Sunday, June 12, 2016

Mt. Evans Ascent - High Altitude Fun and Suffering

Mt. Evans Ascent

Distance & Vert: 14.2 miles, 3500 vert (10k to 14k)
Time: 2:24:33 (10:07 pace)
Place: 6th female, 3rd age group


Before this race, we did several training runs at Mt. Evans so we could see how the altitude would feel and get familiar with the race course.  The first couple of times we ran from the start to mile 5-6 and back down but the last time, Brady dropped me off around mile 5 so I could run 9 miles up to the summit.  He parked at Summit Lake (mile 9) and started running when I got there, this meant I could run more uphill without having to do the same amount of downhill.  I felt great on these training runs, I was somewhat surprised by my pace and it was encouraging.   When I originally signed up for this race, I set a goal of 3:00 because that meant I could win one of the special rocks but after our training runs, I realized I needed to rethink my goals and decided upon 2:30-2:35.   I had ran the entire course during our training runs but hadn't done the entire 14 miles at once so it was still unknown what might happen come race day!

I had a mini-taper this week, we did a hard 3 mile uphill run at Lookout Mountain, which has similar grade to Mt. Evans and I felt pretty good despite it being 80*.   I also felt really good on our run Saturday morning, just 4 miles easy with some hill strides but my legs felt fresh and I was ready to go!  My mindset going into this race was calm yet excited.  My coach reminded me that this race was just a stepping stone and I kept that in mind.  He told me that Evans is just an excuse to see some beautiful things and push myself to my limits.  He also said that races are life balled up into a little, fun-sized morsel that we can enjoy without any risks - ah that's great perspective!   The day before the race he told me that there were two things he wanted me to focus on: 1. lean into the mountain and 2. embrace the suck.  I knew that those things would be on my mind during the race! 

Race Day

Our alarm went off at 4:00, we had some coffee and left around 5:00 for the 7:30 start.   It was cloudy and cool when we got there, the weather prediction included a chance of showers and the race directors said we could see some rain, snow or hail at some point during the race.  The forecast was making me second guess my choice of attire including short sleeves and arm warmers so I decided to throw on a super lightweight long sleeve shirt and it ended up being a great combo.  I was also trying to decide whether or not I wanted to wear my vest and carry water, I wanted to take in water every mile or so and the aid stations were every 3 miles so I decided the vest was a good idea.  

Instead of taking splits every mile, I planned on breaking the race into thirds - miles 0 to 5, miles 5 to 9 and 9 to the summit.  This way I would know how my overall pace for each section compared to our training runs.  

Start to Mile 5

We started off up the road, I tried not to get caught up in the lead pack that was going way too quick for me but sometimes its hard to lay back during race situations.  I eased up and reminded myself to do my own thing, that lead pack took off really early on and they were gone.  I was feeling ok the first mile, I thought back to my training runs and I remembered the first 3 miles were challenging and the start usually took my breath away a little bit.  I came through the first mile in 8:51, oops, that's a tad bid faster than I was targeting.  Then a stitch decided to pop up outta nowhere, WTH??  I'm used to having stitches on the downhills but why is one plaguing me going uphill?  Go away stitch, you are not welcome during this race!  Miles 2 and 3 felt similar to training and I continued along the way, my pace was slowing down but that was also similar to our training runs.  I knew that once we turned the corner to mile 3, the road shot up a bit and that the wind would most likely be fierce.  I took some water, powered up the incline but the wind was rather tame - that was somewhat of a pleasant surprise.  I checked my watch at the 5k mark, I was 29:20ish which was very similar to training.  I knew that mile 3 to 4 usually came with some suffering so I put my head down, lean into the hill K, lean into the hill.   Ok, I got it, leaning in!   Take some nutrition K, ok, here's a gel.  Dang, this gel is so goopy in my mouth and when I close my mouth to swallow, I feel like I cant breath - fricken high altitude running.  K, just focus and make it to mile 5, the course eases up again and you'll catch a break.  

Time for this section: 47:58, 9:57 pace, ~1500 gain.   I was under my anticipated pace by a smidge so that was good but at the same time I was struggling and my mind kept going from stay strong to ugh this hurts, don't bleed too much time.  

Miles 5 to 9 (Summit Lake)

This section of the course has less total elevation gain compared to the first 5 miles and the last 5 miles, there were even a few downhill sections - woohoo!  Somewhere during mile 4 while I was tending to my stitch, a couple of girls passed me. Before that I was in 5th place but then one came by and then another one.  gosh dangit, you need to pick up the pace during this section, during your training run you averaged under 9:00 pace so try to gain some ground and drop your time.   The stitch seemed to eased up and I surged a little bit, lean into the hill, K!  I passed the girl in green, ok, that's more like it.  Now keep this up and make up some time.  As the miles ticked by, I stuck to my goal of taking in water every mile or so.  I was falling behind on my nutrition though so around mile 7 I took the rest of that gel and of course I felt like I was struggling to breathe again.   We hit the downhill and I picked it up, my legs were feeling good again and I wanted to take advantage of that, I passed the girl in orange and opened up my stride, here comes the stitch!  

Time for this section: 37:56, 9:36 pace, ~750 gain.  My pace was quicker during this section but not nearly as fast as during my training run. But during my training run this section was at the very start of my run, not miles 5 to 9 of a race! My heart was pounding and my head was throbbing.  I took in some of the views and reminded myself that the views made it worth it.

Mile 9 to Summit

K, this is where the race begins, this is the challenging section.  Time to really lean into it and embrace the suck, this is going to hurt!   Mile 9 felt good and flew by, around 9.5 the road starts uphill again and the stitch didn't go away.   The girl in orange caught up to me around mile 10, we said a few brief words of encouragement and she started to pull away.  My legs wanted to go but the stitch had other plans, I eased up a bit, tried to massage it and breathe out on the opposite foot but it wasn't working, it wasn't going away.   This section of the course was going to be tough enough without this darn stitch, I took in some more water but that didn't seem to help.   The switchbacks were never-ending and I could see runners ahead of me and runners behind me.  I didn't see any girls that were within striking distance but I always believe that anything is possible, if someone really crushed those super high altitude more power to them, I felt like I was fading.   At this point, I decided to start looking at my overall time versus my avg pace so I could gauge my finishing time. I was surprised when I looked at my watch and did some math and thought hey, I could finish in like 2:26 - yowzas!  Just keep moving forward, one foot in front of the other, embrace the suck, lean in, embrace the suck!   Yay another downhill before mile 11, take advantage of it!   Its really hard to breath now, my legs are running out of energy and this time at altitude is starting to take its toll.  I kept checking my time, ok, still on pace for that 2:26.  On all the switchbacks, I'd look down to the road below me to see if any girls were gaining on me and they still seemed far enough back, just hold your ground K.  Focus on what is in front of you, lean in, embrace the suck, look around, smile.  My smile might look like a crunchy face  (we'll see what my pictures look like) but I was somewhat smiling on the inside.   Those views are incredible, smile just a little bit.   I feel like I'm moving at the pace of a slug but some guys behind me are walking so at least I'm moving better then them.   Why are there so many switchbacks??  I can see the summit but the distance is deceiving.   Finally hit mile 14 and I knew there was about 0.5 miles left, I checked my time, still good, checked my pace 10:30 ok so about 5:00-5:30 more of suffering, that's nothing at this point now.   Just finish strong, you are almost there.   I took the inside corner to the finish, they had some cones lined up as a little finishing chute and theres a lady with a baby strapped to her and several small kids right in my way.  Some people yelled at her that a runner was coming and they just were all over the place, just kinda stared at me with a blank look on their faces.  Really this is the last thing I want to deal with when I'm trying to pick up the pace into the finish.  I darted around her and her baby while avoiding a car and made my way to the finish.  Stopped my watch: 2:24 - holy bajeebers, that's faster than I thought it would be.  I came to a stop and my legs felt wobbly, felt reminiscent of a stair climb however I didn't need to totally collapse on the ground and curl up in the fetal position, I chose to sit on a rock instead.   

Time for this section: 59:39 (10:41 pace), ~1300 gain

view of some wild critters on the shuttle ride down

I surprised myself with my overall time, I thought maybe it was possible but at the same time, you never know what might happen on race day.  There were some things I could do better, still need to take in more nutrition/hydration.  I probably could've shaved a little time if the stitch wasn't nagging me but its hard to say what could've happened.   Last year my time would've been good enough for 3rd place, this year 10 girls went under 2:30, last year there were only 2.   I am pleased with my time and place, especially since this race is a stepping stone.  I'm ready to ease up for a few days before getting back to the grind.  The grind is where gains are made and I need to make lots of them :)  This race is challenging in so many ways, the grade of the course isn't too bad but the high altitude is just a unique feeling, I don't even now how to describe it.  Its shallow breathing and like my muscles are gasping for oxygen and my heart is beating in my head. I'll admit, I kind of liked training on Mt. Evans, don't have to worry about rocks and roots and nature's obstacles on the road, can just focus on moving onward and upward and taking in the views.  These ascent races are filled with all sorts of pain and suffering, I'm not quite sure what I'm getting myself into but I'm looking forward to it!  Lean in and embrace the suck :) 

I got a ceramic bowl for placing 3rd in my age group
and a fancy rock for finishing under 3:00

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