Monday, June 23, 2008

Race Report: Mt. Evans Ascent

One of my first races in 2007 was the Mt. Evans Ascent, a paved 14.5-mile race to (almost) the summit of one of Colorado’s 14’ers. I had run the course two weeks before, with conditions deteriorating as I neared the top. I ran a respectable 2:25 that day and was confident I could trim another 10 minutes in the midst of 300 other competitors. However, race day weather proved to be some of the mildest in years, and my performance suffered in the heat of those closing miles, leaving me with a disappointing 2:33.

As the 2008 event approached, I was anticipating the opportunity to apply all of the knowledge and fitness I had gained in the last year. But, as I mentioned in my previous post, I underestimated the time required to recover from a brutal 100K. I did a short trial run on Father’s Day, six days before the race, and would determine after then if I was healthy enough to compete. The run did not end gracefully. I decided to sell my entry but was chagrined to learn that the transfer deadline had expired, as pain shot up through my legs and into my wallet.

Predawn registration near the Echo Lake Lodge

Nevertheless, I wanted to be involved in the event and enlisted as a volunteer. My Saturday started around 5:30AM as the Racing Underground crew prepared to register those who had arrived as early as 4AM. I jumped into my role as a shuttle driver, whisking runners from satellite parking areas to the starting line in my father-in-law’s Dodge Caravan (The Babe Magnet), toting first-timers and old hats to and fro. Race day pressure was off, tainted with the slightest hint of envy.

Just before eight, I scrambled to a perch facing the front line, as Race Director Darrin Eisman scattered last-minute instructions with a bullhorn. I recognized Matt Carpenter and a few other runners shortly before Darrin shouted ‘GO!’ and the entire group made their way up State Hwy 5 toward the summit. Once the last runner disappeared around the opening bend, I darted back to the Babe Magnet and proceeded to creep up the right-hand side of the highway to catch the frontrunners in action. The first mile effectively thinned out the masses; some were holding steady at a seemingly comfortable pace, others were already laboring for oxygen with 14 miles to go.

I recognized my friend Woody, all 6’8” of him, running solo in the upper reaches of the field. ‘This is awesome!’ he exclaimed as I motored by. I approached the 3-mile aid station and decided to lend them a hand, collecting discarded cups, Hammer Gel packets and banana peels, while cheering on the competitors. I waited for the last runner to arrive (coincidentally, a woman I had met during Sunday’s test run) before moving on. I then decided I would make a push to the summit parking lot, where I hoped to watch Matt finish and snap some photos of him. My afternoon volunteer duties were to shuttle finishers from the parking lot down to Summit Lake, where school buses were staged to take them the rest of the way. The switchbacks from Mile 9 to the finish were too tight for one of those monstrosities to navigate the full route.

Once I passed the lake, runner density thinned to about one per every hundred yards, and I expected I’d catch Matt shortly before the finish. But when I arrived at the summit lot I was dismayed to learn I had missed his arrival by only a few minutes. In fact, he had crossed the line and continued up a bouldery singletrack to the actual summit, bagging the 14’er in style.

Matt returns from the summit

I waited for him to descend, snapping this incredible but lo-fi photo, with a frosted range splayed out in the background. Carpenter had not only won the event in 1:37:01 but surpassed a 31-year-old course record of 1:41:35 set by John Bramley in 1977. His pace calculated out to an incredible 6:42 mile! Finishing 12+ minutes behind him was Adam Campbell from Victoria, British Columbia, then Cornelis Guijt from Colorado Springs only 2.5 minutes later. The women’s winner was Naoko Takahashi of Longmont (2:06:22, 12th overall), besting the previous course record of 2:07:14 set by J’ne Lucore-Day in 1990. Naoko is a 2000 Olympic gold medalist in the marathon and the former marathon world record holder (2:19:46). It was humbling to have a personal account of the records as they fell, rather than read about it online the next day.

L to R: Adam Campbell (2nd/1:49:29), Matt Carpenter (1st/1:37:01), Cornelis Guijt (3rd/1:52:04)

Given the limited area of the summit parking lot, the goal of the support staff was to get the runners down the hill to the buses as quickly as possible. At first, it was difficult to pry anyone from the fantastic views of the surrounding ranges. But, by the third trip there was a line of people patiently waiting their turn to catch one of three shuttles, and each of us couldn’t carry more than 7 or 8 people. The half-hour trip provided me the opportunity to hear various race reports and other bits of runner conversations, including a passenger seat tell-all from Matt’s wife, Yvonne. I also noticed that the first couple of trips were quite lively, as the younger, more spirited runners spoke excitedly about their races and upcoming schedule, while the slower runners on subsequent excursions appeared to be more passive or simply exhausted.

My last descent from the summit included only one rider, Steve Sirockin from Boulder, who spends some of his summer Saturdays on 8-12-hour runs through the most scenic of Colorado’s Front Range backcountry. He invited me on a future jaunt, and I eagerly accepted the invitation while unconsciously massaging my left knee. The promise may have been as empty as the space reserved for my 2008 Mt. Evans Ascent finisher's medal.

Course Overview (USGS Aerial photo - Google image had too much snow.)


David Ray said...

Just more routine Colorado beautyness. Enjoyed the writeup. Nice to get a different view of a race.

funkylegs said...

Hi David, Yeah, it was quite the experience! In fact, I'll probably do the same next year - the timing is too close to Kettle and I'm not a good road runner anyway. Trails are more fun!


Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

That's funny, we were simultaenously reading each other's blogs.

Sorry you had to sit it out (as financially and emotionally disappointing as it was, probably not as bad as that suffered by all those Western States runners) but seeing (almost) 2 records fall to true world-class runners sounds pretty exciting.

I don't even want to think about how sick I'd feel if I tried that without acclimitizing first....

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about the knee. Still any day in the mountains is a good day. I commented on your Kettle report also dude. Take Care and good luck to you.

Animal Cracker said...

Hey Kirk.
Cool report of the day. How rad to be in the presence of The Lung!
I hope the legs are feeling better.
Take care.