Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pikes Peak Double 2013


Saturday started a little bit off even before the race.  I got there around 6:10 and had a much harder time finding parking than in previous years.  It wasn’t a real problem, just messed up my rhythm.

The temperature was pretty mild right before the start, so I was able to check all my stuff in the summit bag and still feel comfortable waiting around the last 10 minutes.  The forecast was for a sizzling 85 degree high in Manitou and upper 40’s on the Peak.  That wouldn’t present too much of a problem for the Ascent, as you’re climbing away from the heat, but cooler temps and cloud cover would have been nice.

One of my favorite parts of the Pikes Peak races is listening to America the Beautiful as you’re staring up at first rays of sunshine hitting the finish line, 8,000’ above.  It’s definitely a unique experience.

I tried to place myself in a reasonable spot, not too close, yet not too far from the front.  Unfortunately on the Pikes Peak races, more than on any others, people either have no clue how to pace early on, or they just don’t give a damn about the other runners.  Right from the gun some people were barely moving while others were trying to zip by all around.  I know this sounds arrogant, but it was pretty clear that most of these runners should not have been sprinting at this stage.  There’s nothing more distracting and annoying than running along someone who’s gasping for air, 1 mile in and 300’ up in a race with 12 more miles and 7,500’ more feet of climbing.  Seriously, what are these people thinking?

Pace per mile is meaningless for this race, so I take my Garmin off of auto lap, and manually click the check points based on Matt’scalculated pace chart, which I had clipped to my shorts.  Unfortunately, I managed to hit the Stop button instead of the Lap button at Ruxton.  I lost about 5 minutes on my watch by the time I noticed, which wasn’t a big deal, but just another little thing to throw me off.

I’ve always had to walk with the pack up parts of the W’s, but this year seemed so much worse.  I don’t know if I was further back, or if people just went out faster than in previous years.  Additionally, there were a handful of runners that were just plain jerks.  Like the drivers that make stupid moves to get around you when you’re stuck in a long line of traffic and everyone is going at the same pace anyway, they insisted on repeatedly elbowing their way in front of people.  I honestly felt like pushing a few of these guys (yes, they were all guys) right off the steep edge of the trail.  It was hard to keep my cool, even though I had no doubt I would pass them permanently soon enough.  I had thoughts of waiting for them at the top – “hey dumbass, you were in such a big hurry earlier, what took you so long?”

I tried to be pretty respectful as I passed, when an opportunity arose.  After the W’s, we spread out a bit more, but it wasn’t until close to No Name Creek that things cleared up enough to run my race, at my own pace.  Before that, I had to shuffle behind others, than make quick sprints around when I could – not an ideal start, and based on the split timing at No Name, it’s clear I was even further behind in the pack than I would normally like.

At least after the W’s, no one passed me, all the way to the top.  I picked runners off one by one, especially on the runnable sections.  I even managed to pass Dave, a runner I know from Lakewood, before the 7.5 sign, much earlier than in previous years.  I was hitting all the splits from the top of the W’s through Barr Camp at 5 minutes behind.  A-Frame was 7 minutes back, and then the time just kept piling on.  Even with the time I’ve spent on Mt. Bierstadt and Guanella Pass, I was feeling the altitude above tree line and got pretty light headed at times.

I pushed really hard on the top section and probably had a top 30 time from the A-frame up, but it wasn’t enough.  I stopped looking at my watch after the 1 to go sign.  The 3:00 goal was long gone, but I still thought I could at least beat last year’s time.  Just in case, I didn’t want to depress myself with reality.  I kept passing people, even two guys in the last 100 feet because I was pushing so hard, but when I looked up, the clock read 3:12:06.  Two minutes slower than last year, 12 minutes slower than my goal.  I was pretty bummed.  I hung out at the top for a while before finally boarding the van and then the bus back to Manitou.

I’m still disappointed with the time, but somehow, I managed to place 10 spots higher up than last year (from 83rd to 73rd (out of 1,641)) – bit of a consolation.

As Saturday wore on and I busied myself with eating, hydrating, and household chores, I gradually refocused my attention away from the mediocre Ascent and onto the next day’s Marathon.  I decided that despite my better judgment, I would push hard from the start to be in a better spot for the W’s and see if I could maintain it going up.  The last two years, I’ve been 10 minutes slower on the Marathon ascent, but who knows – maybe I can pull a rabbit out the hat tomorrow.


Sunday morning started better than the previous day.  I got a good parking space and had plenty of time to mill about the start line.  I was even able to pose for a picture with Arlene Piper – the first female EVER to complete a marathon – the 1959 Pikes Peak Marathon.

I placed myself closer to the front than for the Ascent and once the gun went off, I pushed harder than I have on any of the previous PikesPeak races.  It worked!  I didn’t feel too bad by the time we hit the base of the W’s and unlike the previous day, I was able to run with everyone around me at an appropriate pace, with minimal walking.  This kept me going at a good pace all the way, but made it much harder to pass people as they were closer to my own abilities.  Despite the tougher competition, I managed to keep passing runners all the way up.

I brought 5 gels and a bunch of S-caps and did a great job of fueling and hydrating all along.  I augmented the gels with M&M’s, Jelly Belly’s, and craisins at the aid stations.  Using the larger (20 oz) bottle this year also paid off, as I didn’t have to fill it as often.  I really forced myself to drink as I knew the return would be oppressively hot and I didn’t want a stupid mistake like dehydration to ruin the day.

I really pushed hard above A-frame and ran even more than the previous day.  Fortunately, I was also feeling better, with no real altitude symptoms other than shortness of breath.  I passed more people above tree line but as I got closer to the top another runner was slowly gaining on me.  I think he provided some extra motivation because I was going to do anything to not let him pass me.  It worked.  He got to within less than a minute, but never overtook me.

The turn-a-round was great!  I looked up, and unlike the previous day, I was pleasantly surprised to see the clock at 3:07:08.  A full 5 minutes faster than Saturday’s Ascent and a PR by 3 minutes.  On both of the past doubles, I was 10 minutes slower the second day.  Being faster this time gave me a great lift and I was certain I would be able to break the 5 hour mark.

Shortly after I turned around, I was passed by a guy who looked like he was sprinting for the finish.  I don’t like being passed, but there was no way I was going to even stay close to this guy so I pulled over and watched him fly by.

The top half of the descent is by far my favorite part of this race - legs and lungs feel a great sense of relief; you’re finally running again instead of power hiking; all the uphill runners cheer you on as you pass; and you get to bound over the rocks like a mountain goat.  Every single runner yielded and encouraged me along.  I was having a blast!

Now if ever there was a race tailor made for a face plant, the PPM descent would be it – lots of rocks, loose gravel, tired legs, altitude, oncoming traffic, etc.  This being my 3rd descent, I have somehow managed not to hit the dirt a single time, though I’ve certainly taken my share of hits on other races.  Maybe it’s because I’m so incredibly conscious of the danger.  Quite honestly, leading up to the race, I can’t even imagine how I’m going to be able to run back down.  I keep having visions of doing a face plant on a big boulder.

While the first half of the descent is my favorite, the second half is just plain work and perseverance.  By the time you get back to Barr Camp, the scenery is gone, there are no more cheering runners, the temperature rises, and all that boulder bounding has taken a serious toll on the legs.  I kept checking my time as I passed the mile markers – 8, 7, 6, etc.  It was going to be much closer than I was hoping for.  I would have to average 8 minute miles, and that’s exactly what I was doing.  I could make up an extra minute or so once I hit the pavement, but that wasn’t much of a safety cushion.  I just couldn’t push much harder without the fear of blowing up.  You would think that 13 miles with almost 8,000’ of loss would be pretty fast, but as hard as I was pushing, it took 1:49:26 for the descent.  That’s more than 8 minutes/mile – a pretty pedestrian pace on most courses.

Mercifully, clouds moved in during the bottom part of the descent and I even heard some thunder, though I never got to feel any refreshing moisture.  I managed to pass 5 runners on the way down and was feeling pretty good about not being passed since right after the top.  Unfortunately, just after coming out onto the pavement by the Cog, female no. 5 went flying by.  I tried to keep up, but was just too fatigued.  She beat me by 25 seconds, and I didn’t care.  The cheering crowds were awesome along the last ½ mile of the course and I crossed the line in 4:56:34.  I broke my 5 hour goal!

After milling about the finish line, getting my shirt and rehydrating, I slowly made my way back towards Memorial Hall, ready for some food.  On the way, I saw the massage tables set up in front of the library and treated myself to an awesome 30 minutes of pain and pleasure.  Once I finally made it into Memorial Hall, I glanced at the printed results and got a most pleasant shock – in addition to the great 36th place finish (out of 707), they had me listed for a 1st place age group award!  As it turned out, I was actually 8th out of 103 in my age group, but the 7 in front of me got top 10 overall, or top 5 masters, so I rose to the top of the age group awards – sweet.

After eating and more hydrating, I realized it would be another 1 ½ hours till the awards ceremony, so I went home, showered, changed, and hydrated some more before coming back.  Even though it ate up a good part of the afternoon, I’m glad I came back, not only to get my plaque, but to celebrate all of the incredible running achievements of the day.  The winner was from Japan, and I sat next to a gal from New Zealand, who was the 10th overall female.

The improved ascent time from the Marathon also nudged me up in the Triple Crown of Running series – 5th place in the Masters division!

An awesome day, following a somewhat disappointing day made for a great weekend.  I probably won’t be doing either the Ascent or Marathon for quite a while, but I feel like I can now walk away from the Peak with my head held high.

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