By Megan Lizotte
It felt so good to be back in the mountains, running trails, sucking wind and chasing some great friends/competitors! I was so happy to be back in Colorado—I just feel like a different person when I’m in the mountains, like I’m home and I know my way around even if I’m deep in the middle of the Elk Mountain wilderness.
[Training run on Arbaney Kittle…one of my favorite trails in Colorado.]
Go Pro Mountain Games—probably my favorite mountain running fest EVER! The atmosphere at this event is unreal—there are people (and dogs) everywhere psyched to watch some of the world’s most talented athletes, stoked to be outside celebrating the long-awaited arrival of Colorado summer…and getting free KIND Bars. We joke that Colorado has two seasons: winter and July! It’s either covered in gorgeous snow or perfectly warm…and always sunny! This weekend was no exception…perfect running weather, bluebird ski and beautiful mountain views.
I arrived almost a week before GoPro Mountain Games and stayed with my parents in Basalt (my dearly-missed hometown). Not having raced at altitude since I moved to San Diego last fall, I wasn’t sure how this sea-level girl (okay, that just doesn’t sound right, we all know I’m really a mountain girl through and through!) was going to respond to the huff-and-puff effort of hauling my butt up Vail Pass, so I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to acclimate…and of course grab some extra backcountry time before race day! As we flew into Aspen, my daughter Maven and I were glued to the window and I remember thinking, “Oh man, I am NOT going to want to leave here next week!” Everything was so vibrantly green and the peaks were still plastered with snow. Late spring, early summer is my favorite time in Colorado and I was soaking up every aerial minute I could.
[The ultimate playground! So fortunate to have spent a few hours running around the Bells!]
I’ve been struggling with Achilles tendonitis since January. It’s the most unpredictable injury I think I’ve ever had!? Some days it hurts like crazy and then the next day, it will feel totally normal. I’ve never had an injury I could really run through until this one. While I’m thankful I’ve been able to baby it while still putting in some big miles, it’s also frustrating not knowing when it’s going to freak out and not let me run for a few days! So, sure enough, Monday before the race it started throwing a tantrum mid-10miler. That run left me questioning whether I could even run the next day…let alone race an all uphill half marathon Saturday and then turn around the next day and bomb through a technical trail 10k. However, after lots o’ icing, arnica, and massage from my go-to therapist in Colorado Denise Abrams, I was confident I could get through the weekend sans Achilles hissy fits.
On paper you’d think I’d be super nervous for this year’s GoPro Mountain Games Vail Pass Half Marathon as I have won the race every year since its inception in 2009, except for 2011 when I was 2nd to the queen of uphill, Kim Dobson on a shortened course due to lingering snowpack (Vail got pounded that winter!). I’ve also placed among the top 5 females in the Spring Runoff 10k every year. Stats aside, the majority of my training now takes place at sea level and the entrant list was super-stacked! I knew I was going to have my work cut out for me, but I was also less anxious than I’ve been in the past—all I could think about was how excited I was to be racing in Colorado again. Regardless of street cred, stats, entrant lists or outsider expectations, it was nice to not feel so much self-imposed pressure for once. I was honestly just so grateful to be in Colorado, that it made me more motivated to work hard…almost like it was my way of saying “thank you” to my home-state for hosting me!
[Stacked! Start line of the Vail Pass Half Marathon was full of superstars!]
Don’t get me wrong, I was nervous for the half marathon, but it was a very necessary amount of nervousness—the amount that says, “I’m invested in this, so I better run well!” rather than, “What the heck am I doing here on the start line with 6 USATF national champions, an Olympian, a Footlocker finalist, the former USA high school record holder in the 1600m and 3200m, the entire gold medal-winning women’s USA Mountain Running Team from the 2012 World Mountain Running Championships…I could go on and on with the accolades! However, as I’ve gotten older (and wiser?), I’ve become more calculated and mature in my response to race day angst. I don’t flip out as much as I used to and instead remind myself to trust my training, run my own best race and go for it. If you take yourself out of the mix before the race even starts, there’s no reason to get on the line! I have to remember that by being there, I am making that race competitive too! So, when the gun went off, I did exactly that. I ran smart, kept the front pack of girls in sight and moved up on them.
[Me with mountain running phenom and new mommy, Brandy Erholtz and sweet Baby Asher at the Vail Pass Half Marathon finish area.]
I was surprised at how good I felt cardiovascularly (that is, as good as racing 13.7 miles uphill at 10,000 feet can feel)…I felt like I had never left Colorado! In effort to suppress my hesitation about how miserable racing at high altitude would feel now that I live/train at the beach, I read an article that talked about how runners who live/train at significant altitude (above 5k feet) for 30+ years often become exempt to the negative effects that racing at high altitude can have an performance. SWEET! Check! I guess that little tidbit rang true last Saturday as I finished 4th in 90 seconds faster than my time last year. Although to be fair, I was still breastfeeding last year at this time, but hey, an improvement is an improvement and I’ll take it! It wasn’t the best time I’ve posted on that course, but I was pleased given the way my race plan unfolded, my continued battle with my own Achilles, and the insane level of competition (congrats to the top 3 she-beasts: Morgan Arritola, Allie MacLaughlin and Stevie Kremer!).
After the Vail Pass Half on Saturday, my plan was to recover as quickly as possible because I wanted to do well in Sunday’s trail 10k. Not having podium’d in the half stunk a little. So…to the creek for a real ice bath it was! Thanks to my awesome husband who played with Maven all weekend, I snuck in a 90 minute nap, sat in Gore Creek for what seemed like an eternity (6 minutes) and then hopped in the pool and had some family swim time at our hotel! I was in bed by 10pm and up again at 6am—ready to roll!
The competition was just as steep in the Vasque Spring Runoff Trail 10k and I knew I’d have to get out hard and pull away on the climbs if I wanted to snag a top 3 finish. I’m a really good uphill runner and an equally terrible downhill runner! If it weren’t for the uphills in trail racing, I would be just a regular back-of-the-packer! I found myself in 5th place within the first 800m of the race and then as soon as we started making our way up the first ascent, I quickly moved into the lead, but with Megan Kimmel and Morgan Arritola clipping at my heels. Once that initial climb flattened out and we started approaching the downhill, those girls flew by me like I was standing still! However, I knew I’d make up some time on the not-so-far-away uphill. I moved back into 2nd for most of the 1st half of the race, but with the majority of the downhill in the 2nd half of the course, I faded into 3rd and managed to stay there through the finish line. Overall, I was really pleased with my finish in the 10k and it gave me a good dose of confidence going into my final build-up for the Loon Mountain Race, which is the sole selection race for the USA Mountain Running Team where I’m hoping to make my 5th USA Mountain Running Team.
Not only did I race in Vail while I was in Colorado, I also got to pound out some miles while my up-and-coming media hound husband took some photos and videos! We are working on some promo videos for my coaching website www.hgrunning.com so here’s a little taste of what Colorado is serving up right now in the backcountry!
Follow me on Instagram & Twitter: @MeganLizotte