy the ride.”
After a quick loop from Wagner Park up through Aspen’s East End, the course went right to the Rio Grande Trail and headed downvalley.
“In one section — it seemed like it went on for miles — all you had to do was sit in your tuck and just roll,” the 51-year-old said after a celebratory champagne toast in the finish area at Basalt Lions Park.
He said that even the dirt/gravel section of the Rio Grande Trail was fast Saturday morning
“It was pretty hard-packed. I was averaging about 18 mph over that,” he said. “It got a little squirrelly in the corners from sliding. But we’ve raced in a lot … of different conditions.”
Berthiaume said he had to slow a bit in the final section because of the altitude.
“The altitude affected me the last 5K. We didn’t have the downhill anymore,” he said. “I had to get on the push rims. I could feel it.”
1 hour, 51 minutes
He crossed the finish line in 1 hour, 51 minutes.
That’s a course record.
Not quite one hour later, defending champion Gary Krugger, of Flagstaff, Ariz., was the first runner to cross the finish line — 2:48, unofficially.
“I get to train with the University of Arizona wheelchair road-racing team,” said Berthiaume, who has been racing for 15 years.
“I just started getting my best times this year,” he said. “I feel like I’m getting my marathon miles under me.”
Colleague Aaron Roux rolled across in second place.
When their wheeling pal Paul Erway, of Kentucky, rolled into Basalt, he was wearing a huge smile as the third wheelechair racer to finish.
“This is a great race,” Erway said. “Not only the course, but the scenery, too.”
Erway works full time outfitting vans for disabled users. He rolls marathons on the weekends.
“You come around that one corner, and the waterfall is coming down. I actually slowed down there to take a good look around,” Erway said, adding that the efforts of the Reeve Foundation are invaluable in the world of spinal- cord injuries.
He, too, averaged about 17 mph on the dirt section of the trail.
He also had a brief mechanical issue just after the start.
But he solved the problem and wheeled on to Basalt.
Erway, who was at the Boston Marathon this year, plans to return next year in tribute.
“I was there. But I had to get right back to work. So, I had to get the earliest possible flight,” the wheelchair marathoner said.
He and the other wheelchair racers started and finished early.
“As soon as I finished, I went right to my hotel, and I got right to the airport,” he said. “ I was actually on a plane when the bombs went off. I was very lucky in Boston.”
Just like Christina Gallagher, the women’s runner-up in Saturday’s Aspen Valley Marathon. Dominika Sosna won in 3:22.
“I really want to go back and do Boston again,” said Gallagher, who finished in 3:25. “I was there last year.”
She said that she had the best race of her life in the 2013 Boston Marathon.
“My mom came out with us. It was a girls weekend,” she said.
She had been finished about an hour.
“We were right by where it happened; we were eating,” she said.
But the meal was interrupted by terror.
“It was very chaotic,” she said. “All I wanted to do was get back to my kids,” said the mother of two in an Air Force Academy family.
Now, qualifying time in hand, Gallagher will return proudly to the Boston Marathon next year.
“I really want to get back to Boston, especially after Rolling Stone did that cover,” she said of the controversial magazine issue featuring the Boston bombing suspect.
“I really wanted to get that Boston (qualifying) spot,” echoed men’s third-place finisher Brad Cooper, a triathlete from Littleton.
“It’s going to be an amazing year at Boston … a once-in-a-generation race,” he said.
Cooper said he had a two-week window between triathlon events to score a Boston Marathon qualifying time.
Mission accomplished, he said, thanks to the Rio Grande Trail and the Aspen Valley Marathon, a certified Boston-qualifying event.
Feeling the quads
“This is a beautiful course. But with that downhill, you start feeling the quads big-time about mile 20,” Cooper said.
Krugger, who won the marathon for the second consecutive year, agreed.
“The last few miles, you climb a little, and that’s rough,” said Krugger, who moved to Tucson from Erie, Pa., a couple of years ago.
He’s been winning mountain marathons in the West ever since.
Krugger won the high-altitude Madison Marathon in Montana in record time last year.
The race is entirely about 9,000 feet.
He went on to win the 2012 Aspen Valley Marathon before winning the grueling Durango Double last fall.
In the double, Krugger won the 50K (31 miles) trail run one day and finished second in the road marathon (26.2 miles) the next day to take the overall Durango Double crown.
Plus, he’s had to overcome injury this season.
“I broke my foot at the end of March,” Krugger said, adding that he’s getting close to his fitness level from a year ago.
“This year was six minutes slower than last year’s time,” he said. “Last year, it was overcast and cool.”
He led virtually from the start in Aspen on Saturday morning, although he had a couple of runners with him for a few miles.
“There were two guys with me. They were setting a pretty good pace,” he said. “Then, I turned around, and they were gone.”
Solo to the finish.
Like all the finishers, Krugger was given a celebratory (plastic) glass of champagne at the finish area.
“Of all our marathons, this is the first one with champagne,” said Berthiaume, who marked the halfway point in their chase of 50 marathons in wheelchairs.
He and his pals will be off to the Anchorage Marathon next month.
Randy Work, of Aspen and London, won the half-marathon Saturday. Mary Cote, of Aspen, was the women’s winner.
Joseph Horen and Samantha Hecht were the winners of Saturday’s 5K.
Results from Saturday’s marathon, half-marathon and 5K races are posted on the event website at aspenvalley marathon.com.
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