Friday, September 14, 2012

imogene pass run

Somehow my friend Angie and I talked each other into doing the Imogene Pass run.  She did it once before when the course was altered because of bad weather and swore she'd never do it again.  Peer pressure gets the best of all of us, and we signed up to run this 17.2 mile course over a mountain.  I think in my situation, ignorance is bliss.  I could only imagine what it would be like, but didn't know from experience so I didn't let myself get too worried about it.  It was a little disconcerting, however, when I would mention this run and get a deer in the headlights look from someone with a "you're crazy!".  Maybe we are a little crazy.
Imogene Pass run starts in Ouray (7,810 ft) and goes over the mountain to Telluride (8,750 ft).  The towns are 8 miles apart "as the crow flies", and about 50 on the road.  The pass is just over 17 miles,  climbing up to 13,114 feet in elevation at the summit.  The pass is a rocky jeep/atv trail, and the terrain is sketchy!  There could not be a more beautiful place on earth; I'm convinced. 
Angie and I headed to Ouray after I got off of work.   We decided to take a little 2 mile "shakeout" run at the summit of Molas Pass on our way to Silverton.  I am not sure if this was a good idea or a bad one. I had a great time running, but the tougher time at elevation scared me a little.  The minor headache I already had turned into a horrible one!  When we got to Ouray we joined the masses for a spaghetti dinner and overview of the race course.  Again, not sure if it was a good idea or a bad one. I like knowing what I am getting into though, and what I can expect.  The guy going through the slide show was hilarious and we were again warned that this race "is extremely difficult, even for the the best athletes". Oh dear.
We checked into our motel and I started guzzling water.  My head was pounding and I knew I was dehydrated.  We headed out on the town in search for something to eat for breakfast the next morning, only to realize that everything closes at 7! We found a chocolate/ice cream shop and scored free milkshakes and banana bread.  A funny story, actually.We stayed up too late chatting (of course!) and I think I got up 5 times because I drank way too much water.  Every time I woke up I panicked just a little because my head throbbed.  I didn't sleep much, but when I woke up in the morning I was incredibly thankful my head felt significantly better.

 It was so nice because it was just us. Our husbands and kids were taken care of and we got to have a little girl time with no responsibilities. I had so much fun with Angie, but we are a bad combination. I put her in charge of our room key because I lose everything. Turns out, she is as bad as I am. The jury is out on who actually misplaces more things. We were a mess! We got up early and after finally locating all of our things, headed to the start. We were in a sea of people and lined up too far back. It was weird looking around though.  Everyone looked so legit and like they'd done this thing a thousand times. Everyone looked like an athlete, and more prepared than I felt.  The race is much more crowded than I expected (1500 people!).  It took a long time to get around people. It was probably good to be forced to start out slowly.
This is the first big hill leaving Ouray.  This race really is crazy.  You start climbing and climbing and other than a few very short flats and downhills, the climb is relentless until the summit.  After about mile 6 most people are power-hiking with a few moments of running.  After mile 7.5 there is pretty much no way to run it, unless you are a descendant of a mountain goat or a Sherpa.
It took me a good 3 miles to warm up.  I felt so stiff and just off.  After that though, I felt great.  My legs were definitely tired, but I was surprised that the altitude didn't seem to affect me at all.  I can actually say that the miles went by so fast and I was loving it.  There were so many fun people to talk to, encourage, and man people say the funniest stuff when they are suffering up a mountain.  The scenery was absolutely incredible and it's too bad the terrain was so crazy because I had to remind myself to look up and take it all in.
It is steep I tell you!  23% grade for miles 8 to 10.
We reached the summit after a grueling couple of miles.  I think our pace was around 24 minutes/mile for those last two miles, which I felt was moving right along considering how steep it was!  Toward the top I could feel my legs cramping up, especially my injured foot/ankle, and they were more tired than they've ever been.  Despite it, I felt great.  There were people on the summit cheering and lending a hand up the final steep step and I felt like I wanted to cry.  "Angie, isn't is amazing that we can do this?!" It felt like such a huge accomplishment. 
I learned that hands and fingers do not work whatsoever up this high. Completely useless.
This kind of thing really makes you feel hardcore.  I know there were hundreds of people in front of us.  We didn't run the entire way up, but man I was impressed with our "incessant forward motion."  (And can you see all those tiny little people on the trail behind us?)  My legs began to tighten the minute we stopped.  I grabbed some hot soup from the aid station, knowing the salt would help.  The aid stations were AMAZING.  They had peaches, bananas, oranges, m&ms, snickers, pretzels, cookies, gummie bears, and little baggies to load up and carry.  It was like an all you can eat buffet, and I was more than happy to spend a few minutes stocking up on goodies.
The descent was nearly as steep as the climb.  On tired legs it is rough. I had imagined this part would be a rest, but the downhill actually tortured me much more than the up.  My calves started cramping so badly that I nearly fell on my face about 15 times.  I felt like I had no control at all and that I couldn't trust my legs or feet.  It was so, so weird; I have never, ever cramped like that before.  They were full charley-horse cramps that I had absolutely no control over.  It was the strangest thing.  Angie was bounding down the hill like a bunny rabbit and I told her to leave me like 50 times.  I didn't want her to feel pressure to wait up.  What a sweet friend to stop and make sure I was okay. (Surprisingly, the cramps didn't really hurt that much.)  She waited for me to stretch every 5 minutes and hobble over the rocks.  Finally, after a few miles the banana and soup must have kicked in because the cramping stopped.  My legs still felt really tired, but I finally felt like I could actually run.  We cruised down the last 5 miles at quite a nice pace and passed lots of people.  We continued to stop at aid stations though, while others kept on, so we passed the same people about 4 different times.  I am sure that was annoying.  The road was so rocky and uneven and my legs and ankles were hating it.  I just wanted something even slightly smooth.  No such luck.
This was the first view of Telluride, about 3 miles from the end.  So beautiful.  We finished together in 3 hours 57 minutes.  I had no expectations or goals, just to try hard, and we felt so good about our time.  We were strong and steady and finished in the top 1/3.  We got on the bus back to Ouray and when we got off we were moving slow!  I decided that my legs cramped because I hadn't slept well in days, and I drank way too much water practically diluting myself of electrolytes. Lesson learned, I hope.
I was absolutely starving and this was a sweet reward.  After our lunch we headed over to the hot springs.  My legs were aching so bad when we got there and when we got out of the water they felt 90% better.  We drove home and I camped on the couch the rest of the night.
This race was amazing and unlike anything I've ever done before.  It's probably the most difficult physically challenging thing I've ever done.  I couldn't have asked to feel better or have a more enjoyable time.  I am so happy Angie and I did it together and stuck together.  I think we helped each other at different times and it was so cool crossing the finish line together.  I actually loved this race, and I will definitely do it again.


The Webber's said...

You guys are crazy - but awesome!! Once I heard about this, it's since been on my bucket list of things I'd like to complete someday! You gals look great and I would never have thought you slept terrible, got up early, and completed the Imogene by how great you look! Pretty sure I'd be throwing up on the side of the trail somewhere... :)

Tyrell said...

holy crap!

I remember walking the entire way up and then running the entire way down and thinking "why on earth would anyone want to do this" but then when you look back and see everything you've accomplished and you kind-of want to do it again. You guys are so amazing. Seeing the pictures makes me want to try it again. I don't know though, living at sea level for 5 years and then visiting CO for a few days I realized how much elevation really does affect you. It took me like an hour to fall asleep every night because I had to work harder to breathe! Anyways, you amaze me. You and Angie are like the ultimate "in shape" moms.

Kara said...

Jess, you are AMAZING!!! I really admire your strength and endurance to the end of this difficult challenge! I don't know how you do all this, but it sure was beautiful, no doubt about that. I remember driving over that pass one summer in the back of Charley Minkler's truck! That's probably as close as I'll get to that pass again :(