Saturday, June 18, 2011

Mount Evans Ascent Race Report

2:41:40 and 41st out of 355 finishers (results here). Top 12 percent, meaning 88% of the field finished behind me. According to my Garmin, my total climb was about 3,501 feet and--get this--my total descent was 231 feet--all on road traveling to the top of the mighty 14,265-foot Mount Evans, nearly three miles in the sky. For comparison, the winning time was around 1:50. The conditions this year (more on that below) probably cost people 10-20 minutes at least.

The views and scenery... Uh, they were spectacular. Huge drop-offs from the road's shoulder...hundreds of feet down. More than half the race was above tree line. If you've never been above treeline, it's hard to describe...barren, exposed, windy, sometimes eery, incredible views, cold, very thin air.

Yes, these were very difficult conditions today. When the race started we had a rain/snow combination going. Lovely. In some areas with significant exposure, the winds gusted at 30-50+ miles per hour. In a few spots the wind almost took my legs out from under me. I'm not kidding when I say that. In other spots, with the wind coming right down on me, I felt like I was running in place. The few areas where the wind was at my back were wonderful--I felt like I was literally being pushed up the mountain. All of this made it very difficult for me to get and stay in a groove. But I wasn't alone in suffering through the fierce headwinds--the hundreds of other runners on the course endured the harsh gusts, too.

By the time I got to 13,000 feet I was really cold and wanting to finish this race, taking one switchback at a time. The wind chill toward the top was probably in the teens. Lots of cars were coming and going in both directions, requiring attention and care.

I finished, collected my summit bag, quickly checked out the views and then hopped in the van to get a ride back down to Echo Lake. My fingers were numb and purple. They're OK now. I asked a bunch of Mount Evans veterans what they thought of this year's conditions and they all agreed that the weather today was ferocious.

Having run 13.5 hours and just shy of 94 miles last week and not really tapering for Evans this week, I think it's entirely plausible that my legs were a little flat. With Leadville on the horizon, I just think tapering for a 14.4-mile race is a mistake. I'm not even really going to taper for the Leadville Marathon on 7/2. But throughout Evans my legs never felt sore or beat-up, and I never felt depleted. From a pure endurance standpoint, the race didn't trash me at all. What got to me was the wind and high altitude.

My splits for the Mount Evans Ascent aren't very impressive and they reveal that I had a tough time with the elevation.

Note that the above says "2:47." I thought I pressed the "stop" button on my Garmin when I finished, but I guess my fingers were so cold that I didn't. So my watch ran for ~6 additional minutes while I got my bag and regrouped.

The Mount Evans Ascent has shown me that no matter how hard I train or how fit I may be, it's going to take time for me to truly be able to race at altitude. There's something a lot of these Colorado mountain runners have that I don't *yet* have--and I think it has something to do with being accustomed to high altitude and the acquired physiological capacity to run well at elevation. So today really showed me that I need to continue to be patient, keep training hard and with focus and let it all come to me. I am confident that eventually I'll make a breakthrough and achieve the kind of success I used to experience once again.

I've said this before and I'll say it again: In races out East, you can more or less let it rip, with experience playing a role. At high altitude, yes, you need to be shape, but you have to have a lot of experience. Without that experience, most everyone, including the supremely fit, will suffer at nearly 3 miles in the sky. Experience comes with time. And so I'll remain patient and just enjoy running because it is, after all, a gift.


After the race I enjoyed a fantastic lunch and good times with Lucho (4th overall with a 2:00), George Z. (top masters and 8th with a 2:15), Adam F. (top grand masters and 11th overall with a 2:19) and a few others. It was great to hang out with these guys and hear their race reports and war stories. Hats off to them for great performances on the day!


Grades for the Mount Evans Ascent:

Organization: A
Course: A
Volunteers: A
Aid station fare: A (though I've never been a fan of Heed)
Post-race fare: A
Transportation of runners: A
Overall experience: A
Weather: D (no one's fault but Mother Nature's!)

This is a first-class race with a long history. Put it on your calendar for 2012!


  1. Wyatt,

    Job well done!

    Running in these mountains is a completely different experience than any other location. It does take lots of time at altitude to get the body used to it. Also, everybody reacts and adapts differently to the altitude. Give yourself time and do all you can do to spend time at altitude.
    Personally, I live at 8500' and run nothing but big hills. When I moved here in the mid 90s, my body took to the altitude easily but now at 46 years old, it takes me a bit longer to fully get used to the thin air. The other day I was running Barr Trail from the top of Pikes Peak; ran down about mid way between A Frame and Barr Camp; the trip back to the top was long, slow, lightheaded, and even a bit nausated!
    Hang in there and keep are doing great....


  2. Good to see you out there. Continue to bang out good training, enjoy the process, enjoy the gift we have of being able to get out there and enjoy these hills.

    Cuz, it is a gift.

  3. Awesome race. Don't think I could do it at all without a major cycle of training...even then wow!

    I'm also amazed at the training volume you can withstand. Even in my 20's I couldn't have done that.

    Happy racing!