I had signed up for the Under Armour Copper Mountain 50k as a way to cross "ultra race" off my bucketlist, as well as capitalize on my MS Run The US fitness. When I originally signed up back in February, they didn't have the course up yet and there wasn't much details on the website. The only thing that I could really go off of was the 2017 race results (it's inaugural year), which told me that the field was REALLY small and everyone was pretty slow (to me anyways- I mean, it's only ~4 mile more than a marathon and the winning time was I think over 5 hours?). What I failed to realize at this time was that this actually signaled how DIFFICULT the race was! Ha. Oh, how naive I was. Silly Stacy, this race was going to kick your BUTT!
I ended up traveling solo down to Copper (Alex went on a boys backpacking trip, which honestly was good because I didn't want him to try to occupy himself for 6+ hours!), which is a little less than a 2 hour drive. I rented a condo in Center Village (relatively inexpensively) and arrived there a bit past 6pm. Checking into the hotel was so easy and I headed off to find my room, park my car, and then decided to walk to the main village where I could check-in and scope out the starting line. I had previously been to Copper to ski, so I knew where everything was (relatively) and also had an idea where we'd be running up to (REALLY FAR/ STEEP! ha.).
It was super quiet at the start and check-in area and there was still SNOW along the course where they had their half-pipe! Gosh. I was NERVOUS. I was also really tired and headed back to my room before 7pm to get some dinner, shower, and lounge in my pjs watching some trashy rom-com ; ) I did some stretches, foam rolled, and fell asleep by 9:30pm.
My alarm went off at 5:30am (which felt like sleeping in for any other race!) and I got dressed, attempted to make coffee (= complete fail. the coffee maker didn't work and it ended up leaking all over the counter top! already off to a fantastic start). I had a small amount of breakfast, but my stomach was a bundle of nerves and felt super full for some reason. I tried to shake it off and left the condo by 6:30 to move my car to the open parking lot across the street (I needed to check out by 2pm and wasn't completely sure I'd be done by then, so better to be safe than sorry)! I got to the start line and it was QUIET. I used the restroom one more time and hung out by the lockers (which in hindsight, I should have left my clean clothes in one of those rather than in my car, but oh well) to stretch. I still couldn't shake the feeling of fullness in my stomach as I shoved a Honey Stinger gel down and headed to the start line. I figured it would go away once we started running.
I tried to sort myself somewhere in the middle of the pack, but having never done one of these before I had no idea where I should be! I just assumed things would sort themselves out after the first mile (like a typical marathon does). Oh, how I was wrong. Silly Stacy. We barely lined up and then we were off! The race immediately started on a single track within a 1/10th of a mile and hello bottle necking! I was stuck in a huge line of people with my pace dictated by the person in the front. Which just happened to be a run-hike pace. This was frustrating. I also began to feel extremely nauseous and thought that I may puke on someone very near me (since we were all so close together). I tried to hold it together, focus on the person in front of me, and remember to breath. We continued to zig-zag up the switchbacks and I was CONVINCED that we must surely already be few miles in. I checked my garmin- 0.77 miles had passed. I couldn't BELIEVE we weren't even a MILE into the race yet! Goodness, this SUCKS. You can tell how positive I was this morning ; )
I continued to have my pace dictated by those in front of me, stuck in a pack and just told myself that at least they were keeping me slow on my first of two 25k laps (which is what everyone told me to do on the first half). We continued to climb, climb, and climb some more. We stepped over water pipelines, ducked under a few tree branches, and *finally* crested to almost the top of the mountain at over 12, 000' (having only come to one aid station by this point) around 6.5 miles in. I was still feeling nauseous, didn't keep track of my gel-intake and just tried to keep drinking some sort of fluids hoping my stomach would figure itself out. I was so glad to finally see that second aid station at the top and knew (or well, thought) that it would be all downhill from here! I had a few pretzels and some coke (thank goodness for carbonation) and turned around to head down. At this point, I told myself that if I could just make it down to the 25k and back to the start/finish, that I could be done and not go up for my second lap. I was NOT a happy camper.
The 25k runners also began to run past me (they started 30 minutes later than us), which got to be really frustrating when we began to get funneled on the single track because I had wanted to conserve some energy and they were all flying down around me. There were three more aid stations before I'd come back to the start, so I just kept counting them as we ran along both single track switchbacks and service roads down the mountain.
By mile 11, we began another out-and-back side road and this part really broke me. It was a fairly steep down to aid station #4, then you climbed up to another steep section to the top of a chairlift, then they had you turn around and do all that again (for the first lap). So it not only was hard after doing so much uphill and downhill, but knowing that I had to do that all again if I were to do a second lap- I was DONE. I texted my mom saying that this was the hardest thing I've ever done (even harder than my 175 mile run to Denver) and that I was throwing in the towel at 25k. I couldn't WAIT to get down. My stomach didn't feel any better, but it also didn't feel any worse so at least I had that going for me.
I finally made it back to the start line (where an aid station was set-up) and I contemplated quitting. I had commiserated with a few 50k runners around me and then I saw them take off for their second loop. I looked towards the finish line and so badly wanted the announcer to say my name as I crossed the finish line for my first ultra marathon.
I knew it was going to hurt, but I also knew I would regret it if I gave in at this point.
After all, I did it once I could do it again. So, I loaded up my water bottles, turned on my music, and headed back up the mountain.
I mainly hiked the second half back up to the top, but would run the cross-sections of the switchbacks. We had spaced out by this point and I could only really look up and see a few runners ahead of me, which was comforting to know that I wasn't alone and also knew where I was going. My music playlist was honestly AMAZING and I just zoned out. My stomach still felt unsettled, but the feeling of throwing up passed and I kept a decent pace past aid station #1 again and powered up to the second aid station. I snapped a few photos and was relieved to know that it was *almost* all downhill from here.
I thought about my grandfather when my music lulled or I felt lonely. I carried him along my race and showed him all the views and told him about my experience skiing my first powder day here at Copper a few years ago. It helped to give me some purpose during my race and my mind wondered to my High School friend (whom I also lost within 24 hours of my grandfathers passing)- he was an amazing runner and I looked up to him during Cross Country for how speedy he was. I carried his spirit and drive through my middle miles.
Before I knew it, I was back at aid station #4- the dreaded out-and-back. My mind drifted back to where I was (mentally) at this point just 15 miles earlier- I couldn't believe that I had made it back here. I really was ready to call it quits, but for whatever reason I stuck it out and now I was almost finished. It was truly incredible.
I actually had no idea how long specifically a 50k was, somewhere between 30 & 31 miles, (ha) so I just kept an even pace at this point on the downhill. At one point, I thought that I was flying - only to look down at my watch and see an 11 minute pace. Ha. Oh well, I was speeding along in my mind!
The finish line came into view and I was so happy and surprised that I actually did it that I began to hyperventilate (you know when you're trying to hold back tears- I did this at point during my MS Run The US relay too) which isn't the greatest when you're running. I crossed the finish line (slower than I anticipated), but I DID IT. I couldn't believe it. I dug myself a large hole in those first few miles and somehow came out of it to accomplish my goal.
I gained 5, 885' over 30.77 miles (that's what the actual distance of 50k is incase you were wondering...) and had an average pace of 14:31, finishing in 7 hours 26 minutes and 40 seconds. The medals were all the same, which was a bit disappointing since someone who did the 5k got the same medal as me who ran 10 TIMES farther! The race shirts were also OK- long sleeved, slightly cheesy t shirt material. Overall- this race wasn't super great (I felt like the energy just wasn't there- maybe that's an ultra trail running thing?) and paired with my pretty terrible GI issues/ negative nancy mentality I probably WON'T do another ultra race, but I guess never say never. Crossing that finish line was a pretty amazing feeling.