You may remember my blog entry from last Friday where I was freaking out a little bit about the Mt. Evans Ascent, which was this past Saturday. As it turns out, I survived the race! And so did Lynne and Heidi. Here’s the full story.
The race was scheduled to start at 7:30, a much appreciated reasonable race time. Since Mt. Evans is only about an hour from Denver, this only required waking up at 4:45, which all things considered was not too brutal. I ate my pre-race breakfast of plain oatmeal and a sliced banana drizzled with peanut butter Gu (highly recommended pre-race breakfast!), and Graham and I were on the road around 5:15.
The parking lots were a little full by the time we got there around 6:30 but the race was small enough that we quickly found Lynne and Heidi. The ladies and I sent Alex, Lynne’s husband, and Graham on the road and waited for the race to start. The race did not start until 7:30 but the race organizers had asked for spectators to be on the road before 7, so we had some time to kill and take some pre-race pictures. Before we knew it though we were lining up at the start and the race began!
Have you ever driven Mt. Evans Road? The race was basically the entire road to the summit. The start was just before the entry gates at 10,600 feet and wound up the road for 14.5 miles finishing just below the summit at 14,264 feet. There were only two short downhill sections and you spent the majority of the race ascending while simultaneously losing oxygen due to the increasing altitude. Fun combination!
My number one concern in the race was starting too fast and then dying during the final push to the summit. I really wanted to make sure that I took it easy at the beginning. I averaged 11:30 for the first three miles of the race, and took my first walk break after passing Graham and Alex, who were waiting at mile 3. We climbed a lot during the first few miles, and it seemed like in no time we were above tree level.
The first aid station was around 3.5 miles or so and at that point I started a new approach to the race. I began a new pattern in which I ran for 10 minutes and then took a 1 minute walk break. I also decided that as an added bonus I got to walk at any aid station, no matter what time I was at in my walk/run pattern. This pattern got me to the second aid station at mile 6 still feeling strong.
After the second aid station the course started to climb even more. My walk/run pattern was no longer feasible, so I reduced the times to 5 minutes of running and 1 minute of walking. You may be noticing that I started running less and walking more as the course progressed. Yep, no shame. Graham and Alex were waiting for us right before the third aid station and the cut-off at Summit Lake at mile nine. You had to make it to Summit Lake before 2:30 or you would be disqualified. I made it to Summit Lake in 1:45, so I was doing fine on time. I stopped and took a bite of my Honey Stinger waffle and talked to the boys briefly before starting again.
There was a semi-flat downhill section after Summit Lake that I jogged but then the course took another steep climb. At this point I had already climbed 2,250 feet and run 9 miles, and running up this section was just not realistic. I decided it was time to bust out the power hiking.
After the steep hill the rest of the course was above 13,000 feet. I don’t know if it was the altitude or fatigue but either way running was out of the picture. I tried to run a few times but my run was not much faster than my power hike and it was about 100 times more tiring. Not to mention the fact that no one else around me was running. I have never felt less guilty about walking in a race. It was all I could do to just keep moving!
Finally I made it to the last aid station at mile 12. At this point I tried to borrow a cyclist’s bike, ask a volunteer working the aid station if he wanted to run the last 2.5 miles for me and hitch a ride up to the top with Graham and Alex. No one would take me up on my offers though so I was stuck trying to make it to the top on my own two legs! The last part of the course was brutal because you could see the top of the observatory tower at the summit from the mile 12 aid station but about a million switchbacks separated you from the summit. So close yet so so so far. Just when I was about to give up I turned the corner on a switchback and saw the finish line. I feebly jogged across the finish, and Graham captured the moment on his iPhone.
My official finish time was 3:17:07. I was absolutely beat. I hobbled around for awhile and waited for Heidi and Lynne to cross. They both broke 4 hours and came across the line in 3:58:46 (Heidi) and 3:59:40 (Lynne). As Lynne crossed the finish line she said, “This is the worst thing ever!” It was kind of hilarious because I too had been thinking the same thing while winding up the endless switchbacks to the finish line. I could relate.
One of the Mt. Evans Ascent race traditions is giving out commemorative trophy rocks to men who finish under 2:40 and women who finish under 3:00 It had been an extremely lofty pipe dream of mine to try and break 3:00 and get a rock. I missed the official mark but Graham gave me an even cooler personalized rock that he picked out while spectating and decorated with a Sharpie!
Overall Thoughts: The Mt. Evans Ascent was legitimately the hardest race that I have ever done. I had really only been training for six weeks prior to the race, and all things considered I was happy with my effort! It was also eye-opening as to what things I still have to work on before the Pikes Peak Marathon. A lot. The Pikes Peak Marathon is more elevation gain than Mt. Evans (on a trail, not a road!) and then I have to be prepared to also run back down. I’m on the right track for sure but I definitely need to continue to training hard over the next few months. And don’t worry, Heidi, Lynne and I are already talking about doing the Ascent again next year. We’re crazy runners, what can I say!