My picks in Vail/Beaver Creek

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We spend a lot of time in the Vail Valley, so I thought it might be fun to share some of my favorite places and things to do in the area for those who might come visit.

First, the athletic stuff:

Best bike route:  I have three that are favorites.  For long, I like the Copper Triangle route. This is easy to do on your own with a few places to refuel en route. We ride it from Minturn to Leadville to Copper back to Vail.  Takes a little over 5 hours (for me) depending on weather and how hard I push.

This route has spectacular views

For a flatter, TT ride, I ride downvalley, out-and-back.  It’s slightly downhill on the way out, but usually into a headwind. The way back is uphill, but with a tailwind.

For a shortish grind, we head up Vail Pass. A classic.  Head down to Copper if you want to add miles, although that stretch of bike path can be full of yahoos on the weekends (i.e., people who do not understand riding on the right side of the path).

Best pool:  Avon rec center.  25 yards, 6-lanes. Usually not too crowded. Buy a punch card to save money. They have a great leisure pool and lazy river, but the water slide gets a thumbs down for the overly strict height requirement. My 6 year olds are still too short.

Best run:  Believe it or not, our running routes in Vail are flatter than our routes at home.  It is mostly just up and down the valley.  I usually run the bike path from Eagle-Vail to Vail or have someone drop me off in Vail and run back home. My favorite Vail running race is the Vail Half Marathon in July.

Spectators ride the gondola for free to watch the Vail Half Marathon

It’s a grind for about 9 miles, but you are rewarded with spectacular views and wildflowers at the top. There are two good tracks in the area – the old Battle Mountain High School track in Eagle-Vail (rubber) and the new high school track in Edwards (also rubber).

Best bike shop: Pedal Power in Eagle-Vail. Stay out of the village, where they mostly just rent cruisers and mountain bikes to people who take a gondola ride up the mountain and then ride down.

Now, the important stuff – food!

Best Fancy Dinner:  If someone with deep pockets wants to treat, have them take you to Sweet Basil, Terra Bistro or Larkspur.  All in Vail Village.  Of those three, Terra is my personal fave, but the people-watching at Sweet Basil is really very good.

Best Family Dinner:  In the summer, we like sitting on the patio at Vendettas in the Village.  Other than Pazzos for pizza, not too many of the restaurants in the Village cater to families. So we usually skip it and eat at home or take the kids to Edwards, which has a lot of good, more casual restaurants. We like the Gashouse, Main Street Grill and Larkburger.

Best apres ski Vail:  We don’t apres ski much these days, but if I did, I would go to Los Amigos at the base of the Vista Bahn. I know it’s an institution, but I’m not a Red Lion fan. Maybe if I were 15 years younger and liked crappy food…

Best apres ski Beaver Creek:  The outdoor fire pit at the Ritz. Get there around 3:30 and enjoy roasting marshmallows outside by the fire and listening to live music. Probably intended for actual hotel guests at the Ritz, but that detail doesn’t deter us.

Goggles are useful for keeping smoke out of your eyes

Best Shopping:  I do most of my shopping at the Chapel Square area in Avon. There’s Sports Authority for the essentials, City Market for groceries, Valley Girl for trendy clothes, a great toy store and a few furniture consignment stores that I like to poke my head into.  I like a good deal, so I am a fan of consignment.  I used to like Holy Toledo in Minturn, but I recently discovered the Eagle Valley Thrift store in Edwards, and it is pretty good as well.  I bought several pairs of high-end jeans there recently and paid less than I would have at Holy Toledo.

Family Skiing:  We were die-hard Vail-lovers until the kids started skiing. Now we are all about Beaver Creek. It’s more convenient and kid-friendly. My kids love the “kid adventure zones” on the mountain like the bear cave, the gold mine, Ripperoos Retreat and the teepees.  Vail doesn’t have any of these things. The Beav also has free parking (where you catch a shuttle to the lift) and less goofballs bombing down the slopes. For ultimate convenience, drop off the kids at Beaver Creek Landing and ski Bachelor Gulch. Warm and sunny and usually less crowded than the main mountain.

Kids’ Activities:  This list really is endless, but some of our favorite things to do in the winter are sledding in Eagle-Vail by the driving range, tubing on Meadow Mountain (pricey but fun), and ice skating on Nottingham Lake or in Beaver Creek Village. In the summer, we like to hike in the Gore Range out of East Vail (Booth Falls is a favorite hike), go rafting on the Colorado River, or day trip to the hot springs pool in Glenwood Springs.

Booth Falls last Fourth of July

Let me know if you have any questions about any of the above or other things to do in Vail or Beaver Creek!

East Vail on Dwellable

Kona in Pictures

Posing in front of the famed sign several days after the race


The pre-race swims at Dig Me Beach were intimidating for me. Rough water and tons of uber-fit athletes everywhere.

 

Getting Rinny's autograph - I had her write "from one fast CO chick to another" thinking that if Rinny wrote it, I would make it a reality on race day.

 

At the Welcome Dinner before the skies opened and it poured. This was like a luau (minus the roasted pig).

 

Birds-eye view of athletes entering the water - the swim is a water start

 

My family's view of the swim start. I started on the left. I realized that I probably started too far left and back when I didn't touch anyone until the first turn buoy.

 

Profound relief to have made it out of the Pacific

 

My jet-lagged support team in shirts I made for them

 

Riding up Palani with Mark running alongside. I am crabbing to him about my swim time. That Indy car racer is behind me.

 

I think I am trying to make myself "small" in the wind here like Sonja taught me.

 

The view on the way to Hawi. There is wind farm out here too, which seemed ominous.

 

Riding up Kuakini. It kind of looks like that girl from Biggest Loser is behind me.

 

About the heel-strike on Ali'i.

 

My daughter (the main photographer) had a good view of the action

 

My left leg doesn't look like this in real life!

 

Proof that I ran up Palani at mile 10. Mark is running alongside giving me a pep talk.

 

The NEL is not nearly as hot if you don't arrive there until sunset

 

Running down Ali'i, in the dark. I ran sub-8:00 for the last mile, trying to break 12:00. I expected this to feel different, euphoric with angels singing, but really I just wanted to cross the line and be done.

 

Checking the clock to see how much time I had to spare. Notice I had the finish line to myself. That happens at Kona when you finish in 12 hours. I don't have a pic of her, but the girl who finished right in front of me salvaged my run. She provided some much-welcomed company during a lonely part of the race (miles 18-25).

 

Post-race in front of the cheesy backdrop

 

Afterwards, it was easy to spot who had done the race

 

The best part of the trip was enjoying the island after the race

We’ll be back someday…

IM Canada Roll Down or “How I Became the Luckiest Girl in Penticton”

It almost seems like too much time has passed to even talk about this year’s Ironman World Championships in Kona, but with NBC having just broadcast their annual Ironman Hawaii show this past weekend, it seems like an appropriate time to put the final wraps on my thoughts about the race.

Before I can talk about the race and my Kona experience, I first have to tell the story of how I got my slot, because it really set the stage for everything that happened afterwards.  So I have to go back to August and Ironman Canada. It’s a bizarre story.

The Race

I competed in Ironman Canada in late August with my husband and another training partner. It was a good day for me as I had a breakthrough swim and a solid bike, but I fell apart somewhat on the back half of the run course, so I missed my big time goal of cracking 11 hours.  11 hours would have been a stretch even if I had hit my run goal, but that’s what I was shooting for.  I ended up finishing 9th in my AG, which I was pretty happy with.

Immediately after the race, I was in the food pen hanging around and waiting for the rest of our group when I spotted Sister Madonna sitting talking to someone. She looked very fresh, too fresh to have just run 26.2 miles in the heat, and I realized she had dropped out of the race. Sonja and I had briefly talked about this the night before, when I was getting ahead of myself and wondering what might happen if I put together a great day. She had told me that if Sister Madonna (who is 81 this year!) started the race but didn’t finish, her age group’s (of which she was the sole participant) Kona slot would be reallocated to the largest women’s age group. They had mentioned at the Welcome Dinner that my AG (40-44) had the most participants. So when I saw Sister Madonna and realized she had dropped out, I also realized that my AG had another slot. I had heard that because Canada is so close in time to Kona, slots roll more at that race than most of the races. I was chatting with some men afterwards, and one of them told me that in 2010, the last Kona slot in his AG rolled to the 12th place finisher.

On Monday morning, we had a decision to make. Although I wanted to attend the roll down, doing so meant missing out flight out of Spokane, which meant my parents would have to watch the kids for another night. I know this doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but we were facing airline change fees, a night in a hotel in Spokane and our kids’ disappointment that we weren’t coming back when they thought. We hemmed and hawed. We decided to go to Kona registration early and see how many slots there were and how many people in my AG had registered. If most of the girls had registered early, we would leave for the airport.

The Roll Down

Mark and I started stalking the registration table at 9:30. Registration had opened at 9:00 and closed at 11:00, at which time the roll down would begin. One girl had registered so far. There were originally four Kona slots, but with Sister Madonna’s slot, there were now five. It seemed like a huge long-shot. Still, the guy manning the registration table told me, “if we were in Florida, I would tell you to leave for the airport. But this is Canada.”  Mark decided to go for a swim and I went to get a massage at the nearby massage tent. I went back over at 10:15. Still only one girl ahead of me had registered. I started pacing around near the tent. I went into the merchandise tent and pretended to look at gear, all the while looking at the registration table to see who was showing up. I kept rationalizing – if it were me and I was one of the top four girls, I would have been there right at 9:00 to register. I certainly would have been there by 9:30. I walked around some more and started to feel ill. I tried to find ways to pass the time without stalking the registration guy.

Mark showed up around 10:30. There were 30 minutes left to register and still only one girl out of the top four had shown up. At this point, I was making Mark check the registration table. I couldn’t go over there any more. I was sitting outside the tent, watching athletes go in and out and just wanting so badly for the whole process to be over.  Finally, with a few minutes to go, they started announcing that if you had a guaranteed slot, you had only a few more minutes to register before your slot went into the roll-down. I looked around, expecting to see a hoard of 40-something women running towards the tent, but there was no one running. Just a larger and larger crowd of hopeful athletes, all hoping that this might be their lucky day.

Finally, the roll down was set to begin and we crowded in closer. The rules were explained. If they called your name, you had just a few seconds to accept your slot or they would move on to the next person. Mark and I started to have a big debate. He thought I had a roll-down slot because there were five slots but only one person had registered, so the remaining four went to the girls who were 6th through 9th. I disagreed. I told him that Sister Madonna’s slot was part of the roll down and that girl (number 5) did not have to register by 11:00. We debated this for a few minutes as we listened to them announce names.  I realized most AGs only had one roll-down slot, and in some cases, no roll downs. It seemed crazy that my AG had 4 roll down slots. I knew Mark was wrong and that I didn’t have a guaranteed slot. I needed one girl ahead of me to not be there.

Before I knew it, they had gotten to women 40-44. He called the name of the 5th place girl. She was there and took her slot. Then he called the name of the 6th place girl and the unthinkable happened. She was not there. I held my breath and looked around, but no one stepped forward. That’s when I knew it had happened – I WAS GOING TO KONA!!!! The 7th and 8th place girls were there, and then the announcer said, “and for the last spot in the 40-44AG…Jennifer Schaffner.”  I screamed and Mark and I both started to cry. I hugged the stranger next to me who had been following our drama. With my driver’s license and credit card in hand, I walked up to get my sheet of paper and turned around for Mark to take this picture of me.

The luckiest girl in Penticton

It was so unbelievable. I had finished 9th and I was going to Kona. I hadn’t broken 11 hours, but I was going to Kona. I had walked most of the hills on the second half of the run, but I was going to Kona. I had only been a triathlete for 18 months, but I was going to Kona. There was a fair amount of disbelief. The whole way to the airport from Penticton – a 5-hour drive – the conversation went like this. Me: “Can you believe I am going to Kona?”  Mark: “No. I can’t.” Me: “Me neither.” Seriously, we had that conversation the whole day. And the weeks that followed. Heck, even when I got to the island, I was still having those thoughts in my head. It was a lot to process.

I took a few easy days after Canada, but it was pretty much back to business for me after the race. Actually, that’s not really true – it was more than business as usual. Now I felt driven. I was going to Hawaii and I wanted to prove that I deserved it. I wasn’t a joke and it wasn’t a fluke. I belonged and I deserved to be there just like everyone else who had qualified. Except in the back of my head, I didn’t really feel that way. I had some doubts. I had doubts about myself, and the course, and the conditions, and just about everything.

So with those thoughts in my head and having only gotten my slot six weeks before, I headed to the Big Island to compete in the Ironman World Championships.