Aspen parkrun – the highest in the world

Aspen parkrun route
Aspen parkrun route – an out and back, unmarshalled but marked by (today) blue arrows on the ground.

Aspen is at 2,400m above sea level (obviously the locals call it 8,000 ft, or just below, because it is still in some ways 1854 in the US, and because the number sounds bigger) and so its parkrun can boast of being the highest in the world. Previously that was attributed to Johannesburg – which run I am not sure – at under 6,000 feet. Not that I have run it, but that is quite a difference in elevation and, presumably, performance hit.

Aspen itself is beautiful – and rich. Rich enough that some of the people in town looked familiar. But I had not spotted Lance Armstrong, or some other famous millionaire – it was the botox that gave particularly people a familiar sheen. None of that at parkrun, though, which is an exemplar of fit and active folk getting out and about.

Aspen parkrun start - on the playing fields
Aspen parkrun start – on the playing fields.

The start is on the astroturf at the Aspen recreation centre, a couple of miles out of town. Add a bit if you aren’t staying on the edge of town. It isn’t quite where it is marked on the map, but near enough. The course itself is an out and back, winding its way through the school (and across a quiet road to the school) before using the High School trail alongside the main road. Views of mountains are unmissable, though the course is demanding enough that you might struggle on the way back and spend time looking at the floor. With a downhill start, it is easy to go off too quickly, and that downhill means an uphill finish. They did warn us.

View from the corner of the first bridge, mountains distant
View from the corner of the first bridge, mountains distant.

It is stunning. And hard. Prepared from South Boulder Creek last weekend, I set off more gently – my first mile, despite the downhill, was only marginally quicker than last week. It didn’t exactly feel easy, but this time there wasn’t such a drop-off in performance. I reeled in the talented 60something who had gone off ahead, and enjoyed, mostly, the run back up the hill and onto the astroturf. There, the Canadian and Australian volunteers congratulated me on a course record, but actually that is still held by Jacob Gardiner, who was more than 20 seconds quicker than me.

There was also a good contingent of Australian tourists. They had mentioned they were coming on the facebook page, so I knew to expect them – and that Chris Laird is a quicker runner than me, based in Denver and over a minute quicker at South Boulder Creek. That family alone was enough to boost attendance over the 3 runners from the week before. Unfortunately for Chris, who had fancied giving the event a real go, he had trained hard for a tricky event the day before and was left pushing his youngest in a chair, while his eldest completed his 8th parkrun next to him. Dad David, who lives in Newcastle (where I have run) was well pleased with 6th place, though reckoned he had worked hard for it.

It’s a great event, one that may grow from small beginnings. Aspen is well worth a visit, though you’ll need a second mortgage to stay in any luxury. The cheapest bed in town is at the St Moritz Lodge, at $78 +tax for a dorm bed. The place is immaculate, though, and you can use the pool, swap towels as you like, enjoy a glass of wine (included) every evening and so on. At half the price it would be the bargain of the century. As it is, the frills take the edge off the pain of paying.

I travelled the cheap way, local bus to/from Glenwood Springs and the Greyhound to/from there and Denver. There is an airport at Aspen itself, but there may not be particularly cheap flights from there. It’s a pretty glitzy place, though; check out (just some of) the private plane parking at Aspen airport, below.

Private planes at Aspen airport
Private planes at Aspen airport.

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