I decided to race Evergreen just two weeks ago, as I was initially sceptical of how I’d react to being at altitude. After discussing it with my coach Brian, we decided that there was no reason not to race and get a good training session out of it. I’d had a reasonable training week leading into the race and was far from fresh, but I was looking forward to racing my first ever Sprint distance race (750m swim – 12.5 mile bike – 3.1 mile run).
Scott and our homestay Sandi were also racing, so after an early breakfast we loaded up the car and set off at 4:45am for the 45 minute drive to Evergreen. One thing was noticeable during the drive, which was that we seemed to be going up and up, yet never going down. Evergreen is at approx. 7200ft whereas Boulder is at 5400ft, and the extra altitude was sure to make the race even tougher. Having looked at the course profiles before the race, the short race looked to pack in a LOT of hills, both on the bike and run. We arrived just as the sun was rising over the mountains and we were all taken aback by the venue – it was quite stunning. Unfortunately as always, the photos don’t do it justice.
There were just over 200 competing in the race and there was a great atmosphere, with a wide range of abilities. Scott and I had joked beforehand that we’d ‘cherry picked’ the race, however, with a $1000 prize purse on the line, we weren’t the only ones thinking that! As you’d expect in Colorado, there were some very good athletes who had turned up to race and a high placing was far from a sure thing. I was quick to set up my bike in transition, which left plenty of time to relax before my wave start at 7am.
As nice as the lake looked, it wasn’t quite as nice once you were in, as there were quite a few weeds in places. The water temperature was 20 degrees, making it a wetsuit mandatory race, although some were still complaining it was cold. Spending 2 months at Les Stables swimming in 14 degree water has hardened me up a bit, and I was joking that it was too hot! The gun went off and there was quite a bit of argy bargy, which surprised me a little. I concentrated on swimming my own line for the one loop course, and approaching the half-way point I could see that I wasn’t too far behind the leaders. I swam the majority of the loop solo, although thanks to some good sighting I took a good line following the buoys and made up some time to a small pack ahead of me. I’d kept well in my comfort zone throughout and was surprised to come out of the water in around 7th place in the wave with a swim split of 10:33, which included a short run to transition.
I ran hard through transition - keen on making up time wherever possible – and got the wetsuit off quickly, before jumping on the bike and starting what would be a very tough bike course. I made up some time in T1 and started the bike in 5th place, soon making my way to 3rd. The first few miles were gentle rollers, where I made the pass for 2nd, only to be re-passed on the first climb of the day. That set the tone for the remainder of the race – I was losing time on the hills (of which there were plenty) and making only small gains on the descents (of which there seemed to be none)! Never before during a race have I been so aware of my breathing – it was like I was hyperventilating, coughing at times as I just couldn’t get enough oxygen - I was learning that racing at altitude is no easy task. I came into transition with a 35:14 bike split (3rd fastest) and could see that I had some catching up to do, as 2nd place was over 30 seconds ahead of me. I was a little slower through T2 than I should have been, but soon set off for the short 5k run.
As soon as we left transition we were on a dirt trail heading up. At this point my breathing seemed to be a bit more under control, but I was a long way from my happy place. I was trying to push the pace, but my legs couldn’t go as fast as my mind wanted them to. The first mile was completely uphill with no respite, and it wasn’t until the second mile that I could stretch out the legs and go a bit faster, by which point I’d lost sight of the guy ahead of me. I looked back a few times and realised that I had a good gap ahead of anyone behind me, so it became a case of hanging on for 3rd. The rest of the run circled the lake along narrow trails, including running down and up 50 steps just to add to the challenging course. Approaching the final few hundred metres I double checked there was nobody behind me and was very happy to cross the line in 3rd with a run split of 19:17 and finish time of 1:06:20. For a small local race, there was a great finish line and a buzzing atmosphere.
After finishing I rehydrated and then jogged for 20 minutes to cool down, cheering on some of the others out on the run course. Once done, I continued the recovery process, eating and drinking anything in sight. We stayed for the awards, then packed up our stuff and headed back to the car to get ready to drive back to Boulder. By now the lake was looking fantastic in the mid-morning sun.
To anyone in Colorado thinking of doing this race, I cannot recommend it enough. The race organisers did a great job and ensured that there was a really friendly feel to the event. Evergreen Lake is an amazing venue and made for a race that I’ll remember for a long time. The objective of the race was to get a hard training session out of it to improve my speed heading into Las Vegas and Kona. I gave all I could on the day, so from that perspective, objective achieved.