Sunday, September 24, 2017

UA Mountain Series: Copper Mountain 50K

Disclaimer: I received entry to UA Mountain Running Series--Copper Mountain as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out to review find and write race reviews!

We all know that moving to Colorado, I would be super eager to do a race here.  So when Bibrave was offering entry to the UA Mountain Series and one of the location was Copper Mountain, without thinking I registered for the 50K.  Well I did google Copper Mountain to make sure it was reasonable driving distance from Boulder but otherwise not a thought went into registering.
As it grew closer to race day, I figured I should look at the details.  It was only then that I realized how difficult this race was going to be for me.  The stats went something like this: 7500 feet of gain, average elevation of 10000 feet, reaching 12,000 feet twice and time limit of 8 hours.  Woah.  I mean I'm sure 8 hours is generous for a lot of people but given this would be my first race at this kind of altitude I was pretty worried I would not make 8 hours.  I had two long runs here in Boulder leading up to the race.  Neither one went particularly well, but they were my longest runs at Boulder Altitude and I had only been here a couple weeks or so.  The first one I had tummy issues which could have been one of several issues I had going on that day.  The second one, I felt reasonably well but my speed just wasn't good.  I think over 20 miles I had maybe 2500 feet of gain but it took me 5 hours and that was doing the last 4 or so miles on road so I could make it to pick up the kids on time.  It didn't really give me good confidence that I could make the 31 miles with all that climbing at that altitude in the 8 hours.
In any case, I was still really looking forward to the race.  It was my first Colorado race and it was an awesome mountain race, pretty exciting.  We also had made plans as a family to go together, they would support me and enjoy all the fun activities at the mountain.  Emir had also registered for the vertical race which didn't start until after mine.  I was really looking forward to our first Colorado road trip as a family.

Unfortunately, life happens and sometimes really really sucks.  One week before the race we got some pretty awful news.  Emir's aunt had passed away, pretty unexpectedly.  Literally, 2-3 hours later we received a call saying that Emir's mom was not going to survive her illness that she was going through.  It was all so much at once and we were faced with making a very difficult decision within the hour and that was whether Emir should fly to Bosnia.  Obviously, if there were no other factors, he would have just left that second but last minute airfare from Denver to Bosnia is not reasonable by any means.  But in the end, we knew he had to go or he would never forgive himself.  So there we were speeding to the airport so he could make a 4pm flight that afternoon.  It was pretty awful.  I was an absolute mess.  It was hard enough to have no forewarning that we wouldn't have my husband and their father for two weeks but I just wished I could go to be with our family so bad.  Emir's family has been part of my life since I was 18, they are my family.  It broke my heart so bad to be potentially losing two of our closest members and also not to be able to be there with Emir to support him through one of the most difficult times.   I'll fast forward through the Loooooong two weeks that he was gone to say that his mom somehow has recovered, what an amazingly strong woman.  She's still in the hospital but she's off the ventilator, awake, stable and doing well now :-)
Luckily for me, my mom knew exactly how hard this was for me and the kids.  They were all out of sorts.  They are old enough now, so we had to explain why daddy was suddenly going to Bosnia and it majorly affected them.  My mom came out that Monday and stayed until Sunday.  And even though my neighbors are amazing and I actually could have gotten by without her being here, I just needed her presence and so did the kids.  So for that we are so grateful.  And her being here, meant that I could still do my race which was super important to Emir.  He still wanted me to do it, he knew how worried and upset I was over everything and that skipping it would just be another reminder of what was going on.  He was right.  After finishing the race, the immense struggle that it was, I felt better.  It was some much needed, mountain, ultra, running therapy.
Now, finally, we can talk about the actual race.  The 50K started at 8 so it was easy for me to leave around 5:30 and make it to Copper Mountain around 7.  It was a beautiful drive through and around so many mountains.  I could tell once I got there it was not going to be a big race but that didn't matter to me.  They had signs everywhere so it was super easy to get my bib and UA half zip.  That area was also where bag check was so I knew exactly where to go when I was ready to drop that off.  Copper Mountain has a super cute village including a Starbucks so I totally hit that up while getting ready for the race.  I'm sure a lot of the ski mountains out here have cute little villages and stuff but it's just so different than anything I've seen so to me, it was really awesome.  I also saw how many fun activities there were that the kids would have enjoyed but no time to dwell on that, just focus on what I needed to do.
Standing in the village at the base of the mountain was very intimidating.  I don't think I've ever really stood at the bottom of a 12,000 foot mountain before.  I knew it was going to be so challenging for me but I was just going to give it my best shot.  Before I knew it, we were taking off, basically straight up the mountain.

Those climbs behind me, looked super intimidating

I took my time, hiking mostly, mixing in some jogging when it would flatten out a bit or even a slight decline.  I was towards the back of the 35-40 people.  I chatted with a few people that were towards the back with me.  It seemed like most people had some experience training and racing at these altitudes and they were pretty surprised I had JUST moved here and was doing this race.  The race was two 15.5 mile loops (closer to 16 miles) so the first loop I was super happy with how I did.

It was 7.5 miles up to the top and I was just about 17min/mile pace overall.  I was able to make up a decent amount of time on the back half and came in just under 4 hours.  I was pleased with my time but knew that it was unlikely that I could make the second lap in 4 hours.

There was a group of us that all came in similar time to the halfway point.  The race people told us to hit up the aid station and get moving back up the mountain.  That was one fear off my list that they wouldn't let me go on for the second lap.  I'm guessing there was enough of us and we all were moving so they figured they would let us go.

About 10-15 minutes into the second lap, I heard thunder.  I started to feel something hitting me.  It wasn't rain, what was it??  Then it started pouring hail pellets.  Yup nice sharp little daggers pounding us from the sky.  It also started to get way colder since the sun went away.  I had to dig my long sleeve back out of my pack.  I was freezing and my hands were so swollen I thought they would burst.  I thought for sure at the next aid station they would stop us due to the storm.  Nope.  "everyone ok? keep going!"  That was pretty much how the whole second lap went for me.  

Everytime I came to an aid station, I thought for sure they would stop me because I was definitely not making 8 hours.  But no one said a single thing about time, just asked if I was ok, what I needed and sent me on my way.  I did ask at one aid station about 2 miles from the top, about my swelling.  I've swelled a million times before during ultras but this was WAY worse.  It wasn't just my fingers, it was my whole arms and probably other parts that I wasn't focused on.  I don't think my fingers have ever swelled that big other than my first pregnancy when I had preclampsia so I just wanted to make sure that it was safe to continue like that.  There were medics at every aid station so I went over to them.  They informed me that indeed I had the medical condition "sausage fingers" but that it was fine, drink as much as I could during the rest of the race and take off my Qalo ring.  I really didn't think it could be ok to be that swollen but as I started descending down a bit later, it did start to improve.  My other ailments that were significantly affecting my second loop were headache and nausea.  I knew it was all due to the altitude.  I even felt pretty lightheaded after a significant climb around 28-29 miles.  I had to stop at the aid station a few minutes and they gave me some electrolyte stuff and informed me how altitude takes it out of you much faster and more fuel and fluid is needed at higher altitudes and then said "go finish!"  At the time I felt a bit shocked how there seemed to be no concern for my condition however looking back, obviously they know the red flags to look for and I didn't have any of those.  I was just suffering and pitying myself but if they babied me and I dropped, I probably would have been mad at them, so yes they did the right things.

So I crawled my way to the finish.  I finished in 9 hours and 2 minutes.   If I had to, I probably could have finished a bit faster but with about 4-5 miles left, knowing I was not making 8 hours and also realizing that they were just going to let us finish, I did a lot more walking.   I was feeling pretty bad and didn't see the point in punishing myself more for no reason.  After I finished I really felt like I had done way more than a 50K.  It was hard to eat much that night and I didn't sleep particularly well.  Both of these usually are a result of 100K - 100 mile distance not 50K but this was like no 50K I've ever done.

Even though the second half of this race was a true sufferfest for me, I'm so glad I did it.  All too often I've stuck to things in my comfort zone.  This was definitely WAY out of that zone.  I've often thought that I'm not capable of mountain races and that's back east with much lower altitude.  I know what it feels like now and I know it will get better with more training out here.  I also think it really jolted my body into adjusting more to the Boulder altitude which is a lot lower than Copper Mountain but still way more than anything I'm used to.  All my runs felt pretty hard here but since doing Copper Mountain things have felt better, I've even been hitting some paces that are reminiscent of runs at sea level.

The race itself was well organized and had so many distance options so if you just wanted a little taste of the mountain you could do that as well.  It was definitely a beautiful race.  I wanted to just take pictures of everything.  I also was impressed with how many aid stations there were, all well stocked and plenty of volunteers and safety people.  High altitude is no joke and it was good to see they realize that as well.  I also want to thank the race officials for letting all of us go that finished after 8 hours.  It was a super hard course even at 8-9 hours and we all appreciated being allowed to get our finish.  We were all announced coming in and given our medals and an official finish time.  I would have understood if we were given DNFs but since this was the first year for the race, I appreciate them giving leeway after seeing a chunk of the racers needing a bit more time.  A sign of a good race and good RD is one that makes reasonable adjustments.  This is a race I would definitely do again.

Now, next up for me, complete opposite end of the spectrum is the Chicago marathon in a couple weeks.  Completely flat road race.  It's been a long time since I raced a marathon and I don't feel that I particularly trained for a fast marathon but I have been doing lots of tough training at altitude and people claim that makes a huge difference.  When you are running every day at 5000-6000 feet, it's hard to imagine yourself feeling so much different at sea level especially when you have never had that experience yet.  I can only imagine myself feeling like I feel right now when I run.  But I am looking forward to getting out there and giving it my best shot.