Prelude (a.k.a., boring retrospective and self-indulgent crap)T-32 hours: As the race draws near, I am feeling nostalgic. Pikes has been the goal all year and I look forward to a relaxing late summer and fall when I can concentrate on things other than running for once. Which is not to say I haven't had a great time this season, it's just that I'm glad there's a definite goal and deadline. We did some great early season runs down here and I've racked up half a dozen noteworthy and wonderful mountain "training runs". On the downside, the novelty, excitement, and camraderie of last year are not quite the same this year; Peter is running Leadville and has been on a weird binge/purge training schedule while Chris has become an ultrarunning obsessive and junky doing all sorts of strange and abusive runs. We've been pulled in different directions by and large, but we have all matured as runners. And as far as I can tell, we're all having fun.
I said it last year and it's even more true this year; I'm in the best shape of my life! From a pure statistics point of view, I've logged 460 miles this year versus about 200 by this time last year. I can still go uphill like crazy and my training runs, both major and minor, have been longer, harder, and more ambitious than their equivalents last year. I have a much better feel for my capabilities and weaknesses and have begun to realize that nutrition and pacing are important as well.
Now don't get the impression that I'm not nervous. It's not like last year with the insomniac worrying about cut-off times and inclement weather, but there is still a sizable pre-race jitter factor to contend with. Unlike last year, I have a pretty good idea of what I can expect from the race and from myself. Last year, I put myself down for a 5:30 finish and even my most wild pre-race estimates put me at 4:20, yet I ended up finishing in 3:40. This year, my goal is sub-3:30 which is only ten minutes faster than last year. Seems pretty feasible. But can I do better? Can I do much better, again? Seems unlikely... but that would be pretty cool!
The biggest point of concern and biggest unknown is the Marathon. I've done the Ascent before and my goal for that race seems pretty achievable. Even the Marathon seems plausible by itself. I've been training on some downhill runs lately (Bear Peak, Mt. Alice, Sawtooth), and feel like I can handle it for a reasonable period of time. Can I handle 13 miles of it? Dunno. I'm sure I could do reasonably well in the Marathon by itself. But stacking the Marathon the day after an all-out Ascent will be tough.
While Pikes is the pinnacle of my training last year, it feels like the season finale of a TV series that's already had some two-hour "must-see" episodes. Pikes is still a big deal and will be one of the highlights of the year, but, frankly, after the Grand Canyon earlier this summer, nothing will ever be all that big a deal again.
What of the future? Perhaps it's too early to start thinking of Post Pikes quite yet, but I have to wonder. The Double should provide my fill of Pikes for now and I'm not planning on doing it again. I know that peer pressure will push me toward Leadville next year, but I really have no interest in 100 milers. Other runs? Sure, the Rimrock Run looks interesting (in November) as does the Imogene Pass Run next season. Maybe the HotRock 50K in February just so I can say I've got an official ultra under my belt. Maybe even the San Juan Solstice 50 miler. Or maybe not. It's been fun doing all this running this year, but I've missed out on a lot of other great Colorado fun. I miss rock climbing, mountain biking, mountaineering.... When you come right down to it, I miss sleeping in on weekends and having adventures that don't involve getting up at two in the morning, subsisting on energy gels, travelling 20+ miles by foot, and anything rated as "suffering" or "type-II fun". Doesn't that sound nice?
Anyway, see you on the flip side.
We drove down to the Springs on Friday to get a mental head-start on the various races. Amy was signed up for the Pikes Peak Ascent. This was to be her first half-marathon and she was quite nervous. After the fantastic time I had last year, I was doing the Ascent again, hoping to improve my time by at least ten minutes (maybe more?). This time, I was in the first wave with the big boys and was planning on really pulling out the stops. In a fit of bravado (or something), I'd signed up for the Marathon as well. Nor were we alone. Marella and Caroline were up for the Ascent again and Josh was trying it for the first time. Mike and Roger were trying the Marathon (Mike's first as well). Chris, like me, decided that the Double was a Really Good Idea. We also met up with Jim, an on-line friend from Indiana. It promissed to be a big weekend for everyone.
|Caroline's gripping account|
OK, so I'm nervous. Certainly not as nervous as last year, but definitely some butterflies. Come on, man! You've trained for this thing. You've logged more than twice as many miles as last year. Your training runs this time around make last year's stuff look like a jog in the park. For crying out loud, you've logged more than 100,000' of vertical this season. Another 13.4 miles and 7800' should be a piece of cake!
At the start on Saturday. Pikes looms in the far distance (photo by Caroline).
After the various ceremonies, the gun went off and we surged forward. Everyone started much faster than I'd expected and I soon found myself toward the back of the pack. How many of these people are going out too fast? Hopefully most of them. Keep it slow, slow, slow. We surged through town. I was feeling kind of loggy. Major traffic began at the end of the road and the Ws were a real bottleneck. Lots of people passed me but I stuck to my strict "no running in the Ws" policy. I'd pass them back later. Chris was apparently feeling good because he passed me half way up.
The Incline aid station appeared at 39 minutes, right on schedule for a 3:30 ascent according to the pace chart taped to my water bottle. So far, so good, but I was really hoping to be a little faster than that. No matter; I'll make up time later. It was the same story at No Name Creek (1:03:35) and Barr Camp (1:46:32); I was consistently on or a little slower than a 3:30 pace. In fact, last year I hit Barr Camp at 1:48, so I was only a tiny bit ahead of my performance last year.
I wondered how Amy and the rest of the Wave 2 runners were doing. I'd been a bit surprised when Amy signed up for the Ascent, but she really trained hard this summer and was really excited and nervous about the race. She's not much of a runner, but she's strong, determined, and has loads more experience on big mountains than probably most of the people in the race. She should do fine.
The weather was still good up at the A-Frame and above tree line, but my pace still hadn't improved. I passed Chris in there somewhere and he was still looking strong. By the "2 Miles to Go" sign, I was four minutes back from my most conservative target pace. By "1 mile to go", I was five and half minutes back. This was not looking good. OK, if you've been holding back, now's the time go pull out all the stops! Go go go!
Clear weather on the top. Amy (and many other runners) are down in there. What, you can't make her out in this photo?
Jim cruises toward the finish. Not bad for a flatlander!
And I felt like death! I crouched amidst the boulders near the finish. "Do you need help?" asked a volunteer, "Do you want oxygen?" While the thought was attractive, I couldn't in good consience, as a CO resident and seasoned mountaineer, take that crutch. "No," I said, "I'll be okay." Still, I don't remember feeling this bad last time. I gingerly limped down to see Mike, Roger, Analeen, and company and help in the spectating.
Chris, Jim, and Michael spectating on the summit.
One down, one to go...
Chris hove into view a few minutes later looking strong, as always. He finished in 3:42:06, lopping an incredible 44 minutes off his best ascent (which was during last year's Marathon). I was glad I'd sent up binoculars because, unlike last year, the weather was clear and you could spot runners a mile down the mountain. Next up was Jim, a friend from Indiana. He's from the flatlands and he hasn't run all that much, but he still turned in an impressive 4:06 finish--unsurprising given the number of ambitious mountains he's done this year. After a short pause, Marella appeared in the binoculars and finished looking fresh and rested at 4:27. Like me, she'd shaved 8 minutes off her PR as well. Amy showed up soon after and, busting past one incredibly slow person after another, finished in a respectable 5:44.
Amy reaches the finish.
...a girl with a short skirt and a looooong... jacket!
Immediately, it was a little bit of a let down to have trained so much more this year, and yet only gain a small improvement in my time. I could cite a number of mitigating factors (heat, crowd dynamics, too much breakfast, lack of the novelty adrenaline from last time), but perhaps I've reached the point of diminishing returns in my training. Still, I did improve my time by a few percent and that counts for something. That last mile must have been impressive if I made up three minutes there! It was still a good race and it was wonderful to see Amy striding confidently across the finish line with a big grin plastered on her face and big medal swinging around her neck. If I do something like this again, I will put aside the pace chart and just concentrate on having a good time and enjoying the process. The marathon should be much more interesting in that regard.
"The Pikes Peak Marathon is not a good first marathon. You see, there's this big hill in the middle..."
Frankly, I wasn't that enthusiastic about heading back out at dawn for what looked to be a repeat of yesterday, complete with all the pain and frustration. I actually felt surprisingly good considering how bad I'd felt yesterday. 8000' of vertical gain is not trivial. But when you come right down to it, the Barr Trail is not that interesting, especially two days in a row.
Headed back out for more!
Once again, we loped through the turn onto Ruxton Ave and the pack started to disperse. I was feeling good and ran everything all the way to the Hydro Street aid station. The W's were a mess, as usual, and traffic became pretty heavy. People jostled and ran here and there, but I maintained a steady walking pace. The Incline aid station came at about 45 minutes so I was about 5 minutes behind where I was yesterday. Good. I'd arbitrarily figured on a 4 hour ascent today and that was about the right pace. It didn't feel any easier than yesterday yet, but I knew it would when the hustle started higher up.
The joke is always "So, when did Matt pass you?" Matt in this case is Matt Carpenter, master of the mountain and the general favorite in any Pikes race. I figured that he'd pass me on the way down around the A-Frame (mile 10). Right on schedule, I started hearing yells of "runner up!" at 2:49 about five minutes before the aid station. Matt came flying through like he knew every root and pebble of the course (which he undoubtedly does). His first persuer came through about five minutes later while I was refilling my bottle at the A-Frame, but downhillers didn't become common until somewhere past the 2 miles to go sign.
I'd been a bit worried about two-way traffic on the narrow, rocky trail on the upper peak, but it wasn't too bad. At my pace, I never minded taking a few seconds off to let someone pass (downhill gets right of way). After the Cirque in the final mile, it became quite congested but I tried to say encouraging things to everyone as they flew past. There weren't as many spectators on the summit as there had been yesterday, but there were still a good number including Marella and her family. They shouted encouraging things and were audible from a surprising distance. The 16 Golden Stairs came at last and things got really crowded. The trail here is only about a foot wide in places and winds back and forth like an angry snake. I was squarely in the middle of the pack now and traffic probably slowed me down by a minute or two here. I fought through the last of the traffic finally reached the summit turn-around (time = 4:02, about what I'd figured). Time for the second half, the faster half, the dangerous half, the big unknown half.
Down below tree line was probably the worst of the trail with big slabs of gravel-covered rock as well as roots and variable lighting conditions. I dropped the pace a bit and fell out of the back of the pace line. From then on, I was essentially alone. Particularly below Barr Camp where the trail gets smooth, wide, and rock-free it was kind of strange. I must have been slightly ahead of the main pack of runners, but we were spread out by a hundred yards or more. Did I miss a turn back there? I haven't seen anyone else in a while. Oh, good, there's a hiker. Hey buddy, have you seen a whole bunch of runners come through here? Yeah, I suppose you probably have, sorry, dumb question.... To my surprise, I was able to maintain a pretty solid pace despite the totally whipped legs and passed quite a number of people. The few short stretches where the trail descends on the way up were really nice at the time, but were pure torture now. Even the flat sections felt like murder.
The advantage of being spread out on the descent is that the aid station people are not distracted by other runners and are very attentive. The fine crew at Bob's Road were very encouraging and the enthusiastic volunteers at No Name Creek were fantastic! It was getting hot and, as soon as I asked for water, three or four young women dressed in rabbit costumes dumped cups of water over my head. Wait, was that a hallucination? I have a history of that, you know and it is pretty hot out. Also, I did take a nasty fall half a mile back around that sharp corner.... No, I'm pretty sure that really happened. Cool!
The grade steepened after No Name, but I was getting excited. I was on-pace for a 6:30 finish which was pretty good. I'd been hoping for sub-7 hours, but a 6:27 would put me at 10 hours for the Double; an arbitrary goal but a good one nonetheless. The Ws were not nearly as bad as I'd feared. Steep and a bit rocky, but mercifully fast when you've got gravity on your side. I took another fall, this time ending up hanging half-way through the split-rail fence that guards the downhill side of the trail. Whew, that was close. I don't know how much more of this I can take.
Flying down Ruxton Road with a few hundred yards to go.
Final time, 6:15:51! Not bad for a first marathon.
Chris, it turns out, was hot on my heels the whole way down and quite eager to catch me. After a bit of suffering on the way up, he made up a minute or two on the way down and, just about the time I could stand and walk without assistance, he came flying through the finish line at 6:19:04. We limped up the road to meet the wives and cheer on our fellow runners. Lieko had finished in an incredible 6:07 (27th place in the women's field, wow!). Mike and Roger came in at 7:08 and we all retired to the creek to quench the fire in the legs.
A much-needed post-marathon soak in the creek.
There was quite a party going on by the time we emerged, dripping, from the most excellent creek. Man, I could really go for pizza. Or maybe donuts. And that run definitely earned me a beer or three. To my eternal surprise, the pavilion in Soda Springs Park sported both pizza *and* donuts! And our wrist bracelets entitled us to free beer as well. One could easily get used to this lifestyle. Finally, done! No more races. Nothing on the horizon but lots of sleep and rest and not turning in 30+ mile training weeks. We lounged for hours, but could have easily lounged for longer before regretfully packing up and heading back home.
And now, I'm going to take a week or two off!
The Wilderness Journal