Moral of the miserable story of Mt. Evans from Melissa: Listen to your body! Read why you should. Seriously.
Mt. Evans! A beast of a mountain, no matter how you look at it. Just the idea of casually riding my bike to the summit, takes a lot of mental preparation. Racing to the summit however, against very strong women, is an entirely different story. Last year, I missed the first place podium spot by less than a second. Our times: 2:39:36:50 (Cory) vs 2:39:36:90 (Me). That result haunted me for a year!! What if I would have thrown my bike forward…. I didn’t know she was so close….what if I would have pushed a little harder….what if, what if, what if. I was determined to win the next year, but unfortunately, the beast had different plans for me. I now know what it feels like to go from the incredible feeling of victory one year, to the embarrassing misery of defeat the next.
When I signed up to race Mt. Evans, I knew I had one other teammate to work with. The incredible Katie Harrer, who hates to climb, signed up to race with me, with the sole purpose to mentally push me up that mountain. Talk about an amazing friend. She hates climbing and the Mt. Evans Hill Climb isn’t exactly a cheap race either. I was blown away by her kindness and selflessness. I told myself that I had to do well in this race, not only for myself, but for Katie too. She believed in me and I didn’t want to let her down. I also dedicated my race to a very special person in my life fighting cancer. My brother-in-law Wes was recently diagnosed with Multiple Myloma, and I wanted to prove to him that if I can push myself hard enough to do well in this race, that he can fight this cancer and win. I even wrote on my race number “This is for you Wes”. I had a lot riding on this race, and in my mind failure was not an option.
My first dose of bad luck started the morning of the race, when Katie broke the news that she would not be racing with me. Much to my dismay, Katie had to work the night before and didn’t get to bed until 3am. She would have had to leave her house by 7am just to get to Idaho Springs in time, and she wasn’t about to tackle a race up a 14er with that little of sleep. I can’t say that I blame her. It was a bummer but I was able to talk myself through it. My amazing husband Brian was there to support me along with my beautiful children. My mom and my step dad would be at Echo Lake to encourage me at the halfway point as well. I felt very supported and motivated to race hard.
I began my warm up alone. I was familiar with the area, from my recent visit with Ride The Rockies, so that alleviated a lot of the initial anxiety. I found a great section of road to warm up on, so I focused my attention on my body and my bike to work out any little kinks that might get in my way during the race. I was feeling good at this point in the day. As time passed by, I quickly found myself at the start line with new faces (competition) that signed up the morning of the race. It was interesting, I think there were three no shows and three new additions. There would be six of us in this race. Each and every one of those girls meant business too. Suddenly, I could feel the anxiety building in my chest. I told myself, “You can do this. This is what you trained for. This is what you do. This is what you know.” I took a deep breath, and as the whistle blew, I began the race that I will never forget.
It was strange, I can remember feeling very uncomfortable from the beginning of the race. I thought maybe my anxiety was getting the best of me, but I noticed my heart rate was much higher than I wanted it to be and I didn’t know why. We were climbing at a steady rate and our group immediately formed a pace line and we each took our turn up front pulling. I remember thinking how beautifully we were all working together and it was fun. After about three full rotations, the dynamic changed however. The fun was over. One of my opponents had a very well thought out plan and she executed it perfectly. After her turn up front, instead of falling to the back of the pace line, she came right up next to me instead. I was in the center of the pace line with two girls in front of me and two girls behind me. She came so close to me, that I thought our handle bars would lock. I was nervous and I let her push me out of my spot. I was instantly angry. “How rude!” I thought to myself. But then I quickly reminded myself, that this was a race and it wasn’t time to be making friends. So after our next rotation, when the same girl pulled off the front, instead of going to the back, she got right next to me again. I was thinking, “What is your problem lady? Why are you attacking me?” I was really irritated at this point and tried so hard to hold my position. She was uncomfortably close to me. One wrong move and we would all go down. I should have yelled at her and I almost did, but suddenly I realized the pavement in front of me was coming to an end. I panicked, and once again, she stole my spot. I was more than angry at this point. I was shocked. Cat 3 racing was a whole new world and I had just received my first dose of reality. I tried to focus my rage and I was determined to not let her do it again. Unfortunately for me, however, her next move would be my end. It was my turn to pull. I focused on my heart rate, which was even higher at this point because I was so angry. I knew I had to get it under control and not waste my energy needlessly. When it was time for me to pull off, that’s when she did it. She waited for me to be nice and tired and she attacked just as I pulled off the front. I immediately reacted and followed her and another racer as they pulled away from the group. I was worried. I knew my heart rate was in the red and I wouldn’t be able to keep the pace long. For some reason, my body was not in race mode that day. It was the worst feeling. What was wrong with me? Even after I conceded to letting them go, my heart rate would still not recover. This was a new experience for me. Before I knew it, the other three ladies caught up to me and quickly passed me as well. I blew up. I felt like I was dying inside. Not because my heart felt like it was going to explode, but because I was dead last and there was not a thing I could to to stop it. I wanted to cry but I didn’t have the energy. I felt like throwing my bike over the mountain side next to me because I was so upset. My worst nightmare was coming true. My dream of winning this race was over and I knew it.
Echo Lake was the halfway point. I wasn’t too far away from the other racers that just passed me. I knew however, that my husband would quickly realize that I had been dropped. I didn’t want to see his face. I knew he would be so disappointed for me. My kids would see me dead last and my mom and step dad made the trip to the mountains for nothing. I felt as low as low can be. As soon as I reached the lake my family ran over to me. I wanted so badly to quit at that point but I couldn’t. I’m always telling my children to follow their dreams and never give up. There was no way I could have let them see their mother quit a race just because I was last. My son was running next to me cheering me on and I remember saying to him, “Hey buddy, guess what? I’m very last in this race. I’m not going to win. But you won’t see me quit either!” He said “You can do it mom.” And I forced myself to keep pedaling.
It was at the feed zone that I realized a big part of my problem in this race. As the volunteers offered me water, I quicky realized that I didn’t need any. After an hour of racing, I had not had any food or one drop of water. I felt like such an idiot. I was so focused on trying to catch the girls that got away, that I didn’t eat or drink anything. I started to drink my first bottle at the rangers station but it was too late at this point. I forced myself to keep going. Soon I started seeing other racers coming down the mountain. Different categories finishing their races and feeling the sweet satisfaction of completion. I was envious. The Cat 3 women were one of the last groups to start racing. A group of men went after us but they quickly caught up to us and passed by. I can remember one guy from Primal pulling up next to me and saying “Keep fighting. You aren’t last.” I thought to myself, “What? How is that possible?” But I guess in the confusion at Echo Lake, I misjudged how many ladies passed me and I was 5th out of 6. It motivated me, strangely enough. I thought, “Maybe I can catch them.” I pushed as hard as I could and I forced myself to drink that first water bottle by the time I reached timberline. Then suddenly out of nowhere, I experienced some of the worst pain I have ever felt. My hip joints were on fire. My knees were throbbing and my arms felt like they weighed 100 lbs each. The pain was unbelievable. I hadn’t eaten at this point, so I tried to reach in my back pocket to get some food. I couldn’t do it. Each time I tried to put my arm behind me, I almost fell off of my bike. I was pedaling so slowly that I could hardly keep myself upright. When I was finally able to get a small bite of my Breeze Bar, I couldn’t even chew it. I had no energy. When I swallowed, I almost choked and switching to my second water bottle was embarrassingly difficult. I gave up on the idea of eating because it was actually very scary to feel like you are choking while you are breathing so hard. I was delirious. The pain I was feeling brought me to tears but I didn’t want to show my discomfort because every minute someone was coming down the mountain. People I knew. People that knew me. It was humiliating. My body was breaking down with every pedal stroke and my soul was being crushed with each person that passed by. Some friends yelled, “You can do it Melissa!” While others looked at me with shock. I was thinking to myself, “I am such a loser right now.” I can honestly say, that was one of the lowest moments of my life.
When I reached Summit Lake I was numb to the glances of the people descending past me. I couldn’t feel anything. The pain in my hips was there, but I almost didn’t feel it anymore. My mind felt like it was drifting off and it was almost like I could see myself racing but not feel it. It was creepy. A storm was definitely forming at the summit and I was terrified of lightning. The thunder was getting louder and it was starting to rain. But I kept pushing. There was no way I was quitting at that point. When I reached the switchbacks at the top, I was about halfway through them when I saw the girls I was racing against, heading down. I wanted to die. I was so embarrassed. I wasn’t only the last girl in my group but I honestly think I was the last person racing. It was demoralizing. I could tell by the looks on their faces that they could see my suffering. I was too numb to care. I didn’t have energy to cry and my soul was already conquered. I kept moving forward, when a car came up next to me and said, “You need to turn around. There is lightning at the top and the race is over. They are packing everything up.” I think I felt my heart break at that moment. If it wasn’t bad enough that I was in excruciating pain, terribly embarrassed and totally defeated, the thought of not being able to finish when I was so close, was almost more than I could take. I knew my time would be prorated and I wouldn’t get a DNF, but finishing was the only reason I never gave up after everything I had gone through. I remember standing in the middle of the road. I could see the finish line. Cars were coming down the mountain but there was hardly anyone left up there. It was eerily quiet. I just stood there for a moment in disbelief and then it began to hail. At that moment, I realized I had no rain gear. Being forced to turn around, meant I wasn’t able to grab my bag from the top and I had nothing but my shorts, jersey and half gloves to descend in. I was soaked and the pea sized hail stung like a thousand bees as it peppered my tired body.
My sorrowful descent down Mt. Evans that day was nothing short of miserable. I was shivering so badly I could hardly grasp my handle bars and with every bump in the road, I felt like my legs were being torn from my body. I cried the entire way down. The sky was dark, the rain was cold and I felt very alone. Not one person offered to give me a ride down and that surprised me. I felt like an outcast. Someone that the world had discarded and didn’t care about anymore. I saw a hawk flying in the distance and I was jealous of how free it was. It was gliding through the air with ease. It was free of pain and misery. There were so many times on that descent that I just wanted to pull over and find a place to lay down. I truly did not care anymore. I just wasted the pain to stop. I cursed the day, the mountain, myself and my body. It was a very bad day.
When I finally reached Echo Lake again, my family rushed over to me. I almost collapsed. My mom panicked. She said my lips were dark purple and my body was so cold. I couldn’t speak and simply keeping my eyes open took every ounce of energy that I had left. They rushed me over to the car and helped me dry off and warm up. I felt like I was dreaming. After suffering for so long, it was over and I could began to recover. Or so I thought….
Later in the evening, Katie called me to see how the race went. I told her about my heart breaking experience and then I mentioned to her some of the physical symptoms I was having. I noticed I had blood in my urine when I was finally able to use the bathroom. Or at least I thought it was blood. It was a dark tea color and it was very alarming. My first thought was that I was dehydrated. So I immediately started drinking fluids. Katie was extremely concerned. In her very own loving, yet straight to the point way, she said, “Look up the word Rhabdomyolysis right now.” I did, and I too became concerned. Rhabdomyolysis is the break down of muscle tissue that leads to the release of muscle fiber contents into the blood. These substances are harmful to the kidneys and often cause kidney damage. I had never heard of this injury, and it was hard to believe it could be happening to me. I was stubborn. I listened to Katie’s warnings but I never went to the ER. I thought because my urine was getting better (clear), that I was ok and not as bad as we thought. About 36 hours later, I had a dizzy spell. My hips were hurting and my arms felt heavy. I thought, “I know! I’ll call Uncle Rodger and get an IV.” My uncle happens to be the paramedic for the Broncos and he was ironically at training camp when I called him. I explained to him what happened and my symptoms and his response was, “Nope. You get your butt to the ER right now.” Ugh. That was not what I wanted to hear. I didn’t feel bad enough to go to the ER. I was so worried about going in and nothing being wrong with me. My husband was really worried at this point and he begged me to call my friend Sean who is an ER doctor. I explained everything to him and he agreed with Katie, Brian and Rodger, it was time for a trip to the ER. “Great, more embarrassment!” I thought. “Now I will be a hypochondriac on top of a total failure.” As soon as I arrived at the hospital, Sean had an IV ready for me. It felt incredible. I needed that more than I realized and Sean confirmed that I did have Rhabdo. I was such a fool to have waited so long to go in. Thankfully, I did not have a bad case. Rhabdomyolysis can get really bad, very quickly. Maybe it was a blessing that I wasn’t able to finish my race. I did not suffer any kidney damage and I will make a full recovery.
I learned a lot about myself on July 26, 2014. I learned that I am very stubborn. I need to listen to my body a lot better. I am making necessary changes to become stronger and smarter for future races. I have also learned that I have deep determination and inner strength. Aside from losing my dad 4 years ago, that race was one of the lowest moments in my life. 6 weeks later, I am still recovering but I now understand everything I was doing wrong. Even though the Mt. Evans Hill Climb was a humbling experience for me, I believe it will help me become a better athlete and a stronger person. Through my pain and defeat, I still feel grateful for the experience and the lessons I have learned.