The Golden Leaf Half Marathon embodies everything we look for in a race: it’s challenging, it is well organized, it has a great goody bag, it showcases the best attributes of a town and the scenery is unbelievable. Aspen is a town that is often overwhelmed by its money and mystique, hiding the vibrant locals scene beneath the fur, expensive ski equipment and ridiculous cars that the seasonal residents rock. The Golden Leaf is great because its during the off season, when the locals come out to play and Aspen seems more like a real town instead of the land that rich people built. The best part of the race is the completely local vibe that permeates the whole event. Aspenites hand out the timing chips, man the water stations and dot the course to cheer everyone on. The finish line is a party where Aspen residents come to hang out with the runners, eat lunch and celebrate the race and the fall season. Once the sun sets the bars start packing with race participants and locals, making the whole day one large celebration of running that the whole town gets in to. Very, very fun.
And very hard. Starting on Snowmass Mountain and running along the Snowmass and Buttermilk ski area before dropping the floor of Aspen Valley and winding into downtown, the route is a mix of intense climbing, long open flats, and even longer sections of downhill. The race starts on Snowmass Mountain where the course immediately begins a 1.5 mile climb to the Government Trail. This is an intense climb, gaining almost 800 feet before leveling off. It fractured our entire wave within the first two minutes of the race.
Once the route hits the Government Trail it begins a long, net, downhill that contains only one more serious climb of about 300 feet right before mile 5. From there its all downhill as the trail winds along Buttermilk and eventually ends at Tiehack Road. From there the route crosses the Terral-Wade bridge and runs through an open meadow (the Moore Property), before dumping you on to the Maroon Creek Pedestrian Bridge. After the bridge the course winds through a large open meadow and through some dirt paths and on to Hopkins Ave. From Hopkins the route turns in to Little Cloud Park and then on to a final dirt path which brings you to the finish line at Koch Park.
The course can be best described as a technical trail run which means a lot of rocks, a lot of trees, a lot of stream crossings and a lot of opportunities to do serious damage to knees and elbows. The terrain results in slower times than solely road based races and the immense amount of downhill is tough on the legs. We suggest adding some downhill training to your regime before trying this race out. The trickiest thing about this route; keeping your eyes open for trail obstacles while simultaneously trying to take in the scenery. The finish line saw a lot of bruised and bleeding runners crossing the line. All part of the fun of the Golden Leaf.
Aspen knows how to put on a show, and this race is one of the town’s best. Yes, the scenery is amazing and the route is challenging and fun, but the reason we keep coming back is because we feel so welcome in a town that can often be overwhelmingly glitzy. Aspen during the off-season is when the weird celebrities go home and the locals come out to play. The Golden Leaf is a great way to experience the town at its best, without having to feel like your 10 year old car sticks out.
Do it because: it showcases the local vibe in Aspen, the scenery is amazing, and you always wanted to run a half marathon that involved jumping across multiple streams.
Distance: 13.1 miles
When: usually the last weekend in September
Registration is $35