|Rank||292 of 630 finishers|
|Summit Elevation||14,115 feet|
|Elevation Gain||7,815 feet|
There are basically 3 ways up Pikes Peak: drive up, take a train up, and hike up. I have driven up a few times. I have taken the train up once — do that if you haven’t. It’s great. But I never hiked up it. Why? It is a long freaking hike! It is 13+ miles from the trailhead if you take the famous Barr Trail. Plus, Pikes Peak is the mountain with the largest elevation gain from the surroundings — its over a mile higher than the city beneath it. That’s a long day.
So when I started getting more into endurance running, I decided the Pikes Peak Marathon was a perfect 2-fer! You get to summit 1 of 55 14ers but you also get that marathon notch. Plus, aid stations and a medal! Sign me up. Unfortunately, the secret is out and everyone in the US that runs wants to do this mountain — well, the crazy and usually good runners that is. So they hold a lottery in April as I recall and its like buying tickets for a hot concert. Refresh! Refresh! Buy! But you have to qualify too so not just any random person can get in. To run the marathon for instance, you have to have run a marathon in a prescribed time. Simple enough.
When the day came for the sign-ups, I totally FORGOT! Oops. Felt like my season would be messed up. Luckily they have waiting lists. See a bunch of people screw up the entries — qualifications are bad, whatever. So a month later I got the email that I was in. Sweet.
Fast forward to last week. We had been in Indiana vacationing. Not exactly high ground for training but its not going to matter a week before anyway. Maybe some acclimatization loss? Oh well. But when we got back to Colorado something changed. No more 100 degree days. It was 50-60 and rainy. That’s good for our drought. That’s bad for a race! When we get late summer rain with a low pressure it means snow in the mountains and sure enough it started coming down. I thought this was a summer race! They call it America’s Ultimate Challenge — and now it got a bit more ultimate.
On Saturday afternoon, I headed down to Manitou Springs for bib pickup. The family decided to stay back. It is not a good spectator’s race and with the weather, what’s the point? That day they run the Pikes Peak Ascent which is a race up but you get bussed back down. A hefty half-marathon! The bad news was that the weather got so poor and lightening might have been sighted (never got an answer) so they turned runners around at A-Frame, which is about 10 miles up. Those folks had to go back down which ended in them doing 20 miles when they expected 13. That upset some people. However, those that made the cutoff said the top was hell. People were underdressed and apparently some were hypothermic. Sounds like a mess.
I went to the Ascent awards ceremony just for something to do and then Matt Carpenter spoke afterwards in a Q and A. Matt is the “king” of Colorado mountain racing. He holds all the big course records (PIkes, Leadville, etc.) and doesn’t really look like he should…whatever that means. You wouldn’t see him on the street and go “that dude looks like a running champion!”. But he is still at 44. He was giving some tips and talking about strategy. He had some fun stories about previous years and other mistakes he had made over the years. He talked some about endurance race strategy in which he talked about some stuff he does that I need to try. He talked about putting your gel in your water so you don’t have to remember to eat it. He talked about getting so good at fluids that he weighs his bottles so he minimizes the weight he carries. I thought you just fill to the top! He talked about running up high and then meeting someone on the mountain that would bring him dinner so he could get used to running on a full stomach. Eating is so hard in these races! Anyway, lots of random things to try but not for tomorrow of course. You stick with what you trained for!
I watched the Olympics a bit and went to bed. Slept OK for a few hours and then kept waking up every few. Like my body was saying “is it time yet?”. I never need an alarm for race day. Interesting, Matt talked about doing the same routine for a week before race day. Wakes up at pre race time, eats pre race food, and runs a bit. Never thought of that but it make sense. So by race day, your body thinks — this is what we do — instead of why are we waking up early? So driving into Manitou Springs at 6 for a 7 AM start to my surprise I saw Pikes Peak. Not covered in clouds. Might the day be a bit better? The moon was right over head. It looked so good. My night picture didn’t work out well. So here it is in the backdrop at the start line — that white in the notch. Damn, that’s a ways over there.
They gave a pre-race weather report. It was expected to be drier but we were in for 2-4″ of snow. The weather dudes couldn’t tell if it was now or later. So the anticipation built — would we get high enough so they don’t turn us around? The race crew says “snow, go, but lightening, no”. So we go and we were off at 7 AM sharp.
I had been training in the mountains some as you might have read so I had my gear down. But this cold threw a wrench in that plan. What to do? Go warm and be good at the top? Go light and be frozen at the top? I ended up with warm — too warm! We started running up Manitou Blvd. to the trailhead and I was on fire. Sweating like crazy. Felt good at the start but now everything is soaked. So I tried to unwind some of the clothes but my jacket was doubling as a backpack so it was too heavy or weird to tie. So I kinda dropped it off my shoulders, lifted up my shirt a bit and made the best of it. I was sweating a lot. Not good but I kept going. Here is a normal section of trail — nice and clean.
To be honest, the race was pretty boring on the way up so far. It is litterally up all the time. Much walking involved. A few short jogs but once you hit that trail (and you aren’t Matt), walking achieves the same result as running. Lots of switchbacks. The highlight was always the aid stations. Stocked with food, drink and excited people. Now this trail is not near a road so all this stuff has to be brought in. I think they hike it all in. It is amazing. However, after many well known aid stations we were getting closer to treeline and Matt comes flying at us. He was almost talking to each runner he passed…good job…keep it up, etc. He was way out in the front. Figures!
Once we hit close to tree line, I felt better that this was going to be a full summit day. No DNF here! But once I saw the treeless landscape a new race unfolded. It was snow. Down low it wasn’t bad but as you climbed it was falling from the sky. It was accumulating on the trail. Maybe 2 inches at spots. Snow from yesterday was packed down and slippery.
It finally got slippery enough that I pulled over and put on my Yaxtrax and tightened up all my gear. I was sticking to the ground now with this change and I wasn’t cold in the core. However, I had taken too long and my fingers were hurting. I kept moving them to try and get some heat back in them. They never really got back to normal until much later.
Interestingly a thought creeped into my head — this is EPIC! Anyone (not really) can do this when its warm and sunny but this is a new ballgame! Bring it on mountain! Is that all you got? Moments later I heard thunder. I REALLY have to stop taunting this stuff. It is warning me. But I was within site of the summit so no turning back now. Lightening wasn’t sighted. The clouds were so thick you couldn’t see it anyway. So at 4:20 into the race I was on the summit. Stood there for about 20 seconds and ate some pretzels and I was gone.
This is where the fun begins. The bulk of the racers were now on this section called the Golden Staircase and it was tight, wet, snowy and slick. In the race the downhillers have the right of way because they are in the lead. This was a nice change from the uphill part when you had to watch out a lot. However, it was slow going. I would try and get around a pack only to find another pack of 20+ in a chain gang. Could pass a few but it wasn’t worth it. So I just sat back and slowed down. I wasn’t trying to break any records but that was probably my biggest pace issue — behind the wrong people.
But after a few thousand feet of decent, we got our clean trail back and the race turned from walking to running in short order. I was keeping my usual pace but I was getting passed by a number of folks. I knew I would see some later. You don’t go down 13 miles that fast if you haven’t trained for it. And at this point in the pack, I knew they hadn’t.
Coming up the mountain, I felt better than I can remember. No leg issues. No gut issues. I drank well. I ate well. I was pigging out at aid stations. Got my GU down. Did my salt tabs. All was well. But on the downhill with miles of bumping, my stomach felt like a washing machine. I pulled up a few times and let it work itself out with a belch or fart. Then hit it again. It was like a free fall down the mountain in some parts. So much consistent downhill. Miles into it, I started seeing some of those faces that passed me. My quads! Sorry, buddy. Finally, I came into Barr Camp (sort of the big stop on the way..might be 1/2 way). I took a breather and fueled up. I was going to run the rest non-stop if it killed me. No aid stations. Fast feet!
So I did…I kept getting faster and faster each mile down. The miles seemed to pass slowly though. This race bans headphones and I agree with it here but it is brutal when you just need to zone out. However, I think I did a good job at it and almost got in another place. I wonder if I should try a road race without music. Starting to think it distracts. Did I just say that? I did stop for 1 second when my SPOT came loose so I decided to take a shot of me with Manitou and Colorado Springs in the background. 3 more miles down. Looks like forever!
Then something magic happened with 3 miles left. I started seeing a string of runners ahead of me. So I just focused on one at a time. I ran hard and caught and passed that one. Then continued on. Then another came into view. Go for him! Then another. I went through maybe a dozen people in a mile or so. I looked down at my watch and I was pacing my 3rd to last mile at 7:30. Fastest all day! Next mile dropped even harder. To the point where I knew if I misstepped I would fall on my face hard. But I didn’t care. It got violent in my mind. I wanted to end this race in totally pain. Nothing left on the table. So I kicked it down again and was doing a 6:30. I never run that fast on tempo runs at home. I blew through the last aid station like I was going to put out a fire! But the issue was heat — I was burning up with my jacket on. I tried to adjust but couldn’t. Felt so heavy but just kept going. The last mile hit the streets of Manitou and people where out and everywhere. Lots of cheers and screams. Felt like my own little piece of the Olympics or something. Paced slowed with the flatter terrain but I still kept charging and picking people off. Finally, I rounded the final 2 turns and hit the finish line. Stop running! Thank god. I didn’t have 10 more feet in me after that sprint. However, if I wouldn’t have spent all that on the last 3, I felt like I could have run back to my house. Felt great. Here is the finish line after I got my medal can came around. Not my time on the clock.
So it turned out well. The snow made it epic and it was a good summit. That race crew is awesome. I have never seen so many volunteers in such challenging conditions. It was really nice. You never had to worry about anything.
This race has a lot of out of towners in it. They come from all over to race the mountain. It was fun to hear them talk about how this was nothing like they thought or trained for. I feel special that this is my “home court”. However, I need to take advantage of that more next year. My small pleasure was seeing the people in their BAA jackets, which I am nowhere near qualifying for. But then seeing some of them finish after me. I smiled on that one. I still want a BAA jacket though.
So I walked blocks to my car and turned back to the mountain but it was gone in the clouds. Apparently sad because I beat it up. Ok, maybe not. I was delirious at this point and I had to drive home. I made some calls on the way home to stay alert.
Seems like everyone breaks down their splits based on aid stations. I want to do that but I am too tired. These blog posts take forever too! UPDATE: Ok, next day, doing my spilts. You can really see where I lost the time — from A-Frame to summit. That is where everyone was hurting and the snow was building. We had lots of stops too as we yielded to downhill runners. I normally crank through that elevation faster when alone.
|Lap Time (mm:ss)||Total Time (h:mm:ss)||Arrive At Marker|
|38:07||6:29:45||No Name Creek|
|07:31||7:05:31||Last mile to finish|
Here is a course map if those markers don’t make any sense.
The usual graph but its all messy again from the walking and multi-path issues. Not sure if this is even interesting for these types of races anymore.
So it was a good year for mountain running but now that season is at a close. The final 2 races of the year are on pavement. Boo hoo. Nah, I will be glad to get back to something measurable to see if I have improved on those courses. But I keep thinking about one thing Matt said in his talk, “Somebody once told me that you don’t know who you are until you run a 100 miles and I didn’t want to die without knowing who I was, so I ran the Leadville 100.” I need to think about it more but after this summer, 2009 might be the year I need to find out who I really am.
View all photos from this event.
View photos taken by MarathonFoto.