Mt. Evans Ascent: Reaching new Heights

Updated: May 25, 2020

The highest paved road race in North America, 14.5 miles up from Echo Lake at 9,500 feet to the summit of one of Colorado’s famous “14ers”, mountains that rise 14,000 feet above sea level. It was the first race I registered for the 2012 season back in January, not like my usual last minute-

impulsive-hopefully the expo has free Cliff bars- the t-shirt is technical and the prize is shoes, sign-up.

I knew this race would take some modifications on my training. It was this race that inspired some of my running interval workouts that I used not only for myself, but also for many of my clients. One being up-down’s, jogging at the treadmill’s highest incline and then decreasing the incline to flat and running at race pace before repeating. Another was hill rests, running at tempo on flat then simultaneously decreasing the speed and the incline, with the idea being that there was active recovery occurring at incline. Hill kills was a variation on hill holds- the latter being holding a moderate pace at incline with recovery pace at flat, hill kills repeating the same patter but sprinting the last 30 seconds of a hold, encouraging the idea to finish a hill strongly to promote a continuation to race pace.

Unfortunately, my training for Mt. Evans rarely took me out of the gym to train at altitude. I had to use the treadmill and high intensity intervals to prepare me. January-May was a very busy season at the gym and I could rarely afford the time to eat lunch, let alone drive an hour for a long, training run.

I managed to make it up to Golden a few times at about 6-7,000 feet. Lookout Mountain is a great training run as well as Golden Gate Canyon Road where I was stopped my a frantic lady concerned for my safety- and why couldn’t I run on the trails. I explained I was trying to avoid being a bear’s afternoon snack, or breaking an ankle on a boulder and being forced to camp overnight- but maybe the lunatics on this road were worse! A biker, who proceeded to stop when nature called, also passed me; unfortunately shaking out towards the road as I raced passed avoiding eye contact!

Proud of the Wade-West clan for adventuring to this race by my side, we arrived on time at Echo Lake, got my packet and headed to the car to get ready. I excitedly rummaged through the packet, excited at the free bars and goodies and was desperate to make sure my cool new long-sleeved technical t-shirt was a fit, forgoing tying my shoe laces, loading my shorts with gel and pinning on my race number. Oops. As the clock ticked down, I played the roll of five-year-old Milly, with Dad holding my bottle of pre-workout drink, and Mum pinning my race number on. And I was off to the start line! A bit of a delayed start allowed my Dad to have some encounters with other racers, I cringed as he asked the question no racer wants to talk about “is this a hard course?” Never having run more than a mile in his life, standing there with his iphone and Starbucks coffee cup, I think the man might have contemplated socking him, saved by the race gun!

As soon as we started off, I realized I had completely forgotten about the potential threat of the altitude! Huffing and puffing a bit as my ipod was turning low (I always start a race with the music a bit lower) I thought ut-oh. However in typical Milly fashion after a slower ten minutes to warm the body up I was in full swing and set into a good pace. My goal was to finish under three hours to be awarded with a mountain goat trophy! Mt. Evans and I have quite a tumultuous relationship. Last summer, it was the first 14er I ever hiked; unfortunately we went from a trailhead whose destination is anything but the summit of Mt. Evans. With pre-cautionary snow shoes strapped on our backs, after a few hours of hiking we realized we had gone wrong but continued the only way we could- up. Once we reached Summit Lake (the trailhead most people hike form) we realized we had come so far, we must summit. After finally reaching the top at 5pm, 11 hours after started we hitchhiked backed down. A bit delirious I offered the friendly, elderly couple my last protein bar as gratitude for the ride!

A few months after the hike I decided to conquer the road, this time on my new road bike with a very experienced road biker. Being an avid biker, I was excited at this prospect, although it does not come as naturally to me as running. For the first and only time ever, I suffered from altitude sickness at Echo Lake, dry heaving in the bushes, I was wary that I would not finish. But we pedaled on and up and got to the top in just under five hours. We passed many mountain goats, famous on Mt. Evans, they starred at us as though we were idiots (I think we probably were!) and one just sat and continued to chomp on grass as my clip-in pedals caused me to take a bit of a tumble on my side a mile from the summit. We made it, and it was hands down the hardest physical endeavor I had taken on to date.

Reflecting on these trips as I ran up Mt. Evans made the race itself seem a breeze. I hadn’t done long runs at altitude, I had done successive miles up incline, but I had kicked my butt at the gym, performing interval after interval and strength training t to prevent injury and develop power. Doing endurance adventures like long trail runs, mountain bike rides, and long 14ers created mental preparation. This race was the moment that I realized I could do whatever I put my mind to; because I had the willpower to never give up. Sometimes beyond the physical expectations comes the mental desire- and combining these qualities together led me to the summit of Mt. Evans-second place for my age group at a time of 2:45 ready to conquer on seven continents.

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