With no background in distance running, Dylan Bowman shocked everyone, including himself, when he ran to a third-place finish in his first ultramarathon, the 2010 Leadville 100. He quickly became a top competitor on the North American racing circuit, earning podium finishes at races like the Western States 100, The North Face 50 and the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc.
The 33-year-old professional runner moved back to the Roaring Fork Valley last year, a place he calls “one of the great destinations for North American trail running.” He explains: “The wilderness access is unrivaled. Runners can piece together amazing loops, traverses and peak-bagging outings that will leave them exhausted and inspired. Additionally, there are a ton of local bread-and-butter running options. The Smuggler-Hunter Creek area in Aspen and the Crown in Carbondale offer easy access to great trail systems.”
Racers run up Sunnyside Trail in the Aspen Backcountry Marathon.
Most mountain sports, such as skiing, skinning, mountain biking and road biking, require expensive, complex gear and a learning curve to use it. Running, on the other hand, requires little more than a decent pair of running shoes and basic intuition. With Aspen’s vast trail system in and around town and scenic trails winding through hundreds of thousands of acres of surrounding wilderness, why run on pavement? Increasingly, people are opting not to. The Aspen Backcountry Marathon, capped at 250 runners, sold out in its first year in 2011, and has since; the Golden Leaf Half Marathon and its entry for 1,000 runners sells out in minutes.
While the 18-mile loop from the Hunter Creek Valley to Red Mountain and back to town isn’t a casual run for most Aspen runners, Bowman runs Sunnyside Trail for an “in-town” outing and enjoys the 5.6-mile Cathedral Lake out-and-back for a shorter run with great views. His favorite long day? The famed Four Pass Loop, which circumnavigates the Maroon Bells in 26 miles over four passes above 12,000 feet.
According to Bowman, consistency is key. “Short runs done most days is a far better strategy than going huge only on the weekends,” he says, and suggests beginning runners get 30 to 40 minutes in six days a week.
Runners at the start of the Power of Four race, which starts in Aspen and crosses Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk Mountain before descending into Snowmass Village.
That’s what local runner and coach TJ David, 2018 USA SkyUltra Race Series Champion, discovered while training for races like Aspen’s Audi Power of Four, which covers 32 miles and 10,500 feet of elevation gain (July 13), and the Aspen Backcountry Marathon (Aug. 10). David runs approximately 2,300 miles a year and around 65 to 80 miles per week in the summer. “Consistent, easy runs facilitate the development of your aerobic and metabolic systems that form your endurance foundation,” says David.
One of the valley’s most decorated runners, Megan Lizotte, founder of coaching program Hit the Ground Running, says transitioning from road to trail begins with preparing your body for the subtle lateral motion of running on uneven surfaces. “Doing drills such as ankle walks and running backward can help with eccentric muscle strength,” says Lizotte, who grew up in Basalt and now lives in San Diego. “Running hill repeats on the road can help prepare you for trail running’s vertical component, and a core strengthening routine will help strengthen your stabilizing muscles for steep, downhill trails.”
Photography by: jeremy swanson, courtesy of aspen skiing co. and Mary Sue Bonetti