And just like that, it’s over! All those weeks of training for the Mt. Evans Ascent, all those butterfly nerves – gone. In it’s place are tired legs and and a ravenous appetite!
This race was long and hard for me. Really long and really hard. And like most people say they feel after a hard marathon or (as I’ve read) women feel after giving birth, I’ve forgotten (almost instantly) about the pain, the intense muscle fatigue and exhaustion, the wanting to quit halfway through and I’m looking forward to signing up for next year’s race to do even better. Which won’t be hard because I set the bar REAL low this year.
So, what was it like?!
Some background: The Mt. Evans Ascent is ‘America’s Highest Road Race.’ It starts at Echo Lake (elevation 10,600 feet) and follows the paved road up to the top of Mt. Evans (elevation 14,264). The race is 14.5 miles long and except for 2 tiny flat/downhill stretches, completely uphill.
Alex and I left our apartment at 4:50 a.m. on Saturday, met Heidi at Idaho Springs at 5:45 a.m. and the 3 of us carpooled up to packet pick up/the race start where we met up with Paula and her boyfriend, Graham. The boys hopped in Graham’s car and took off up the mountain to find their first spectating spot while Heidi, Paula and I nervously waited for the race to start.
From the results, there were 410 runners registered for the race – more than I’d expected!
We started up the mountain at 7:30 a.m. and after the first mile-ish, runners thinned out into natural pace groups.
As we looked around us to take in the scenery, Heidi and I were struck by how hazy everything was from the wildfires raging across Colorado right now. Last time we were on Evans, we could see mountains for miles but on Saturday, we could only see faint outlines.
Heidi and I ran the race together and I really don’t think I would have survived without her. Even when we weren’t talking – which was most of the race, thanks to altitude and exertion – it was comforting to know she was with me, that we were suffering through it together.
The rest/aid stations on Mt. Evans were phenomenal – stocked with water, HEED, Coke, candy, cookies, Red Vines, bananas, watermelon and more! They were set up every 3 miles and had super awesome volunteers working. At the first aid station, I had a few peanut M&Ms and quickly realized I should stick to just water – my stomach did not agree with candy at elevation.
We saw the boys at mile 3, 9 and the finish. After we saw them at mile 9, I tanked – my stomach was angry, my head was spinning and I was not feeling hot. And it hit me – I hadn’t taken in ANY calories except those few M&Ms at mile 3. Rookiest of rookie mistakes. I choked down some Shot Bloks and within a few minutes, felt my energy levels returning – enough to sing some Backstreet Boys to Heidi. I probably should have eaten more than I did because miles 10-14.5 were not awesome for me but hindsight is 20/20.
I hated the last mile and a half because I couldn’t get my legs to move any faster. I could see the finish.. up what felt like a thousand switchbacks and I didn’t think I’d make it. Heidi still had energy in her tank and set her sights on breaking the 4 hour mark – I admired her and tried to keep up but my legs were not having it so she pulled ahead and I trudged along behind her. According to the results, Heidi finished a minute ahead of me (it felt like 15!) and we both broke 4 hours.
As I ran through the finish line, I yelled to Alex that this was the most awful thing I’d ever done. I’m in the middle of saying that in this photo, actually. It was so hard and my muscles were SO tired. I wanted to flop down on the ground and go to sleep and have someone carry me back to the car. I was spent!
During that last mile, I made mental notes about how miserable I was, how I would never ever EVER run this race again. I’m not cut out for uphill, I told myself. I’m not cut out for altitude. This isn’t for me.
But that is simply just not true. I am cut out for those things and I DO want to run Mt. Evans again next year. I know how better to train and what to expect. I think the hardest part of a new distance, new type of race is the unknown. I had no idea if my training would be sufficient, how my body, lungs or head would hold up, how 14.5 miles uphill would feel. I had no idea what to realistically expect - we’d run a short distance on Mt. Evans a few weeks earlier but that was it. But I know now I need to strength train seriously. I need to run up steeper inclines for longer. I need to run longer than a 10 mile long run during training. And – most importantly – I WANT to do all of those things.
Mt. Evans Ascent is extremely well run and a beautiful, beautiful course. And it’s pretty badass to say I ran/walked 14.5 miles up Mt. Evans, in my own humble opinion. As a first-time Ascender, I will be back next year, better prepared and ready to crush this year’s time.
And the jump photo outtake collage because it’s pretty humorous, to me, at least:
Alex was ready to get down the mountain and eat some food and was not very interested in taking my photo. ‘Just hold down the button and it’ll take, like, 8 photos. Are you doing it? Are you ready? Should I jump??’
I’m not sure if you can click on the photos to enlarge them but if you can, you should.
My goal going into Mt. Evans was to finish with a smile. I finished and smiled after. Mission accomplished, in my book.
You can also check out Heidi’s recap here.