Dr. J on Running

44 Aspen Valley Marathon

19 July 2014

Just when I thought that United could not get any worse, they proved me wrong. Following an uneventful flight from Syracuse to Newark, United cancelled the rest of my trip and gave away my seats for being a no-show in Syracuse. The fat guy who entered manually the seat numbers must have fat-fingered mine. After I convinced the Newark agent that I was in Newark and not Syracuse, she re-issued my ticket and gave me sub-optimal seats. Thus started a beautiful week-end.

We landed in Aspen in time to pick up a Prius (puke) from Avis and drive north. I checked out the Brush Creek bus pick-up for the race – 2 miles north of the airport – then picked up my race packet. The Aspen Valley Marathon held no expo, and the short-sleeve T-shirt featured black print on dark blue tech fabric. It has a fair shot at winning the designation of worst T-shirt in my 50 states quest.

The scenic drive northwest along Route 82 got me to the Glenwood Springs Courtyard in time for a short nap and an early dinner at Zhang’s Bistro. I feasted on green curried beef and vegetables on potatoes, and topped dinner with a Starbucks tall nonfat cappuccino.

I slept long and well Thursday night. Unable to find coffee at 5am, Marielle gave me a coupon for a free breakfast at the Bistro when it opened at 6am. I savored the fresh eggs over-medium with sausage and home fries, then spent the day alternating naps with half-mile walks to Starbucks for cappuccino and WiFi. I lunched on a salad bowl with grilled chicken and guacamole at Moe’s, then met Deb and Mike for dinner downtown at Trattoria Dionicia. The filet mignon with mashed potatoes tasted good, and the tiramisu scored a B – no chocolate topping, no espresso, and no Kahlua.

I slept well Friday night. I ate a banana with a 20-gram Protein chocolate Powerbar and a room-made cup of coffee, then drove 45 minutes to the bus pick-up. There I saw Larry Macon and Frank Bartocci, and the 20-minute ride to downtown Aspen turned into an impromptu Maniacs reunion. At the start, I saw Mike and Edward, Barefoot Eddie, and birthday girl Terri.

The race started at 6:01 with short announcements and a countdown – no National Anthem and no starting gun. My strategy to run to mile markers and walk to multiples of 14 minutes fell apart at Mile 1. I itched to run, so I revised my intervals down from 14 minutes to 13 minutes. Since multiplication is commutative, I figured that 14 miles at 13 minutes equaled 13 miles at 14 minutes.

We started in Aspen at just under 8,000 feet – my Timex showed an elevation of 7,970 feet. After a short jog on cobblestone streets and black top in downtown Aspen, we picked up the Rio Grande Trail and followed it for the rest of the morning. The trail started concrete, turned to gravel for a few miles, then settled on paved asphalt the rest of the way. I ran until my 1-mile GPS splits beeped, and walked until my 13-minute timer beeped.

I felt reasonably good, and forgot all about the elevation. I passed Mike in the first mile – he was suffering visibly from the elevation, although he lived in nearby Salida. Mike passed me around Mile 2, then Terri and a couple of Maniacs joined me around Mile 3 and invited me to hang out with them. I declined their invitation, knowing very well that my slowing pace would drop me behind in no time.

The race web site cautioned of bears and mountain lions on the trail. On Friday, the local media reported a mountain lion attack against two dogs in Glenwood Springs, and a race official reported chasing away a bear from the start line. I took an extra precaution by loading a dog repellent app on my cell phone, not knowing whether the high pitch sound chased away or attracted bears and lions. Fortunately, I did not have the opportunity to find out, although several runners reported bear sightings along the course.

The first few water stations were 3 miles apart, got closer by mid-race, and appeared every mile on the home stretch. I drank on average 4 ounces of fluids per mile, alternating Gatorade with water. In the later miles, I filled my hat with ice and put it on my head. There was little shade along the course, and my back and legs baked in the sun. The low humidity allowed the temperature to climb quickly from the upper forties to the low eighties. It reached 91F by mid-afternoon, long after our noontime finish.

The trail descended gradually from 8,000 feet to 6,600 feet, with the first 15 miles above 7,000 feet. I stuck to my 13-minute run-walk intervals through mile 14, then I switched to 14-minute intervals. I ran alone most of the time, and took advantage of the solitude to spend quality time with my Creator. I took many pictures along the way, and borrowed several more from Terri’s Facebook page after the race.

I caught up with Mike and Maniac-wanna-be Mark from CT past Mile 24, and spent the last two miles on-and-off walking and running with them. As the heat took a toll, I resisted the temptation to walk it in, and stuck to my plan of 14-minute intervals. Mike, Mark and I crossed the finish line in Basalt at 5:41 – Mark qualified for Bronze Maniac, I checked off state 44, and Mike added to his long list of marathons.

United incompetence book-ended a beautiful trip by cancelling my return flights for being a no-show on the outgoing flight from Syracuse!

Dr Kamal Jabbour completed his 44th marathon and 44th state at the Aspen Valley Marathon. Dr. J's RUNNING Column appears in Cyberspace whenever endorphins call.

© 2014 Dr Kamal Jabbour