More than running through breathtaking scenery and across challenging trails, running, for me, is all about the tightly knit community that shares a passion and an unabiding positive spirit. The people are the sport – they inspire me, motivate me and amaze me. This past weekend, at the Aspen/Snowmass Power of Four 50K race, was no exception.
While I know that equal pay is not common practice in all sports (which is shameful), it is standard in ultrarunning (thankfully). At least that’s been my experience in my 5 years of racing ultras. Those of you who follow me on twitter know the kind of fuss I started when I saw on the race website that the prize money for this race for the top three men was $500 higher than for the top three women. To me this was absolutely unacceptable. Not only could I not sign up to participate in an event that did not treat its male and female competitors equally but I could also not keep quiet about it. The flood gates opened. The race director and marketing staff responded immediately and within 24 hours they updated their website with equal prize money for men and women in both the trail race AND their mountain bike race! The Power of Four race series can now pride itself on being on the forefront of this positive change in the cycling event and is now on par with all of the other trail races in the country that celebrate both genders equally.
So having won that first battle, I now found myself on the starting line of the 50K race ready to fight the next battle. This one, however, wouldn’t be won as easily. Running a 50K distance two weekends in a row, in and of itself, is not intimidating to me or even all that unusual. However, to race it is a different beast. And to race 7 days after the toughest 50K in the country is bordering on insane. But there was a part of me that couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give it a shot. I signed up on Saturday evening. The race began at 6 the following morning.
After a good solid 25 meters of flat terrain to get us warmed up, we set off straight up the ski slope. BAM! 20% incline right off the bat – just the way I like it!
The point-to-point course starts at the base of Aspen Mountain, runs you over four mountains (hence “Power of Four”) and finishes at the base of Snowmass Mountain.
With over 9,000′ of climbing and topping out at an elevation of 11,200′ above sea level – this course is no joke! The first climb is the longest and highest (3,200′ gained over 5 miles) and the second climb is the steepest (2000′ gained in 2 miles). Even though the final two climbs are much more tame comparatively they seemed infinitely harder for me on Sunday.
The rising sun as we ran up Aspen Mountain was breathtaking and the views of the Maroon Bells (where we ran the Four Pass Loop a few weeks ago) were absolutely stunning. Unfortunately there was not much time to stop and enjoy the vista – Leila was keeping a strong pace up the mountain and Helen was right on my heels! Within just a few miles I could tell that, unless something bad happened, the women’s podium was going to be between the three of us: Leila, Helen and myself. It was just going to be a matter of in what order. Based on how strong Leila was pushing up the mountain I was pretty sure 1st place would be her’s today.
We inadvertently regrouped at the top of the mountain after losing the course markings and running in circles for a bit. Then, without really trying to, I started pulling away from the two of them on the descent. I could hear them chatting together behind me and a huge part of me just wanted to pause for a second so I could join them. I had this wonderful vision that we’d run the remaining 25 miles together chatting casually the rest of the way! Instead, I forced myself to listen to that quiet but competitive voice inside of me. So down I ran, a little faster with each bend in the road.
The course itself wasn’t very technical – the biggest obstacle I faced that nearly sent me crashing into the ground was a certain furry four-legged one!
Leila came into the Castle Creek aid station about 2 minutes behind me, looking calm and collected (and a heck of a lot less sweaty than me!).
The next climb was the only unrunnable section of the course – a soft earthy single track trail forced us 2000′ straight up the next peak. I tucked my half-empty water bottle in the back of my skirt and pushed with both hands on my quads. This was the steepest part of the course – the last section that would really favor my strengths – so I powered up it. At the top we hit another open ski road for miles down and down and down back into the valley floor and across a familiar looking pedestrian bridge.
We were about half-way through the course now. I topped off my water bottle at the aid station, nodded to Ryan that I was working hard but feeling alright, and set off up the hill to start climb #3 of the day.
Meanwhile, Leila and Helen came across the bridge and into the aid station still 2 minutes behind me:
This next section was were I began to hurt. What was a “working hard but feeling alright” became a “working hard and feeling terribly”. Nothing in particular was hurting me, I was just tired. My energy levels, which had stayed constant & strong throughout Speedgoat last weekend, had flat lined today. I was so desperate that I even found myself hoping for a trip or a fall – a good ol’fashioned slap in the face and burst of adrenaline!
When I came up to the top of the Snowmass gondola station I was hot and I was down on myself but I dared not say out loud the things I was thinking in my head. Ryan dumped a bottle of cold water on me and pushed me onwards out of the aid station quickly. As I set off for the final 7 mile stretch he told me I had to keep on pushing hard and give it all I had left – I was being chased.
I had no idea how far behind me Leila was but based on how terrible I was feeling, I envisioned her making ground on me with every step. On the switchback descents I looked over my shoulder expecting and dreading to see a flash of white chasing me down. If she was closing in on me, as along as I stayed at least a bend or two ahead of her she wouldn’t be able to see me. So that was my goal. Pulling away was too daunting – I just needed to keep flying below the radar.
Ryan’s final words to me at the last aid station played over and over again in my mind. Was I giving it all I had or was I giving in? Could I push harder? It was too easy to say no, to whimper and let it go – 2nd place would be a good result anyways. But then flashbacks of the final ten miles of San Juan Solstice 50M came back to haunt me. I ran in fear. I ran on fumes. I ran on sheer determination. I could not, would not let myself slip into 2nd.
And then there it was – Snowmass Village in the distance below. I could hear the announcer and Ryan & Alberto calling out my name.
I crossed the finish line in 5:52:56 and gave one final look back up the hill before dropping my head, bending over with my hands on my knees and uttering the words “I’m dead.”
I hadn’t even regained my breath when Leila crossed the line three minutes and 11 seconds behind me. Those 3 minutes and 11 seconds had pushed me for hours! Leila is an incredible runner – humble and fierce. I know I couldn’t have run the race that I did without her.
The top three women at the finish (Leila, me, Helen):
A few hours later, showered and feeling slightly awkward and giggly on the podium:
A gorgeous handmade winner’s medal, $750 cash and an infinite amount of pride (and sore muscles) – I’d call that a success!
While I was suffering out there, Alberto was running a super strong race. He finished 7th place in 5:44:33 – his final big effort before the Leadville 100M. Well done!!!
And Kea dog, who was more concerned with all of the marmots on the loose than my race ;-)