All of a sudden the Mount Evans Ascent, which is tomorrow (6/18), is occupying my thoughts. When I signed up for Evans a few months ago, my thinking was, "Well, this is a famous race and it's an opportunity to check Evans off of my 14'ers list, so why the hell not? Plus, it'll be a good training run for Leadville!"
Well, I'm now wondering what I can do at Evans tomorrow--which may not be much for all I know since it's between 10,600 feet and 14,265 feet. One of the reasons I'm wondering what I can do at Evans is that I've always been, at heart, a road guy. I love trails but, when you get down to it, my best performances--from 5K to 24 hours--have been on the road (marathon notwithstanding...).
All of that said, the fact of the matter is that I'm still pretty inexperienced at high altitude, and I've never stepped foot on Evans, so my expectations for tomorrow's "sky race" are quite conservative. In my mind, I'd like to do the 14.3-mile race in under 2:20, which would be respectable but not blazing fast. In looking at the elevation profile (linked to the right), here are some basics:
Gains 3,665 feet in 14.3 miles, which comes to an average gain of 256 feet every mile.
256 feet per mile may not sound too bad, but when you consider that the entire race is between 10,600 feet and 14,265 feet and that the difficulty becomes exponentially greater especially above 13,000 feet, we have a major challenge on our hands.
So where did I get my 2:20 goal? Here goes:
Gains about 1,400 feet. Mile 4 marks 12,000 feet. I think on this section you can run somewhat aggressively, but not too aggressively because you don't want to set yourself up for oxygen debt.
8:00 minutes/mile=32 minutes. Note: This might be too fast.
Gains about 1,000 feet, but you're now over 12,000 feet so you're going to be feeling it. Mile 8 marks 13,000 feet.
9:00 minutes/mile=36 minutes
Total running time: 68 minutes
You're now over 13,000 feet so you're going to be feeling it in a big way, especially if the wind is kicking up. Up here, regardless of how fit you may be, the air is so thin that you might be light-headed, sick to your stomach, fighting apathy and about 50% there mentally. You're in slow motion. Your body is putting out tons of effort, but you're going slow! The good news is that this stretch doesn't have a huge amount of elevation gain--maybe 500 feet. It also includes a few descents where you can let gravity do some of the work.
10:30 minutes/mile=42 minutes
Total running time: 110 minutes
This final section will be a grind! You're now running between 13,500 feet and 14,265 feet with the good possibility of high winds and dicey weather. You have 2.3 miles to go and this section brings about 730 feet of climb way up in the air where oxygen is quite thin! Lots of switchbacks up here, too, which can be mentally draining.
13:00 minutes/mile=~30 minutes
Project finished time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
In theory, this seems reasonable to me. But when you're that high, theory doesn't count for much; you have to find a way to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. The key isn't to push the pace; it's to run on feel, listen to my body and be disciplined because the last thing I want is to go into oxygen debt.
Yeah, this isn't your average road race! This is the Mount Evans Ascent!