I don’t know if you’re a trail runner; I am. Chances are if you’re reading this blog you’ve got some adventurous gene and either already are a trail - or ultra - runner, or you should give it a try. Because it’s really quite something, and entirely addictive.
Addictive, yes. That’s the reason why I am sitting in Aspen as I’m writing these lines, sore and tired and happy after just having run the Adidas Outdoor Aspen Backcountry Marathon off the couch. I may not recommend the off-the-couch approach, but the race itself… man. Here’s a new addition to my list of favorite trail races (which so far was all about Transvulcania, a jewel of a 74km race in the Canary Islands, and the original US 100 miler Western States). I didn't have any expectations for the Aspen Backcountry Marathon other than to get a good workout in, but this little race came out of left field putting a big grin on my face for miles and miles.
It’s hard to decide where to start with the accolades: the beautiful, perfectly smooth single track that characterizes much of the course; the climbing, which is just enough to keep it challenging and interesting but not so much to be torturous; or the wildflowers that were out in full force where forest single track switched off with the occasional mellow dirt road through high mountain meadows…
My personal favorite was the scenery, which is always a big determinant for how much I enjoy a race; and by scenery in this case I mean not so much expansive mountain vistas - though those are to be had, too - but running through infinite hushed aspen groves as the day’s first rays of sun are just starting to find their way into the forest. The course is fast, too, thanks to large stretches of wonderful runnable single track at mostly moderate angles. Case in point: the winning times for the marathon this year were meaningfully sub-4h.
To round things out, the race was smoothly organized and combines the intimate feel of a small field - roughly 350 runners for both the marathon and the half marathon distance - with the fun finish line atmosphere that’s typically reserved for much bigger races. The trick? The race coincides with the Aspen Ducky Derby, a big charity festival that shares a location with the start/finish.
I said it right after I crossed the finish line, and I’ll say it again: if you’re looking for a beautiful, not-quite-ultra-distance trail race to add to your calendar - make it this one. I know I’m already thinking about coming back next year for a second go at the race (which in 2017 will follow the reverse course) and to see how fast I could actually be on these trails with a bit of training...
Here are the stats:
- 2nd Saturday in August
- Full and half marathon options
- 4100ft elevation gain for the full marathon
- 6am race start (8:30am for the half, may be moved up to 8am in 2017)
- $75 entry for the marathon which this year got you a shirt, a soft cup for the race (since it is cupless) and at the finish line a stainless steel finisher’s pint, free beer and a $10 to use at any of the Ducky Derby food stands
- $2400 cash prize purse and lots of non-cash prizes sponsored by Adidas Outdoor