On Saturday, July 27, I ran my first trail race at altitude, the Eldora Trail 10K, after moving to Boulder, Colorado only five short weeks ago. Training in Boulder, which sits at an elevation of 5,430 ft. has been humbling to say the least. I have been running about 30 miles a week so far, and seem to be acclimatizing well. Running even the slightest uphill the first few weeks left me gasping for air, but my body seems to be adjusting more and more each week. I am now able to run comfortably at an 8:30 mile pace on the flat trails around Boulder. Most of my training runs have been between 5,400-8,000 ft., but this race takes place above 9,250 ft....Yikes! I have to admit I was a little nervous about tackling this one, because I had only been above 9,000 ft. twice to hike in the five weeks I have lived here. Also, training and racing at altitude are very different beasts. With that said, I really had no expectations for this race, and nothing to compare it to. My only goal was to try to get through the course without walking...that didn’t happen. This is how it played out...
I was shocked from the start when I saw a bunch of guys take off up the first climb like it was a 10K road race. I thought to myself, “I am in a different trail-running league now.” The first climb was a little less than a half-mile with about 200 ft. of vertical, but it felt like running up a brick wall at this altitude. I tried my best to relax and control my breathing, but it was already too late. I had to catch up with my lungs the entire race, which was a strange feeling, and the opposite from what usually happens to me during a race. When racing at sea-level, its my legs that always let me down, not my lungs. At altitude, my legs wanted to go faster, but my lungs would not allow it.
I soon realized catching my breath would be impossible without slowing down, so at about the 2.5 mile mark I hiked the first of a few short climbs. Throughout the rolling course, I was never able to really relax and find a rhythm, but those short walking breaks allowed me to catch my breath just enough to hammer the next downhill. Eventually, I found myself racing against one other runner. He would pass me going up, and I would pass him back going down. Fortunately for me, it was a downhill finish, and I was able to get past him on my way to the finish line (see photo below).
The course ended up being a lot more technical than I imagined. There were even a few steep rocky downhills that flooded me with memories of good old Harriman. The course did not disappoint, offering a nice mix of fire road, doubletrack, and singletrack, with some sweet technical sections thrown in for good measure. However, I was not able to enjoy the beautiful scenery as much as I would have liked, because most of my focus and energy was trying to prevent me from passing out.
In the end, I finished the 10K course in 50:23, which was good enough for 18th overall out of 152 competitors. I will definitely be back to run this race again next year. I am already looking forward to see how much I can improve after a year’s worth of altitude training.
Many thanks to La Sportiva for organizing the event, all the race volunteers for their time and support, and Eldora Mountain Resort for hosting!
A special thanks to the MPF Campmor Trail Running Team for all your support and encouragement as I tackle this new adventure in my life.