Every person who loves beautiful fall foliage, gorgeous mountain views, a fun personal challenge, and an epic ski town has to do this race at least once!!!!  Aspen Golden Leaf Half   This race was recently rated by Trail Runner Magazine as one of America’s Top 14 Most Scenic Races.  This is my fifth year running this race and I will probably be running it for as long as they continue to host the event.  The Aspen Golden Leaf Half trail race is a spectacular run that takes you from Snowmass into the town of Aspen on the Government Trail’s sweet singletrack. The date of this event is perfect for peak fall foliage viewing.  It is always the 3rd weekend in September.  The event is extremely well-coordinated and sponsored by Ute Mountaineering in Aspen.  Your entry fee gets you a technical tee, a pair of Smartwool socks, and typically some Clif Blocks or some other similar schwag.  Start time is a nice 8:30ish (depending on your time wave).  [slideshow]

So, let’s talk about what the race itself is actually like.  I won’t lie, for the average trail runner like myself, the first 1.5 miles is a real humdinger, lung-burner.  It’s 1000 feet of elevation straight up a forest service road.  At this point you’re at about 9600 elevation.  Once you’ve gotten past this first challenge (where you swear will you never, ever think of doing this race again), the trail is an undulating gorgeous run through aspen groves, pine forests, and across open fields that are ski runs in the winter.  The views of the surrounding mountains are gorgeous and the color of the aspens across all of the hillsides is breath-taking.  There is another 300 feet of climbing at about the 5 mile mark.  At about mile 8, you begin a bomber downhill run for a few miles.  For the last 2 -3 miles, you’re on the flats into Little Cloud park in Aspen proper.

The cool part of this event doesn’t end once you reach the finish line.  This is one post-race expo for which it is definitely worth sticking around.  The food is always quite good and the post-race raffle is probably the best in the country.  Thanks to Ute Mountaineering’s vendor relationships, there is a seemingly endless amount of raffle items for runners to win.  These are no mere raffle prizes.  In the past, raffle items have included BD trekking poles, Smith sunglasses, Vasque trail-runners, Chacos, Patagonia windstopper jackets, restaurant vouchers, Aspen Sky hotel vouchers, etc.  Todd has won items in the raffle the last two years:  one Timex watch and one Patagonia technical long-sleeve shirt.  As a runner you are automatically entered with your bib number into this raffle.  Just make sure you listen carefully for your number.  I’m sure you wouldn’t want to miss out on a new backpack!  One other note, this race generally fills up quickly so if you’re up for the challenge make sure you register early.

Trust me on this one, you won’t regret it!!  Have fun!!