Some races we run to fulfill dreams and others to cross off bucket lists. Then there are those we do just because they seem like a good idea at the time but they teach us or show us something else about ourselves or our character. That’s how the Mount Evans Ascent on June 15th, turned out for me. It was also my first 14er in Colorado and it proved to me that I could keep going even when my fear of height kicked in.
I didn’t sign up for Mount Evans to prove anything to myself or anyone else. I did it because I saw a post on in from a Facebook friend of mine, Kathy (http://gottokeeponrunninglong.blogspot.com/). She signed up for it and invited others to join her.
“Share in the misery,” she cajoled, referring to hard it is climb 14ers, let alone race them.
I’m not sure if she thought many people would take her up on it, and and least of all me, but I did sign up thanks to her post. What can i say? It felt like a triple-dog dare from “A Christmas Story.” What was the worst that could happen? Not making it to the summit or getting my tongue frozen to a rock at the top?
Psssshaw! I can do this, I thought.
Photo credit: www.achristmasstoryhouse.com
“Run” is a relative term when it comes to scaling almost 4,000 vertical feet, and starting at about 10,000 feet. Organizers bill this event as “America’s Highest Road Race” with “road” being the operative word. It traverses pavement the entire way. It starts at Echo Lake (10,800 feet), located at the intersection of Hwy. 103 (Squaw Pass Rd.) and Hwy. 5 (Mount Evans Road). From there, the course climbs for 14.5 miles until you almost reach the summit of Mount Evans, 14,264 foot. I say “almost” because after you cross the finish line you have to climb another 150 feet to reach the true top of Mount Evans. Because it’s a precipitous spot organizers don’t stage the finish there.
In my estimate only true mountain goats can “run” the entire way during this race.
Photo credit: www.wikipedia.com
Most of us mere mortals ran, walked, power hiked and jogged in spurts at Mount Evans — the idea being to just keep putting one foot in front of the other any way we could and this included me.
I’m not ashamed to admit it — I’m neither a mountain goat nor Scott Jurek when it comes to mountain running. I I did the best I could with my limited vertical training I got in beforehad and the rest I chalked up to “Duct Tape thinking” to power me through it. (Stay with me. I’ll explain more as I go.)
Sure, in the several weeks leading up to Mount Evans I ran lots of hills and lifted weights, but I never got a chance to run the road itself beforehand. Park officials usually don’t open it until after Memorial Day and even then, it’s weather permitting. I also I never got to train above 10,000 feet before the race, which I believe would have been better. I live at 6,000 feet and I did run Mount Falcon (about 2,000 feet of climbing and close to an 8,000-foot summit) and other trail runs, but that was it.
The week before the race the road opened to the public and I drove it with my husband and son.The first section was wooded and secluded and then it opened up. From there it snaked back and forth, quite exposed, until the summit. Most of the sections have few or no guardrails to them. If your car goes astray, you can plummet off the side thousands of feet.
As we drove up, my heart began racing and breathing became shall. Soon I was hyperventilating.
“Did I ever tell you I’m afraid of heights?” I said to my husband as we reached Summit Lake — the first cut-off point for the race. “Turn around, please.”
“Seriously?” he asked. “Are you sure? Don’t you want to see the rest?
“NO! Get me the hell down. NOW!”
My husband saw me gripping the door handle and terror in my eyes, then obeyed.
For the next week leading up to the race I panicked, Forget my lack of ideal training. I thought, “How am I going to get through this?”
That’s when I remembered a trip I took to Eastern Europe a few decades back and all the Duct tape there and came up with a strategy.
Back in the 1980s my sister and I visited my parents’ homeland. I didn’t know it at the time but it was a trip of a lifetime and one that would never be repeated. Many of the places I saw have either been destroyed or changed by the civil wars that took place in the Balkans during the 1990s.
My fondest memories are of the many people who helped us while were there (we speak the language). Many of them offered to drive us places in their cars. We were in a Communist country at the time and because of the circumstances not everyone owned a car. Most of the time they had these cars in the proverbial sense. Sure, they had steering wheels and tires, but most of the time they were falling apart — broken mirrors, door handles, doors themselves and windshields, Almost everyone we encountered had used Duct tape to keep their vehicle or something else less than ideal intact in some form and it worked for me
It occurred to me that Duct tape and “Duct tape thinking” was the way they carried on despite being dealt a difficult hand. It did not stop them living life or enjoying it as best they could. It was a valuable lesson to be learned.
In the days leading up the race I hedged back and forth. “Should I run it? Should I drop out of the race and not do it? How am I going to do this? That view, those drop-offs that road — I’m so scared of it.”
I finally decided I need to strap on some Duct tape thinking myself and just get through it as best I could.
The day of the race I met up with a great group of Columbine friends to carpool up and hang out with — Tina, Janet, Melissa, Jessica and Morriah
Here are pictures of us at the start and then at the summit, too
I credit them for helping me through my fear of heights and making it to the top, particularly Morriah. We ran from the start to Summit Lake together and then I took off a bit faster from there.
Yes, I still had experienced serious fear and vertigo during Mount Evans but being with Morriah — getting to know her, having someone to talk to, the good company —was a godsend. Thank you Morriah!
The race itself was both spectacular and scary. The first four miles I ran a lot of it. Then the road opened and so did the winds at gusts of 40 mph plus. This added to my vertigo so I kept my eyes on this horizon and put one foot in front of the other. I took in the alpine scenery when I could.
Morriah and I stuck together most of the way until we got to the first cut-off point for the race. (You have to get to Summit Lake in 2 hours and 45 minutes and the summit in 4 hours and 30 minutes or the organizers would turn you back.) You are also not allowed to run on the inside or mountainside of the road, just to left side of the yellow line or you can be disqualified. They do this because the road stays open to traffic during the race. Most of the time, the cars give you the right-of-way, but this rule also added to my anxieties and course marshals do enforce the left-side-of-the-road rule, too.
I ran and climbed up the road at a conservative pace and I felt good most of the way. I was surprised to see potholes in the road near the top, especially when we got above the tree line, but I guess in perspective it makes sense. Since the road is closed most of the year I am sure repairs are difficult to do.
The last few miles were peaceful and yet eery and lonely at the same time. The strong winds hollowed in my ears and made it colder. I tried to make conversation with a few people after Morriah and I parted but most of them didn’t want to talk. In fact, almost everyone but me wore headphones with music. My guess is they were too tired and depleted and focused on getting to the top to talk.
I had to add clothing layers and even hand-warmers inside my gloves once I got close to the summit. It was freezing!
The last few switchbacks were grueling and felt like a death march but somehow I managed. Once I got to the summit and across the finish line I grabbed my dry bag and added more clothing. As I watched other people finish I noticed some of them weaving or slurring their words — altitude sickness at play.
A few of the gals I was with had done this race before and commented on how rough the winds and conditions were this go-around. I think we were all thankfully to be done.
I don’t know if I’ll ever do Mount Evans again. Right now my thinking is that I won’t repeat it but you never know. That’s the thing about “Duct tape thinking and running” — it gets you past things you think you can’t do. Never say never.
Last week I started grad school. I am in an urban teacher licensing program and I have a feeling that a little Duct tape thinking will serve well there, too.
In the meantime though, I’ll keep on with the Duct tape running. You just never know where it will take you — even up a mountain and beyond your fears.
“Aging is inevitable, but growing old is a choice. Lace up your shoes, and let’s go!”
Today is a rest day: Mileage for 2014: 995