Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Jeff Valliere's Race Report: Aspen Backcountry Marathon and Half Marathon

August 13th, 2016
Article by Jeff Valliere

My family and I are still on a major high after spending a long weekend in Aspen, Colorado for the Aspen Backcountry Marathon/Half Marathon.  I have been trail racing for 12 or so years and have participated in some great races here in Colorado and the West, yet I’ll admit to settling in with a few favorites, primarily because I truly enjoy them, but also somewhat out of convenience and familiarity.  After racing the Aspen Backcountry Marathon this weekend, I am definitely adding it to my summer race calendar.
When I was first invited by adidas Outdoor to run the Aspen Backcountry Marathon in the Spring, I reluctantly turned down the offer, as it is held 8 days before my A race of the year, the Pikes Peak Marathon.  Also, with twin 5 year old daughters and complicated work schedules, I did not want to be away from the family for two weekends in a row.

One evening however, I casually mentioned the declined invite to my wife and she thought I was insane to not go and suggested we make a family getaway out of it.  That was all I needed to hear, so I threw caution to the wind and signed up.  I later learned that, new for 2016, they were offering a half marathon option, which made more sense for me given the proximity to Pikes.  Perfect! I also knew that there would be plenty of fun stuff to do for my family while I raced and so many options for fun before and after, as there is so much to do in and around Aspen for the entire family.  Endless opportunities for hiking, biking, outdoor activities and kids activities just for starters.
Views from high on the course (Jen Allen photo)

I can’t say enough great things about this race.  The organization is superb, the website is informative, with all you need to know about the race, maps of the course and local information. Packet pick up was well run and the pre-race meeting was quite entertaining, conducted by a funny and enthusiastic (very tall) dude with a mullet and Southern accent.  I appreciated the comic relief and laid back atmosphere.

Though I studied up on the course, I did not have a chance to do any recon like I would prefer, so I worried a bit about being able to accurately navigate (especially after having gone off route elsewhere in the past).  For good measure, I printed a small map along with the written directions, which made me feel good, but as it turned out, this course was so well marked with ribbon, signs and colored tape, it was very easy to navigate, even while in the red zone racing at my physical limit.
Stunning aspen groves (Jen Allen photo)

The half marathon course is a somewhat heart shaped loop that runs essentially clockwise from the race start at Rio Grande Park, downstream along the river on a mix of paved bike path and rocky, somewhat technical singletrack.  This first few miles provided a great opportunity for a relatively gentle warm up and sorting of the field, before the long and sustained climb onto the ridge of Red Mountain. The climb was entirely runnable, as it was not particularly steep, but did get a bit warm, as it is mostly exposed to the rising sun.  I was quite happy to be wearing my adidas Climachill (review) Tee and cap, as this material is airy and cool, a step above any other shirts I have ever worn.

The views on the ridge at 10,000 feet are spectacular, looking toward Pyramid and the Maroon Bells. Even better were the mature stands of aspen trees, surrounding the smooth, narrow and fast, rolling singletrack.  This was by far my favorite section of the course and without a doubt would be hard to find such a magical and enchanting trail, anywhere.
A flat section of trail on the descent (Jen Allen photo)

After the long climb and a few miles on the ridge, I was beginning to tire a bit and was looking forward to blasting the downhill and getting to the finish.  I had it in my head that the course was fairly non-technical, but this new section of course specifically for the half marathon was certainly more technical than I anticipated in spots.  I was very thankful to have picked the adidas XT 5 Boost (Sam's RoadTrail Run review here).  
adidas adizero XT Boost

adidas adizero XT Boost
The XT 5 Boost is incredibly fast, light, responsive, stable and has excellent traction with its Continental sticky rubber outsole. They even ran as well on the pavement as they did on the most technical rocky sections of the descent. Truth be known though, I did not think of the shoes once while I was running, as they performed so flawlessly, it was like they were an extension of my body.
(Jen Allen photo)

After negotiating the lower section of boulder strewn trail (that somewhat resembled the creek bed it runs adjacent to), I was thankful to pop back out onto the paved bike path, though it was anything but the easy cruise into the finish that I had hoped, since by now my legs were a little shaky and I was feeling a bit worked.

Soon enough though, I was greeted by the finish line and helpful volunteers handing out drinks, orange slices, watermelon and a nice metal cup with the race logo.  My timing was also perfect, as my wife and daughters arrived as I was crossing the line, after a morning enjoying the concurrent Ducky Derby and associated festivities.

Post race was a blast, with all of the race action going on, chatting with old friends and making new friends, while enjoying the complimentary lunch.  Title sponsor adidas Outdoor also had a tent set up with all of their latest and upcoming offerings to check out.  I can’t wait to try some of their new shoes, as they are improving by leaps and bounds.  If you runs trails, I can testify that the XT 5 Boost, Agravic (review here) and the X-King (review) are among the very best and more than worthy of consideration (with the X-King and XT 5 earning spots on my “save for special occasion” shelf).  

Prizes were generous as well, with cash awards for top finishers in the Marathon, as well as very nice awards for the Half Marathon King of the Mountain and 1st Place overall (both male and female). I somehow managed to eek out the KOM and win the overall, so in addition to the amazing awards, I also got a $200 adidas Outdoor gift card for my efforts (they had a whole stack of gift cards to hand out, so it appeared they were more generous with the awards than advertised).
Shaking hands with Loren from adidas Outdoor.

Not sure who made these, but that are quite nice and look great on the mantle at home.

All in all, this was a universally enjoyed and well regarded race, as I talked with many fellow racers afterwards and heard nothing but praise for the race organization and adidas Outdoor, (who also provided awesome tech tees for the racers as well).

A huge thanks to adidas Outdoor, specifically Peter Schuster, Loren Gwartney-Gibbs and Kristen Bujold.  
Also thanks to Toni Case and the City of Aspen, Sam Winebaum at Road Trail Run and of course my wife and daughters for joining on the trip and inspiring me to run fast.

This was such a great race and amazing weekend, I can't wait to run this one again, I highly recommend!

Disclaimer:  adidas Outdoor sponsored me for this race and provided shoes and clothing of my choice, however, all opinions are 100% unbiased.  The adidas XT 5 Boost and Climachill clothing worked perfectly and are top of the line products that I highly recommend.

(Jen Allen photo)

Jeff Vailliere's Bio
Jeff Valliere is a former pro cyclist who now runs and climbs the mountains of Colorado. He has been top 5 Masters, top 25 overall, at the Pike's Peak Marathon several times, finishing 3d Masters this year. Jeff loves vertical accumulating more than 500,000 vertical feet per year, has climbed all the 14's and 200 of the 13's and has held FKT on several.  He often runs and climbs at night. Passionate about the sport but also the gear he has reviewed hundred of shoes for various magazines and sites and participated in product testing for many brands.  Formerly a bike mechanic he now works in Satellite Imagery. He has twin 5 year old daughters who keep him ever busier yet.

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