The Underarmour Killington 25k was the hardest race I’ve ever run. Yes, I’ve run a couple of marathons and yes I ran the Copper Mountain 25k last month at 9000 feet elevation, but Killington was harder. For me anyway. It was also the longest time running on my feet. I’ve hiked longer, but never run that long.
Even though there were challenging portions, I enjoyed the heck out of it. When I finished the Killington race, I wasn’t 100% sure I would run it again, but after a few days, I do believe I would go back. My reasoning for thinking about not rerunning it is straightforward: there are a lot of very steep downhills, and I do think it’s easy to injure yourself. That being said I enjoyed it and thought the race was fun.
The drive from NJ to Vermont was uneventful, but it did take a lot longer than I anticipated. I got there shortly before the race packet pickup ended the night before. You could pick up packets the same day, but I wasn’t sure how the morning before would play out. I wanted to be ready the night before.
The morning of the race, I ended up driving about 15 minutes down the road to get coffee because nowhere was open beforehand. Last month at Copper, one of the places opened early which was nice. It ate up some time, but I was up before my alarm anyway.
I got to the race start around 7 am, chatted with Allie, and by the time I knew it we were off.
I was wrapping my mind around actually racing and the challenge it would be. I didn’t have pressure to race hard, PR, and time was pretty much irrelevant because unless you run the course, it’s hard to fully explain every twist, knee-deep mud puddle, and 40% decline.
I was just at the race for me. I have a whole separate post about my lack of racing this summer, but I actually think it’s been good for me.
The race started, and the first mile was downhill. I started way in the back because people kept passing me. I don’t run downhills well at all, and I was being passed left and right. Around mile 1.5, we started a serious climb.
The roles reversed, and I was passing people as if they were standing still. I’m sure people just thought I started late but I was cruising by people (cruising being somewhere around 12 min miles). I hit mile 2 around 12 minutes and was happy.
The next few miles climbed, and climbed, and also climbed. It was very rocky like the Appalachians. It was also extremely steep, and the inclines were anywhere between 20-40%. After going for 40% for probably half a mile, 20% incline felt like a cakewalk.
I hit mile 5 around an hour. I thought perhaps finishing 3 hours again would be doable, but the course kept getting more and more challenging. So as the race progressed, it became clear I would only reach 3 hours if we ran on the roads.
The next few miles went between extreme uphill and extreme downhill. It was either 20+% grade in one direction. A few parts went off course and weren’t groomed. You were just physically climbing up a mountain in knee-high grass. I traded sports with a woman named Nancy and we got to chatting for a while (she ultimately left me in the dust the final downhill mile).
Between 6-7 miles, we hit a peak with gorgeous views below. All I could think about after reaching the peak was that eventually we would go down and there would be more downhill. I took a second to admire the views and the top of the gondola.
Around 15k, I stopped at an aid station and went for skittles. At Copper, I decided I wanted Red Bull, but at Killington, skittles appealed to me. They were fine, and I had no stomach issues.
I took my second gel at mile 10. I had gone back and forth between one gel per hour, but instead of taking it at 2 hours I decided to eat skittles and take the gel about 10 minutes later.
The next 5 miles were grueling, and I wanted nothing more to be done. I like running, but the race was challenging me both mentally and physically. I had no plans to quit, but I was exhausted. The woman I was running with, Nancy, and I concluded we had about one more hour of running.
The next mile went up the side of a mountain. It wasn’t an actual trail, but we just went up the side. We climbed for a while longer, and around mile 11 we went downhill for a bit. As we went downhill many people popped out of nowhere and passed me. They gained minutes on me because I took the downhill nice and easy.
One male went charging the downhill and fell face first into a giant mud pit. It was kind of comical because he was okay. I just repeated to myself: make it out of here healthy Hollie. Take it easy, no one cares about your time. It was true, and I logged miles between 15-18 minutes.
The downhill wasn’t a smooth, rolling downhill. It was going downhill on rocky terrain at anywhere between 20-40% incline. My quads were screaming.
Then around mile 12-14ish, we went back uphill. All I could think was, why are we going uphill…we should almost be done. What is going on? I had no bearings of the where we were in relevance to the finish line.
Finally, a pack of three dudes caught me. They had gotten lost somewhere on the course so they sailed right by. I looked down and 15 feet in front of me, the course as flat.
Was it flat forever? Were we almost done? One more mile of flat? I started to really charge. My quads were screaming, and I felt like I was at PRing pace. I looked down to realize I was at 12-minute pace. I laughed and just repeated one more mile.
All of a sudden, I could see the finish line. It was coming so soon. I was yearning for it. I felt like I was in slow motion. Someone yelled go Hollie, and I crossed. I was done. That was it. I felt like I had accomplished the world.
I had a great time. The course challenged me in ways running has never challenged me. It was as mentally challenging to keep going as physically.
I like the trails, and I would do the race again. For the fall, I plan to stick to the roads and chase some road PRs.
Questions for you:
What is the hardest race you’ve done?
Are you a better uphill or downhill runner?