Sitting at Sweet Melissa’s in downtown Laramie, an excellent vegetarian restaurant that was recommended to me by the guy in the bike shop a few doors down, I was reading an article online about how to race in high altitude, while I was shoveling the best sweet potato and black bean burrito I have ever had into my mouth.
One thing that popped out to me while reading it was that it said to lower your expectations, especailly if you haven’t been training at the altitude of the race.
I live just under 5,000 ft in Buffalo, WY and I run anywhere between that and 7,500 ft.
The race in Laramie began at 8,800 ft. and went to 8,000 ft by the time of the turn around point of the out and back race.
My fingers were crossed that I wasn’t gonna have any issues with the elevation but I had a feeling it would effect me.
Another thing that was in my mind about the race was the overall course profile. On paper it didn’t look too challenging. Since the entire race stayed within 800 ft from the start to turn around point it appeared to just be “small” rolling hills. I even read a runner’s race report from last year’s race and he talked about the same things that I had on my mind. The elevation made it a little hard to breathe and the course profile was harder than it looked on a chart.
Race morning everyone gathered around the start decked out in warm articles to shield from the crisp cold air. After a short speech from the race owner and race director, we set off down the dirt road.
We had about a 2 mile downhill before it leveled out for a mile. I made sure to take it easy right away because I didn’t want the hill to set a faster pace for myself than what I wanted and what I would be capable to maintain throughtout the race.
Just a couple of minutes into the race a guy next to me asked the typical question everyone asks in the first mile, “Where you from?”
“I’m from Georgia but I’ve been living in Buffalo Wyoming for most of the last year.” Then I returned the question.
“I’m from Denver.”
I took a deep breathe, feeling winded already and said “actually I’m not gonna be able to talk because I’m not use to this altitude.”
He said, “me too.” And that was the end of that conversation.
I was running downhill and at very easy clip and I was already feeling like I was out of breath. From that point on I knew I would need to take it a little easier than I had planned.
By the time we got to the flat stretch, I was feeling more settled.
I ended up talked for a few minutes with a few other runners. And come to find out they both are doing the Bighorn 50 miler. But after a few minutes, we each took to our own pace.
After the luxurious flat section, it was really a rollercoast of hills all the way to the halfway point.
The race was on a dirt road with a few miles on a paved road.
Within a few miles of the start, it began to warm up, quickly. I wasn’t expecting any nice weather because my weather app said it would be cool with chances of rain throughout the day.
It ended up being sunny with clear blue skies.
My headband was the first thing to go, followed by the gloves and arm sleeves.
I stuck with my typical nutrition plan. 1 GU 30 minutes into an hour and half a Clif bar with a few S-caps at the end of the hour.
As the course rolled on, I noticed even the slightest incline had me sucking in air. I had to shorten my stride considerably and kept my focus on keeping my breathing steady and not let it get out of control.
I could get my GUs down no problem, but because I had to chew the Clif bars it was taking a lot of precious energy of breathing right. There were times when I would take a sip of water and would be out of breath just from the split second it took to take a mouthfull of water.
So by the time I ate my second half Clif bar, I decided to just stick with GU because it was taking too much energy to chomped away. And with getting that second half down, I felt full enough to be able to finish without feeling calorie deprived or feeling starving.
Runners were pretty well spaced out during the race so it was mostly running by yourself.
I wasn’t expecting a very scenic race but it ended up quite beautiful. Off in the distance was a range of snow capped mountains, which I believe were far enough away to be in Colorado. And in my immediate surrounding area were tons of rock formations that made me feel like I was in the Flintstones.
Not much excitement as far as the running was going. Just seemed like a typical long training run.
As I neared the turn around point, the leader passed me followed by three more runners.
When I got to the checkpoint for the 50Kers, a guy was changing out of his warm clothes and the lead female was leaving.
I let the volunteer mark my bib and then I headed back for the finish. Passing the guy still at the aid station and right away I passed the girl, put me in 5th place. And judging by the time I passed the people in front of me til the point I did pass them, they had a huge gap on me. I knew if I were to pass any of them that meant one of them completely fell apart.
Since the course began at a high elevation than the midpoint, the second half would be more uphill.
The first hill coming out of the turn around, I decided to power hiked for a good minute or two. My lungs just weren’t capable of running up such an incline and maintaining a steady breath. I made sure to keep my pace up as much as possible while hiking, hands of knees and still driving forward as to not lose too much time compared to just easy walking.
And suprisingly I never had trouble getting back into a running groove after hiking. I thought mentally and physically it would be a struggle but I guess my training has been paying off.
Slowly I began passing people that were doing the marathon and also the people doing the 50K still on their first part. We always swapped “good job”s and “keep it up”s.
I think that is why out and backs are my favorite, because you get to see more people than if you were doing a loop or point to point race. Breaks up the monotony.
Almost like the first half, nothing exciting to note happened on the second half. It became I little bit of a mental challenge but I just kept digging and kept grinding.
It was a great relief to make it to the flat stretch towards the end but at the same time I knew I had about a 2 mile up hill to get up to cross the finish line.
I had maintained my place for the entire second half. But just as about I was to start the uphill climb I slowed to a walk to gulped down my last GU. As I was doing that, the guy that was changing at the turn around aid station passed me.
I didn’t let that bother me. I kind of welcomed him in front so I would have motivation to keep running.
He kept pulling further and further away but I still kept chugging along.
I ended up having to take one power hike break up this last stretch lasting for about a minute before running into the finish.
I crossed the line in 4:40 and placed 6th.
My initial reaction was that the high altitude was no joke. In reality, the hills were not significant hills but throw in, or take away some oxygen, and it becomes more of a difficult race.
My goal going into the race was to run around a 4:30. Add a few long piss breaks and the higher altitude and I came out doing the best I could do.
But for some reason I was frustrated. I was frustrated because I feel that I put so much effort into training that I should be placing higher up. It’s frustrating and discouraging a little to not place where I feel I should place considering I train like it’s my job.
As I had four hours to think things over on my car ride home, I realized how stupid it is to feel and think that way. What if I ran the same time but ended up getting third place or even winning, would I feel happier about myself? And I guess the answer would have been yes, in that particular moment.
But that is a bad way to think about things. Placement is just a comparisson to others. Which is a great recipe down a road of unhappiness if you let it bother you.
Running is about being your absolute best possible self in a given moment, not about how you stack up against others. If you constantly compare yourself to others, you will never be good enough for yourself. There will always be someone better or someone with more than you.
My reason for running is the sense of accomplishment and purpose it gives me every day. Not to be better than anyone else.
And the funny thing is that no one cares how fast you did a race other than your own ego. The people that matter in your life are proud of your accomplisment and could care a less about what your time was. But for some reason runners are hard wired to immediately dissect their race seconds after finishing wondering where they could have made up time.
I had to remind myself that this race was just a training run for Bighorn 100. And that I should swim in the achievement of having completed 50K of running.
I actually had one of the most fun times at this race but it wasn’t until a few hours later or the next day that I realized that, unfortunately. I met some awesome people and ran in a wonderful part of the country. What more could I want?
When I got home, I was too lazy to go grocery shopping to cook dinner so I opted for take out Chinese.
My fortune said “Be content with your lot. One cannot be first in everything.”