Gaspin’ in the Aspens

Last Saturday was the final and sixth race of the Run Flagstaff trail running series. The race takes place at the Flagstaff Nordic Center, which is situated at 8,000 feet above sea level. The race is called “Gaspin’ in the Aspens”, because of the elevation and because parts of the race course goes through spectacular aspen groves. The race this year was organized and coordinated by Ian Torrence, a well know Flagstaff ultra runner. Ian also is the organizer for the Grand Canyon Stage Coach race, which is a 100 mile race that leaves Flagstaff and follows the old stage coach path to Grand Canyon National Park.

Gaspin’ in the Aspens features two different race distances. There is the 5K race which my daughter was running, and the 15K race which I was running. This is my third year of running this race, and it is always one of my favorites. It had rained the day before the race, and it was cool that morning. The trail was well packed with moisture and not dusty like it normally is when the race used to take place in July. There was even some puddles out on the course. The course is all dirt trails, that get covered in snow during the winter and are cross country ski trails during the winter months.

My daughter and I arrived a little early to the Nordic Center since we had not had time to pick up our race bibs the night before. The Flagstaff High School cross country team was volunteering to park vehicles in the parking lot. Each student would direct you to where you needed to park. Since the Nordic Center is leased U.S. Forest Service land, the race only allows 300 runners total. This race always fills up fast each year and registration closes quickly.

Pajama pants at the 2014 Gaspin' in the Aspens race

Dirk in his blue plaid fleece pajama pants at the 2014 Gaspin’ in the Aspens race.

Because it was cold outside that morning, I had put on my blue plaid fleece pajama pants. I use these pants just to stay warm before the race, and take them off before I run. I know I have written already about my infamous blue plaid running pants, but they are quite warm on cool mornings like this. Why do I wear these crazy pajama pants to races? Number one, they are inexpensive to purchase. One reason I always enjoyed trail running is that the only item you need to buy is a sturdy pair of running shoes. Lately, I have been running in Salomon trail running shoes. I love my Salomon shoes, but they are slowly inching towards the $200 price range for the S Lab series. The shoes I wear are in excess of $100. These funky blue plaid fleece pants I wear cost only $11.99. If you were to buy your typical running pants, they would be around $60. Second, the fleece pajama pants are easy to put on and take off with running shoes. The pants I wear are an XL, even though I’m a size L. They fit loose enough so that I can just slip then on and off right over my trail running shoes. No fancy zippers that seem to break, like the zippers that you find on the $60 running pants. The fleece pajama pants are very basic but practical technology. Third, the fleece pants are warm, soft, and comfortable to wear. Running pants are usually a form fitting spandex type material that is comfortable, but can be a little cool to put on first thing in the morning. Spandex will warm up eventually once you begin to move around. These soft, fuzzy fleece pajama pants are warm the first second that you slip them on in the morning. Lastly, trail runners by their nature are rough around the edges. A lot of ultra runners have beards, and look like mountain men. Fleece plaid clothing seems to me, to fit in more with the trail running mindset which is a little unorthodox. Fleece plaid pajama pants are definitely not expensive, sleek and designer type clothing. I’m not sure if trail runners even have a style per se, since every trail runner I ever met is pretty independent thinking and is happy running hours solo through the woods alone. I guess, fleece plaid pajama pants to me are more representative of the independent, unorthodox and rough nature of a trail runner.

Dirk bib from Gaspin in the Aspens 2014

Dirk bib from Gaspin in the Aspens 2014

In the end, I met my goals that morning. My goal was to finish the race without injuring myself more than I already was. I have been injured for the last couple of months and not able to run any serious training runs. My morning racing aspirations were therefore conservative. I did end up walking up some of the steeper parts of the course, and my foot did hurt a lot. Both of which, I had anticipated would happen. This did not stop me from enjoying myself, and soaking in the magnificence of the beautiful aspen covered sections of the trail. Just to be moving again through a high mountain forest was satisfying to me. It was a great race, and great people. All the local Flagstaff trail runners were there. It was great to say, “Hi” to old running friends and share a race together again. Overall, it was a wonderful race to cap the end of this year’s running series. Just like the first race of the running series, I felt quite at home in my funky blue plaid pajama pants!