Sunday, August 20, 2017

2017 Aspen Backcountry Marathon/Half Marathon Race Report

by Jeff Valliere

Aspen Backcountry Marathon/Half Marathon
August 12th, 2017

Once again I was fortunate enough to race the Aspen Backcountry Marathon/Half Marathon sponsored by adidas Outdoor.  I participated in the half marathon last year, which was one of the best race experiences that I have had, not only because of the amazing course, excellent race organization and the fact that it is held in Aspen, but I was able to bring the family along.  I could potentially do that for any event, but in Aspen, there are so many nearby activities and attractions to keep them occupied while I race, I do not feel guilty about being away running for several hours, as they are likely having a better time than I am (I am having fun, but in a painful sort of way).

Photo credit: Trey Kinkead
When invited back for 2017, I jumped at the chance.  My wife, daughters and I were very excited to return to Aspen and relive the good times from last year.  Additionally, this was the last weekend of summer vacation and there was no better way to top off a great summer of outdoor adventures.

The Aspen Backcountry Marathon continues to steadily improve each year and I noticed a marked improvement over 2016.  The courses for both the marathon and the half marathon have continued to be tweaked and improved over the years and this year was no exception.  Both races (the half and the full) now feature even more singletrack than before, greatly reducing the already minimal stretch of paved bike path required getting to/from the main trails.  The direction of the course also alternates each year, so it was great going in the opposite direction, as it seemed like a different race.

Another improvement is that the prize purse has been increased, paying generous cash prizes for the top marathon finishers and adidas Outdoor has also generously increased the amount of gift cards they give out for the top race finishers, King of the Mountain winners and all the way down through age groups.

There was also more great gear given out this year included in the entry fee.  At packet pickup, each racer was given a very nice adidas Ultimate Tee, then a choice of adidas running hat or visor, as well as an adidas gear bag/backpack.  Packet pickup was also very easy, quick and efficient.  Course maps were provided and the then the race meeting was informative with a description of the course, race rules, leave no trace ethics (cupless course) and everything else that needed to be covered about the race and the course.

Race tee, pack (they were out of blue/gray by the time I arrived), hat, cup and great handmade trophies.

Post race, each racer is given a nice stainless steel drinking cup with vouchers for food and drinks afterward, that can be cashed in at one of several vendors who have set up shop in Rio Grande Park in conjunction with the annual ducky derby.  I was also given a wet/iced towel (a small, but welcome comfort) after the race for cleaning off, received a complimentary massage from Aspen School of Massage Therapy, gorged on watermelon and a variety of other fruit and snacks (before cashing in my lunch coupons).

I somehow managed to pull off a second consecutive win here, accompanied on the podium by Women's Half Marathon champ, Penelope Freedman who was 3rd overall.

Race entry fees are also quite reasonable, a steal actually when you compare to other races around Colorado and the Mountain West.  Then factor in the great schwag, prizes, chip timing, great organization/support, amazing course and setting, this race is really tough to beat.

2017 Pricing:

Full Marathon

  • Dec 1 – Jan 31: $70
  • Feb 1 – Apr 30: $80
  • May 1 – Jul 31: $90
  • Aug 1 – 7: $100

1/2 Marathon (21K)

  • Dec 1 – Jan 31: $70
  • Feb 1 – Apr 30: $75
  • May 1 – Jul 31: $85
  • Aug 1 – 7: $90
As great as all of that sounds, what I really appreciated most as a father of 6 year old twins, was how much there was to do in and around Aspen as a family.  We enjoyed fine dining, went on hikes, rode the gondola, went to the farmers market, perused gem and fossil shops, rock climbed, swam, attended a jazz concert at the top of Aspen Mountain and enjoyed the Duck Derby Festival, complete with bouncy houses and kids activities that share Rio Grande Park with the race.

Easy above treeline hiking on Independence Pass

 Views from the Aspen gondola, from here you can see much of the course

Wildflowers galore at the top of Aspen Mountain

We happened upon a jazz concert while hiking above the Aspen gondola

But, Aspen is expensive you say?  Yes, of course Aspen is pricey, but there are alternatives for the budget conscious.  There are less expensive rooms if you plan ahead.  We stayed at the St. Moritz Lodge just a few blocks from town, where they have some pretty reasonably priced bunk rooms (as well as standard rooms and rooms with a kitchenette), a nice shared kitchen, continental breakfast, happy hour wine and a heated 92 degree pool (where my kids spent a total of 10 hours over the 3 days we were there).  There is also plenty of camping in the area, Difficult Campground, Weller Campground, Silver Queen, Maroon Creek, Castle Creek and Pine Creek to name a few.  Another great option is Snowmass Village, where rooms are more reasonable and a free shuttle provides access to Aspen (don't miss the Snomastodon museum).

The St. Moritz Lodge, great pool and accommodations

One other observation we made was how nice and accomodating we found everyone to be, from the friends we made associated with the race, to people we met around town (locals and visitors).  It was quite refreshing to be around so many positive and friendly people.

Everyone I talked to after the race had nothing but great things to say about the course, the town, the organization, the prizes, food, support and freebies.  Many people that I spoke with are well into making this race into an annual tradition.

Since racing in Aspen in 2016, I have been promoting the Aspen Backcountry Marathon/Half to friends, strangers and far and wide on the internet.  After 2017, I am even more impressed and will increasingly heap praise and recommend this to anyone I know who likes to run and is looking for a well run, affordable race in a beautiful setting with lots of great perks.

A huge thanks to adidas Outdoor, Pete Shuster, Loren Gwartney Morshead, Melissa Wisenbaker, Maureen Poschman, Toni Case and the Aspen Chamber of Commerce, City of Aspen and Parks and Rec..

See you there in 2018!
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
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Jeff Valliere said...


Bill Wright said...

What a thorough and great report, Jeff! You have thinking about getting back into trail races... Sounds like an awesome weekend! Congrat on the win, too.

outdoor gear only said...

You might have believe this that the marathon is such a sweet thing that you would love to do it anytime and if you had such lovely surrounding then it would be more perfect in all the way.