That’s what I’m left with after running 13.3 miles on single track trails from Snowmass to Aspen this past weekend. The Golden Leaf half-marathon course was amazing, weaving its way through three ski areas, underneath lifts, through aspen groves with changing leaves and over many rocky descents. Although I had my doubts, I really surprised myself with how well I pulled this one off. Especially considering my current state…cough, 4 months pregnant, cough.
The beginning of this race was harder than any I’ve done before. It was all uphill for the first two miles. And not easy uphills, but really steep climbing. I was happy to see that many people hiked these sections because, as you might’ve guessed, I was one of these people. My strategy for the race was to start slow and the gnarly uphills ensured that I was able to do just that. I distinctly remember looking down at my watch at the end of that first mile and thinking, holy shit, if each mile takes me nineteen minutes, I’m going to be out here for a while.
However, once the race course started leveling out and we made it to the first downhills (around mile 3), things really started getting fun. How can you not love the thrill of running downhill? You let gravity do its thing and try to just concentrate on good foot placement.
The entire race course was on single track trails so it definitely made for a stressful passing situation. Some parts of the trail weren’t wide enough for two people, so if you wanted to pass, you had to go off-trail. Some people refused to make any room for you to pass by them. And then some people got passed and got told they were doing a great job.
Fortunately, I was mostly in the last group.
Miles five through nine went by with a blur of steep downhills, muddy water crossings, kicking myself in the ankle and gorgeous surroundings. Mile eight was especially memorable because I tripped and caught myself not once, but three times on the trail. One of those involved hitting my foot against a protruding rock so hard that I needed to walk a bit to make sure I hadn’t done any permanent damage.
The race course was very well-marked and there was never any doubt which way to go. At a few points along the way, you would have the entire trail to yourself, with so much room that it was easy to forget you were running with a thousand other people. But then there were the crowded sections, where you had people right in front of you and right behind. This actually helped me because I was forced to push my pace a bit in order to avoid being run down by those on my tail.
Mile ten was pretty brutal, since we were down and out of the forest, running in the foothills outside of Aspen. It was hot, we were surrounded by brush and there was not a spot of shade to be found. After a little calculation, I think I averaged about a fifteen minute mile through the mid-section of the race.
The most interesting part of the race happened in the last few miles. In mile eleven, I ran a twelve minute mile. This made me realize that not only was I actually going to finish this thing, but I was cutting time off my miles. This is practically unheard of, for me anyway, in a race of this length. Suddenly, I felt really strong.
Then, as if I wasn’t excited enough about almost being done with the race, can you even guess what happened during the mile 13? No, I didn’t shit my pants. But I did run a ten minute mile. For those fast runners out there, this is still a slow mile. For me, this was phenomenal. My fastest mile of the entire race turned out to be my last mile of the entire race. I’m blaming endorphins.
My husband and I crossed the finish line together, with an official time of 3 hours, 19 minutes. While definitely not my fastest half-marathon time, we did this one as a family. I would recommend this race to anyone looking for a hearty challenge and a very well-organized race. Not to mention a good time…
P. S. Here’s some geeky race nutrition info for those who care about such things…for this race, I carried an emergency GU packet, only to be used in case of dire circumstances. I also cut up a Kashi bar (not necessarily my favorite, but the only ones we had in stock) and put a few pieces in my front pocket. Stopped at all three aid stations and had both water and whatever electrolyte mixture they were serving up…perhaps Cytomax. Also, Adam had a stash of Sport Beans which ended up helping me more than anticipated. I think it’s because I refer to them as magic beans. And they’re in Fruit Punch flavor. They’re like little sport vitamins, a la Super Mario Brothers, and they’re made by Jelly Belly. How can they not be the perfect energy boost during a long run?
P.S.S. Yes, I did give a shout-out to CrossFit Roots during the race. They are my secret training weapon, after all.