In Colorado people do weird things and proclaim that it is all just to stay fit and have fun in the mountains. We turn an amphitheater into a place to run and an outdoor gym. We pack the bare essentials of life into over-sized backpacks and hike into the snowy wilderness. We commit full weekends to hiking miles up and down a mountain. All just for fun.
Somehow this mindset has led to the weird delusion that running up a mountain is something to do for fun. It all started back in 1971 when the first group of crazy Coloradans decided to run up Mt Evans. It became a tradition and a well-known road race – the America’s Highest Road Race! This past Saturday I became a participant…and finisher!
The Mt Evans Ascent is a 14.5 mile race that starts at the Echo Lake entrance and follows the road all the way up to the top of the mountain at 14,264 feet above sea level. So basically an uphill half marathon, right?! Ha. No. Not really.
I got roped into this race thanks to a few very convincing emails from Lynne. We’d hiked 14ers, we’d run half marathons…we could do this. We had time to train and the hills + altitude to train with. We were going to do this! Plus, I had the support of the Boulder Running Company race team and group training runs so how could I say no?!
Race day kind of crept up on me. I can’t say I felt at all prepared when my alarm went off at 3:41am on Saturday! I just pretended it was a regular old race. Nothing special. I met Lynne and Alex in Idaho Springs then we met Paula at packet pick up – she is even more insane than Lynne and I as she is signed up for the Pike Peak Marathon. Yes, a full marathon…13.1 miles up a 14er, 13.1 miles down a 14er. Seriously, she is insane! She also rocked at life on Evans so I think she has Pikes in the bag!
Lynne and I spent weeks training together – early morning runs, weekend long runs, trail runs, 14er hikes. But really, how the heck do you train for a run UP a mountain with 4,000 feet of gain when considering altitude!? I still don’t have an answer. However, whatever we did made it possible for us to survive…we made it.
We started out with one goal – get to the top alive without missing any time cut offs. We had absolutely no idea what to expect and the last thing we needed was a number hanging over our head. We both had our Garmin strapped to our wrists but mostly to keep track of cut off paces.
I really wanted to run the first mile and then take it from there. In our only training run on Mt Evans we ran the first mile than broke into a power hike/slow run pattern based on distance. It started out like this on race day and we stuck to it for quite a while – the miles seemed to just tick by.
We made it to the Summit Lake cut off with 20-25 minutes to spare, took a bathroom break, refueled with Jelly Bellys and took off running on the last stretch of road that was not uphill. I have to say – I kind of loved the aid stations as they were stocked with M&M’s, Red Vines and Jelly Belly’s!
We had 5.5 miles to go…and running was becoming more painful. My hamstrings were not happy with me. While I was hiking they were fine but with every step I ran I could feel the dull pain radiate through my legs. It wasn’t killing me but it definitely was not making me love the idea of running. And when you are running only slightly faster than you are power hiking its easy enough to avoid running.
At this point we resolved to power hike the rest of the mountain with only a few random spurts of running – we had plenty of time before the summit cut off and decided to enjoy ourselves and the scenery the best we could! Besides, our legs greatly appreciated every single second of the occasional stretch stop!
As we made our way closer and closer to the finish I realized we had a shot at a sub 4 hour finish. I’d be ecstatic to get a sub 4 hour finish in a marathon…and this was beginning to feel a heck of a lot like a marathon. I decided I was going to make it in under 4 hours and somehow managed to pick up my hiking pace. I’m not sure how I did it – earlier in the day I was get out power hiked by people who were well over twice my age.
I kept on power hiking until the bend of the last switch back – then there were people. People encouraging me, people saying nice things, people telling me I was awesome. Well, with that kind of love from strangers I kind of had to run, right?! So I ran in the last few hundred yards and for the first time ever gave a happy fist pump as I crossed the mats!
Lynne was right behind me – I had just enough time to turn around and snap a few photos of her coming in before it was all over for both of us. We had done it – we finished the Mt Evans Ascent and only marginally hated our lives. Lynne and I both pulled off a sub 4 hour finish with my official time at 3:58:46 and Lynne’s at 3:59:50. Paula had an even better day on the mountain with a 3:17:07 finish!
Surprisingly enough my legs are doing quite well. They were less than excited to walk up the 3 flights of stairs to my apartment but they made it. And even now, with time for DOMS to set in they feel good. The only real discomfort I have right now is my neck and lower back. The lower back pain is definitely because of my weak hamstrings and I think the neck pain can be blamed on running with a pack while staring uphill for hours. So, I’d say my body once again surprised me!
My pace definitely put me near the back of the pack but, quite frankly, I don’t care. I ran up a freaking mountain! And the people who won are insanely talented runners!
The overall winner ran the 14.5 miles in 1:51:48, a pace of 7:43. The first female to finish completed the race in 2:11:34, a pace of 9:05. That is incredible. For perspective – the 7:43 pace would get me a 5K PR and until this spring the 9:05 pace would have gotten me a half marathon PR. Not only were the top finishers crazy enough to run up a mountain they managed to do it quickly!
To get a feel for what it felt like to actually run up the entire mountain check out Luke’s recap from last year’s race – he pulled of a top 3 AG finish and was in the top 10 guys across the finish line!
You can also check out Lynne’s recap – she did a much better job of actually explaining how she felt on the course, and what she plans to do different next year. Because, yes, we will be there next year for this race!
Paula’s recap is also up! She absolutely rocked at life while fighting her way up Mt Evans and managed to get her very own, handmade “Finisher’s Rock”…thanks to her boyfriend, Graham! Love this!
If you’re wondering what kind of training I did, what I wish I did differently, how the altitude affected me and if I’ll be doing it next year you should probably read this post where I basically ponder my way through it all!
Also, a very special THANK YOU to Boulder Running Company and their Brooks Racing Team for making this race happen for me. I could not have talked myself into it without their support and all of the amazing group runs with BRC!