Thursday, September 22, 2011

Amy and the Mountain

I have a problem with high-fiving before thinking.

Last year I was drinking my coffee at my friend's restaurant and she said "hey, I heard about this race where you go up and over a mountain and it's so hard grown men cry and throw up after crossing the finish line!" And I said "no way, it's so hard you're likely to vomit??! I'm in!" and we high-fived on the spot.

A month later we stayed up till midnight waiting for registration to open for the 2010 Imogene Pass Run. They only allow 1500 people to register and it closes out fast. Yes, it's THAT cool.

I registered and then I trained. Training involved getting up every day around 4:30 or 5 am and hitting a trail at the base of a small mountain pass in the middle of Phoenix. It's only about 3 miles total but I did it every day and worked on being able to run more and more of the trail until I reached the climb. Then I power hiked to the top. It wasn't a lot of miles, but I did it almost every weekday for a couple months.

This was a pretty big feat for a girl who thought she was done with running at the end of 2009. For a girl who was in constant pain with a tearing posterior tibial tendon who walked out of a doctor's office refusing his notion of surgery. I felt pretty good!

And so in September last year we climbed into cars and took the 7.5 hour drive to Telluride, Colorado. And on September 9, 2010 I pinned on my race number and hopped on the bus from Telluride to Ouray on my way for that crazy race that can make grown men cry. I knew I wasn't ready-ready, but I felt semi confident.

Here's a quick description from the website about the Imogene Pass Run:

The Imogene Pass Run (IPR) is a 17.1 mile point-to-point mountain race within the western San Juan mountains of Colorado, run along a route which connects the towns of Ouray (7810 ft.) and Telluride (8750 ft.) by way of 13,114 foot Imogene Pass. This spectrum of weather during the race is in fact part of its lure and mystique. In good weather years the challenge of the mountainous traverse is rewarded by unsurpassed vistas and no small feeling of accomplishment upon crossing the finish line. In bad weather years, the wind, fog, rain and/or snow along the course make the successful arrival in Telluride a virtual rite of passage into the realm of true mountain running.

Each participant should keep in mind that the IPR is a mountain run in every sense of the word, and that "The Mountains Don't Care". The reality is that despite whatever emotions we may have for the mountains and their environment, they are in fact unfeeling objects and they follow the natural rules of physics which are not always benevolent toward living creatures, great or small. It is up to the participants themselves to be properly prepared for the challenges of this alpine foot journey, fair weather or foul. Despite the enthusiastic volunteer support at intervals along the course, each participant is ultimately responsible for his or her own safety and risk.

Sounds fun, yes?

I started the race with great enthusiasm and was pretty quickly out of breath. It's a climb straight from the start - and there's no break. Coming from sea level Phoenix to a race that STARTS at 7,800 feet and starts climbing right away is no joke. It became clear that running it was not in my future. It became clear that continuous forward motion was my only strategy and I could only hope that was good enough. By the time I reached upper bird camp at 7.5 miles I had missed the cut-off time by at least 20 minutes and was officially out of the race. They allowed me to continue warning me twice that I was on my own, there was no race support and no one would be sent to rescue us. But the weather was great and I wanted to finish. And luckily I wasn't alone, another girl in our trip was in the same position as me and she also chose to press on. I was so thankful for her company! 

The next 2.5 miles to the summit was the longest 2.5 miles of my life! I was altitude sick and stumbling like a drunk person. A mere 20 yard hike left me out of breath as if I had sprinted around a track! I don't know how long it actually took us to finish last year - 8 plus hours? We watched the aid stations and port-a-potties get hauled away from the trail below while at the summit. When we reached the finish line .. there was no finish line. It had long been packed up but we were greeted by wonderful friends and I felt a HUGE sense of accomplishment.

Take to 2011

Registered! And did I train! And this year I was in MUCH better shape. 6 months of Crossfit training promoting strengthening and self-healing of my tendons. I was running on a regular basis with a group of girls who really pushed me to be better and faster and push harder. I had already run TWO half marathons and each time got a new PR (personal record). I was still struggling with some things with my body but so much better. My goal this year? SEE A FINISH LINE. Make the cut off time at upper camp bird. Survive again.

So nervous this year. So excited. So dreading it. I remember how I just wanted to lay down and go to sleep last year. How LONG those miles felt. And then I remembered how hard I worked. I made a plan to run for 4 minutes, walk for one until I was forced to only hike. I envisioned a 5:30 finish in my head and how I'd celebrate.
See that grey mountain looming behind the others
in the upper left? Yes, that's where we go up
and over and begin the descent into Telluride.
And then we started. I was amazed and horrified at how quickly my dream of running a major portion was squashed. The immediate and continuous climb hit me immediately and hit me HARD. I was in for another long climb. But I pushed on and pushed on. At mile 6.5, I didn't know if I could make the cut-off. And sure enough, I reached Upper Camp Bird and the cut-off time was 5 minutes passed. I was so sad. There was some confusion at the camp, with one women trying to teach me how to rub my chest for elevation sickness and another man scribbling down my number and asking if I had given up. Finally a woman asked if I planned to continue ... and I really thought about it ... a nice hike back to a comfortable bus returning me to Telluride and a cold beer ... but NO. Finish I must. The girl before me was still in the race - the girl after me, her friend, had also missed the cut off. But we pushed on. I even passed a few people on my way to the top. And after the summit, I actually ran.
At the summit!

On my way to the summit, looking back at how far I'd come.
Ouray is somewhere back there ...
It was hard. So hard. But not as bad as last year. That 2.5 miles from the camp to summit was long but not the longest of my life. Those 7.1 miles after the summit? Not so long - but still hard. My feet were tired, my ankles sore. But no so bad.

And guess what? I saw a finish line. With an actual countdown clock. And 20-some minutes to spare. And I got to run across it. AND I got a finish time: 6 hours and 38 minutes. And people finished AFTER me. Yeehaw!

So I need some serious climbing and elevation work. Watch out - next year 5:30 will be easy. HIGH FIVE!
Those mountains don't look THAT tall ... right?

5 comments:

Mandi Runs said...

You are so amazing! No challenge is too much for you. And that my girl, is freaking amazing! YOU ROCK!!

kim•ber•ly said...

Very impressive!

Natalie | The Bobby Pin said...

That is AMAZING! You climbed a MOUNTAIN! Twice now! Incredible.

Laura said...

Yay, Amy! You rock!

Aimswa said...

Thanks, ladies! Next year I better OWN that mountain! lol.