Tuesday, June 19, 2012

America's Highest Road Race: Nailed it!

Seems like some of you know me better than I know myself - all those who commented on my last post that they thought I'd do the Mt. Evans Ascent when I mentioned I wasn't sure I would, were right.  I did it.

But fact is, I must have waffled back and forth whether or not I'd run it about 30 times.  The Mt. Evans Ascent is run on America's highest road (man it's great to live in Colorado :)!!), thus rightfully earning its "America's Highest Road Race" title.  It is almost 4000' up, starting at an elevation of about 10,200' and topping at 14,264'.  It's not like I've done much altitude training (one whopping run, which I felt pretty miserable doing) and it's not like I've done much massive hill climbing training (same one whopping miserable run.  Okay, two really....my son Ryan and I ran a 1650'decent then ascent trail run last Tuesday, which left my quads so sore I could barely walk the next day).  Nothing like cramming all your training into one week! :)

I'm usually up for a good running challenge.  But I know my training right now is pretty sub-par and my weight isn't exactly making massive gains in the "lost" category.... the reason I was so wishy-washy about doing Mt. Evans because I was honestly scared of not making the strict cut-off times.  I've run this race two other times, I know how demanding it is.  I was mortified I was about to embark on my first race being swept by the sag wagon along the way.

How horrifying!!


So, I finally told myself the night before the race that I'd at least go  and if it was crazy windy, like it tends to be up there above tree line, then I was out.  This was the 31st time I changed my mind, but negotiating with the weather is so much easier than leaving it up my feeble mind to make the decision.  Nice!

Of course, when I got there, the weather was perfect.  Of course!!

I ran into some friends I used to run a lot with (back in the days I used to be much faster - whaaa ) and snapped a quick picture before lining up (btw, if you didn't read last week's post, the header picture at the top is Echo Lake - the start of the race).


Then it was time to line up.  This race is relatively small - about 500 runners - and it's not packed with your typical road racers.  These people are die-hard nuts and look like your classic mountain man ultrarunner.... I just thought to myself: I really don't belong here.

Shut up, head.  Here I am.  I am running!

The race is sort of divided into two different sections:  The first part is 9 miles to Summit Lake where the first cut-off point of 2:30 lies and it's about 7% grade incline.  The second part is from Summit Lake to the top in 5.5 miles and is about a 9% and must be reached in 4:30.

The first 3ish miles are some of the steepest of the first section and the body just isn't adjusted to the climbing yet.  Lots of pine trees here which do a pretty good at sheltering the wind, if there is wind.  Today there was none and because of that, the crazy Hyde Park Fire to the north of the race site was causing smoke to fill the valley and not be pushed out.  My eyes were watering like crazy.  But as we climbed and got above tree-line, we also got above the smoke so the eyeballs were much happier.


Haze from the Hyde Park fire
I was feeling really well.  Like I-can't-believe-how-well-I'm-feeling well.  I knew I had to run a 16 min/mile to get to the first check point at Summit Lake and though my pace was slipping the higher I climbed, I was feeling remarkable and knew I was going to make the cut-off time (unless I fell off the mountain, which is always a distinct possibility).  I hit Summit Lake check-point at 1:58.  HOORAY!   I hate to sound like a broken record, but I was just stunned how good I actually felt.  Last week in training at this point, I felt like dog food.
Approaching Summit Lake at mile 9
Summit Lake
But now the tough stuff starts: the super steep and lack of oxygen stuff.  I wasn't worried, I knew I could make it to the top with plenty of time to spare, but I knew it was also going to get tougher.

As I'm climbing, my back is starting to hurt - I can only suspect my posture was absolutely crap and I was leaning into the climb way too much and for way too long.  I had been looking forward to seeing Kathy at mile 11.5 where she was manning the aid station there, a familiar face in this crazy race would be such a welcome sight.  What a wonderful spirit boost to see her and she even had her car all decked out to cheer me on :).


Around mile 12, I see white clouds on the down side of the mountains....crazy to be running above the clouds.

But on the up side of the mountain, I'm noticing dark clouds rolling in.  Oh crap!  This means trouble soon.  Storms roll into these high elevations VERY quickly and I just wanted to get done ... and get down.



The last mile seems to drag on forever.  You can sort of see the top of the mountain, but you're weaving back and forth on so many switch-backs it just never seems to get there.  I was so glad I didn't have "elevation" displayed on my watch, if I knew how much higher I had left to climb, I'd probably poke my eyes out.  Finally reached the top....  3:32:31.

Happy, Happy, H A P P Y!

I quickly found my checked bag with my warm clothes and ran over to the summit sign to have someone take a picture.  I was stunned how the mountain was now almost engulfed in one large cloud....and, it was starting to get really cold.

Screaming in happiness.
Usually you can see for hundreds of miles from this spot.  Not today.
I found the line to get on a shuttle back to the bottom, but there were no shuttles to be found.  Seems there was a slight issue with a few Alpine Search and Rescue vehicles and helicopter taking up the road as they were hunting for a fallen climber on nearby Mt. Bierstadt.  By now, I've been on top the summit for about 10 minutes maybe and there's no shuttles coming and it's now starting to snow and sleet.  To top this circus off, the woman in charge of manning the line, was running all over asking people who were up there to pick up runners and/or out sightseeing, if they'd take us runners back down.  Unfortunately, she wasn't taking runners from the front of the line, she was just announcing she had room for x-number of people and those in line started scrambling for a spot in someone's car.  Whomever could get out of line the fastest won!  So when in Rome as they say... and when she yelled out someone could take one runner, I ran as fast as my dead legs would let me, and caught a ride down with two guys from India who were just out for a leisurely ride on America's highest road.

They were really nice though, very inquisitive about all the Search and Rescue vehicles and how it all worked (like how were they paid, and such).  The guy next to me was super annoying but he seemed to know everything so I just let him do all the chatting to the Indians.  I was way too busy saying my prayers that we made it down the mountain in one piece, preferably not upside down in the Indian's car having rolled 4000' down.  There were cars going up and down on a road that really is only 1 1/2 vehicles wide; runners were still coming up; crazy road bikers were coming up - and down.  All of us sharing this narrow road, with non-existent guard rails - all while it was SNOWING and SLEETING!!  Scared the crap out of me.  At one point about half way down, Mr. Know-it-all announced he couldn't find his I.D. and maybe we should turn around and see if he dropped it at the top.  Are you kidding me??  Time for Jill to speak: HELL NO!!!!! 


I think it took about an hour to get down the 14.5 miles.  It was raining when we reached the bottom so I didn't hang out to find my friends, I just wanted to go home while the smile was still beaming across my face.

My 3rd Mt. Evans race completed.  Worst finishing time of all.

Proudest of all three.





Stolen official race photo.  Yeah, posture sucking big time!
I can't believe how good I felt the next day....no screaming calf or glutes as past ascent races produced.  I can only thank my new mid-foot strike for that.  Really, had I not had my calves and glutes suffer big last fall when I changed from a heel to a mid-foot strike and worked those calf muscles like crazy, I'm certain I wouldn't be walking well right now.  But today I went for a 6 mile run and aside from a little overall body stiffness, I felt really, really good.

I kinda like running in my "discomfort zone" sometimes, once I settle down and relax; it allows me to see if I have any of the grit left in me which I left behind so long ago before my foot disaster.  The more I am aware of it, hopefully the less likely I will avoid it.  I don't have it all back yet, but I'm working on it....

58 comments:

ShutUpandRun said...

Wow, just WOW!! Very impressive. I am doing this with you next year.

Teamarcia said...

OMG. What an adventure. I was having a cardiac event reading about the ascent but I think the descent in the indian car was even more terrifying. Congrats my badass friend with no sore quads. You ROCK!

C2Iowa said...

I knew it! Congrats and well-done. You are one tough runner.

No sore quads -- BIG SCORE !!

You are very lucky to live in such a great place. Happy for you. I really like to positive vibes too.

Kate said...

Ha. I totally knew you'd race it, and I'm SO thrilled for you that it went so well!! You, my friend, are a total rock star. This looks/sounds so hard...I can't even imagine. And that trip back down...scary!

bobbi said...

ROCK STAR! I knew you'd do it, and do it well! Congrats!

(and you had ME scared at the trip back down. Holy crap!)

abbi said...

Yay for feeling good and have a good time. Looks like gorgeous views and would be worth it...even with the adventure that it took to get back down! :)

Jeff Gallup said...

Wow... so awesome! You could probably talk me into trying this one next year... :-)

Kathy said...

Yay!! It was great seeing you up there! Next year, Jill, next year!

hiker mom said...

Awesome job! What an amazing and killer race. I love hearing about all these races you do. The scenery is always so beautiful. Glad you made it down safely:)

Deb said...

Great Job Jill!! Sounds tough but cool at the same time. Would really like to do this next year. Thanks for the great recap!

Chicken said...

AWESOME! You're a beast! I knew you'd do it, and do great. Congratulations!

Whitney said...

4,000'?? Girlfriend, you are CRAZY! But I'm so glad that the Indians didn't kill you. :) Congrats on a GREAT run!

J. L. said...

Nice Job!

tahoegirl said...

Wow, that is just dang impressive!

Karen said...

What an adventure! I couldn't imagine running at 14,000 ft.

Heather @ Just a Colorado Gal said...

You are badass! Not gonna lie, I've thought about trying this one at some point...that mountain is no bueno to hike, but this could be a new challenge!

Caroline said...

Very impressive
I could not do that!!
beautiful pictures!
I want to move!

Kandi said...

You always do the most adventurous races! Incredible! I can't even imagine scaling mountains like that as I haven't even been out west to see mountains like that. One of these days... and I'll be even more amazed at what you accomplish in these races.

brg said...

you totally rocked it girl!!!

SupermomE12 said...

I am SUPER impressed. You rock!!! Big congrats on a killer job. :)

Robin said...

That sounds like quite the race! Love the pics. Congrats to you. I'm amazed you weren't really sore the next day. That's awesome. Congrats again!

Julie said...

You never fail to amaze and impress me! It's been so long since I went up there I had forgotten just how crazy it was but those pictures brought it back..and that's just to drive it Not a chance in hell I'm going up it on two feet. :)

I'm so happy for you, thinking maybe you need to go back and read some of your race reports and realize that maybe things just aren't as bad as you think.

Congrats on a superb job!

Jenn said...

Awesome Jill! This definitely put a smile on my face today. "Screaming in happiness!!!" So good to hear you feeling SO positive about the experience!! 4000 feet-*&#$#. Wouldn't this be something people would just check off their bucket list?? Not do it 3 times-ha!! Congrats girl!

CautiouslyAudacious said...

You are amazing! You should be proud! Running above the clouds wow I don't think I can say I've ever done that...

Suz and Allan said...

Wow, what a neat race!

Petraruns said...

Jillie - you're just the awesomest. Is all I can say. Way to go goiing out there, going up there in those hideous conditions - facing all your fears and doing it anyway - and doing it fantastically! one day I will run this with yoU!

Linda W. said...

Wow, what an experience! Good job for completing such a difficult race.

ajh said...

Great report. I love how happy you are with yourself as you should be. Crazy about the weather and the drive down. And I love love love the medal.

Adrienne said...

This post made me smile! Too.freaking.cool!

Looks like you are finding both your stride and enjoyment again of the process of racing.

And last pic-as far as I'm concerned, your footstrike speaks more than your posture-especially when ascending a mountain!

Anonymous said...

Hey - Wow - great to run somethin gso challenging and to feel so good about it! Well Done! Meg from Iowa!

Ana-Maria RunTriLive said...

Super job! My coach did it too (2nd OA) and talked about how tough the course was!

HappyTrails said...

We are SO,SO,SO HAPPY for you! This is something wonderful to build on.
We hope you are encouraged! BTW - what shoes are you wearing???

Terzah said...

Put me in the "I knew you'd run it camp." Also put me in the "I knew you'd rock it" camp! I'm so happy for you, and I'm also happy the "after" part has you feeling good. I told Kathy if she's in I'm in for next year.....be careful what you wish for, right?

XLMIC said...

Super impressed by your toughness. This sounds so demanding and you (as you said) nailed it! Way to go, Jill :) Also really glad to hear that the after-race was pretty painless! Awesome!

Alma said...

Wow - amazing job, Jill! And I can't believe you did all this race and then ran 6 miles the next day. Ummm, not human?

Mike said...

Great race and race report! That race sounds really tough. You did great and the finish with the storm at the top sounds crazy! I get really cold after races that are 60 degrees, I can't imagine sleet. I just shivered typing that, seriously :-).

Char said...

Damn, you're a tough chick!. That race is definitely not for the faint-hearted and you've done it THREE times?? Snow and sleet in Summer? Now that's just wrong. We don't even get it in Winter.

Congratulations Jill.

Big Daddy Diesel said...

Holy cow, my quads hurt just from reading this, congrats on another successfull race

Matthew Smith said...

INCREDIBLE! You are incredible! What a great race, and you rocked it! Those pictures tell the whole story pretty well, and you couldn't ask for better scenery. Way to go on getting out there and doing it. You deserved that awesome medal!

Johann said...

You are so strong Jill! Well done, I knew you would do it and that you would kill it. This is a tough race but certainly a great one to do. Rest well Jill, you deserve it. What's next?

Amanda - RunToTheFinish said...

ok so as badly as i want to come visit you this race would probably kill me.

Love that you were feeling good the day after! I agree that form has a lot to do with that.

if I were to pick a race in CO which one do you totally love?? I think this fall/next year I need to tackle some kind of trail running

Jamoosh said...

Most excellent. The Running Gods applaud!

DRog said...

way to go Jill
way awesome

that Haze
the switch backs and top of the mountain!

proudest of all three
so cool

misszippy said...

You are amazing! It's time to give yourself the credit you deserve and stop feeling "out of shape." Look what you are doing!! Congrats.

Thomas Bussiere said...

Huge congrats on this very tough and demanding race. This looks like a lot of fun and I need to put this race on my list of races. Love the pics. You did it.

Fitness and Diet Tips said...

Amazing how much energy you have. You feel so much better when you exercise.

Black Knight said...

You did it! I have never seen the clouds below me but I live on the sea.
Beautiful pics.
I am sure you are already planning the next adventure.

Nitmos said...

Awesome! Pretty cool accomplishment. And a kick ass medal. Anything with a donkey on it goes straight to my heart...

Mark said...

Great report! Congratulations!!! I had a friend that was sightseeing on the mtn that day, he mentioned the race and the sleet!
Really proud of you how you have worked back to running well. I liked that you spoke up, too!:)

Raina said...

Of course we all knew you would do it!

I marvel at some of the stuff you take on Jill-
How awesome is it that you have no calf or heel issues. Your form must be MUCH improved over the last year. All that work has paid off!
I love that you had such and rewarding time. I can't blame you a bit for not going back for the ID. ha!
That is really a beautiful medal. Getting prepped for Pike's peak- it won't know what hit it.

GZ said...

It might have been mentioned in the comments before (I am not going to read them because - 50 comments! - damn girl), but the best part of the story is the ride down with the Indians. That is memorable stuff.

okay, racing up a 14er is memorable too, but the Indian thing is classic.

Tricia said...

Impressive -- I can't even imagine running at that altitude, not to mention the gain.

Brian said...

I was wrong to complain about a hilly 10K. This race sounds ridiculous. But cool.

Congrats on a great finish!

The Green Girl said...

Jill, I am so proud of you! Wow. Just the altitude alone is mind-boggling.

Way to kick some serious butt.

The ride back down with the Indians cracked me up. Heh.

Stacey Pomerleau said...

Congratulations....... That was one tough course with breath-taking scenery!!!

TX Runner Mom said...

Wow, congrats! That race looks absolutely amazing! Thanks for sharing all the awesome pics!

Bubble Boy said...

You are amazing! I have trouble climbing my stairs to the basement and back up! You may have self proclaimed bad posture on that pirated picture, but check out those leg muscles! Congrats on a job well done Jilly B!

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