Copper Mountain 25k (2:58)

This is going to be one of my lengthiest race recaps, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!  Before running the UnderArmour Running Series at Copper Mountain, I had no idea what to expect.

While I have run one trail race in NJ, it didn’t have the same climb and elevation changes that races out west do.  I had not run a trail race out west, and I had never raced at anything above 7000 feet of elevation.  I went into the race with zero expectations but finishing.  I could have finished in 2 hours or 4:29 minutes and felt good about it.  In short, I exceeded all expectations for the race including my time and experience.

Due to the length of the recap, I’ve broken it up a little bit.

Before the Race:

Before the race, I fueled as if I was running a marathon.  I knew I would be running for several hours with extreme climbs, so I knew I needed to get as much fuel as possible.  There were several food places available at Copper Mountain, my favorite being the Ten Mile Tavern.

The 25k started at 7:30 am.  Around 7 am, I realized I couldn’t get my Nathan Hydration Pack open.  I had opened it back home to make myself familiar with it.  After basically attacking Sarah to help me, I went over the Fleetfeet Rochester guys, and they were able to open.  Since the pack had gone from 0 elevation to 9000 quickly, the vacuum seal was shut entirely.  After that situation was thankfully fixed (in writing it sounds like I’m calmer than I was), I was ready to go.

Even though there were 5 aid stations, I opted to bring my own water.  I was 100% happy that I did, and if I raced again, I would choose the exact same one.

The Race:

After chatting with Jill at the start, we were off.  I started towards the back, and in hindsight, I could have probably started a few rows up.  The first mile was my slowest because we were so boxed in. I felt like I could move faster than I was but the number of people made it difficult. I logged a 15:10 first mile and I was happy with it.  I was winded, but also I knew it was faster than the pace I needed to make the cutoff.

under armour copper mountain race me running

The next mile was a long incline.  It wasn’t steep, but it was narrow and singletrack.  I kept plugging along with nothing of note except the crowds had begun to spread out.  I was still with a relatively large group of people which kept me motivated.  I wasn’t in it alone.

Around mile 2, began one of the hardest inclines I’ve run.  Not the hardest, because that comes later on.  The switchbacks were steep, and I could see rows and rows of people higher than me climbing.  It made me mentally question, what am I doing?  I have all of that to go.  What kept me together was the people around me.  I was neither the first nor the last.  I was a solid midpack person.  Seeing others going through the same thing made me feel more motivated.  I didn’t feel like I was climbing a mountain alone.

We climbed, and every time I felt I needed water, I sipped some from my pack.  I was thankful for the hydration pack, and if I run the race again, I’ll use the same one.  I ended up drinking all of my water in the pack.  My calves were tired, and for a few brief moments, I thought about walking.  I didn’t, but it crossed my mind.

under armour copper mountain race me running

Around mile 4, I took my first gel.  It was just under an hour, and I planned to take a gel every hour.  I don’t have a flavor preference, and honestly, my stomach can handle any flavor/brand the tasteless being my least favorite…but it will go down).

The switchbacks were done, and we began climbing a fire road.  People spread out, and I had my own space.  It flattened for a brief moment, and people flew by me like I was standing still. With my running college nickname, Mac truck Hollie, I went the same speed.  (Mac truck because I go one speed uphill, downhill, and on flat surfaces).  I knew the climb was not over.

We climbed for a while and then I saw a sign that said: “stay to the left”.  Suddenly, I saw racers coming down the opposite side.  Many had the 50k bib, but a few had 25k too.  They were a few miles in front and had already reached the peak.

Mile 6 and 7 were rough.  You were climbing and watching racers ease down the downhill faster and with less effort. I knew they had already put in the work to get there. I just kept plugging along and staring out over the mountains.  It was beautiful, and I could see for miles.

Finally, after a couple of 12-minute miles, I reached the top.  The energy at the top was unreal.  People cheering, Taylor Swift playing, and a table of cookies, gels, Gus, Powerade, and Red Bull.  I grabbed another GU and Red Bull.  I took in the view for a second and just stared out while drinking my red bull.

under armour copper mountain race me running

I had never had Red Bull while running but I decided since half of everything I was doing was new anyway to just go with it (new shoes, new hydration pack, new elevation, new race terrain…).

Downhill Until it’s Uphill:

Then I began the long stretch downhill.  I’m not a great downhill runner.  In fact, downhill is a very weak point on mine.  I am clumsy and injury prone while running downhill, so I take my time. Many people passed me downhill which was fine.  I didn’t care.

The next few miles were all downhill.  In my mind I thought, is this it?  Are we done climbing?  The hardest is done.  I was logging around 10 min miles and cruising. For the next few miles, I ran alone and enjoyed it.  Just me, running downhill, on an open fire road. I found some secluded woods and quickly used the restroom.

For the next few miles, we kept going down and mentally I had checked out of climbing anything else.  Which is unfortunate because around 10 miles we crossed paths with racers who were climbing.  It was a mix of bibs and I asked someone climbing if we were going that way.  He said yes, and it wasn’t the only climb.

All of a sudden, a racer going another way said: Whoa, are you Tim’s wife?  I said yes, and it turns out one of his college skiing teammates was running the race too.  We caught up after the race which was neat…you never know who you’ll see on the mountain.  Seeing someone, I knew gave me a second wind.

under armour copper mountain race me running

Once we reached the bottom, ready to go up, I knew I was about get served a piece of humble pie.  We dipped to a point and with a water stop.  I grabbed Powerade and began on the first incline.  The include lasted about half a mile, but it was grueling.  My calves were screaming at me, but I was passing people.  I thought to myself, I must really be stronger in the uphills.  I climbed, and my run became more of a cross between a short stride and hike.  I was still moving about the same pace, but I think I could contend for race walking.

We reached the top, circled around and went right back down.  The same racers I passed, passed me.  Someone called out, yeah Jersey.  I asked where he was from and he said Denver…so I said yeah, Denver (clever I know).

After the downhill, we went right back to the uphill which honestly didn’t seem as bad as the earlier uphill.  Maybe I was more mentally prepared, but I powered up and passed the same people who passed me going downhill.  I knew we had to go downhill for a few more miles so I knew they would all drop me later (which to no surprise, they did).

Technical Downhill is Hard:

Around mile 12, we started the technical downhill.  Out of everything, it was my absolute least favorite part. Not because I thought it was a bad course design, but because both downhill and technical trails are my weakness.  Together, at the end of the race was grueling.

I had to pay attention to every place my feet landed for the next 2 miles and it made me slower, less efficient, and worried.  I didn’t want to roll an ankle or fall.  I didn’t care though, my goal was to finish not to run fast and hurt myself because I wasn’t paying attention.

I was extremely fortunate there was no one really around me for almost a mile. I was able to take my time without getting into other racers way.

Around mile 14, a man came barreling through and almost ran into me.  We ended up climbing up a short incline to the fire road and going down.  He quickly ran by me on the wide open road.  From there, I knew I had about a mile and a half.  Just 1.5 miles to go.  I told myself, half of a 5k and a downhill 5k at that.  My quads had started cramping, and my IT band was singing me a sweet hate song.  I wasn’t injured, but 7+ miles of downhill made it tighten up.

The final mile headed into more single track downhill, and we popped out.  I looked down, and I could see the village.  I could see the finish line. OMG, I’m doing it.  I kept staring at this surreal finish line.  Then I crossed, and it was done.

under armour copper mountain race me running

Post Race:

I grabbed a couple of bananas, chatted with people, and then went up to my hotel room for a while.  I felt proud and accomplished.  I enjoyed my first big trail race and it could not have gone better.  Under Armour did a great job and I liked the course a lot. Looking forward, I’m not married to trail running, I just like to run.  I am thinking I’ll do the Under Amour Killington Race as well.  I’ve heard while the elevation is lower, it’s much more technical.  Like anything in my life, I can’t plan too much until closer but I would like to do it if my schedule allows!

Questions for you:

What is the hardest race you’ve ever done?

Have you ever done a trail race?