Saturday, August 18, 2007

Pike's Peak Ascent - Manitou Springs CO

I'm an uphill runner, so how could I resist a run up almost 8,000 feet over 13 miles? I've been intrigued by this race for a long time. So much so that last year I ran it as a bandit because registration was closed. This year I managed to get my registration in in the few hours it took to fill up.

Last year, I was floored in the last two miles by the elevation. This year I took the step of flying out a week early and staying in Manitou Springs for a mountain vacation with Rebecca and the kids. I hoped to acclimate and not have a repeat of my previous blowup.

I was actually also hoping to do the infamous "Pike's Peak Double": the Ascent followed by the full marathon the next day. I missed the deadline for "normal marathon registration" so I signed up for the Triple Crown Series in order to still be able to do the marathon. Unfortunately getting injured at the Lake Youngs Ultra stopped me from going to Colorado for the next day's Garden of the Gods race. Hence I was out of the marathon.

I flew out to Colorado the week before and stayed a couple days in Boulder before driving down to Manitou Springs with my kids. We stayed at the Black Bear Inn right on the mountain. We spent our days doing Colorado tourist stuff: whitewater rafting, exploring the local caves, and hiking various trails. I even worked a few runs in on the mountain. The train that drops you off on the top of the mountain gives you 40 minutes to buy souvenir crap - time which I used to run down a mile and back up again. This is probably the best Pike's Peak training. Another option, for those not wanting to run the whole mountain but still get in high elevation training, is to get off of the train at "Mountain View" and run over a mile or so to Barr Camp for the 6 mile climb up the rest of the way.

Friday night before raceday we had a superb meal at the Craftwood Inn. We ate mostly game: antelope, elk, ostrich, emu and, my favorite, bison. Who needs carb loading?! Elizabeth said it was her favorite meal ever. The next morning I got up earlier than I needed to, took a long hot shower and made myself some bad inroom coffee before Rebecca drove me in to Manitou Springs. As a 1:30 halfmarathoner I had qualified for the elite wave, meaning I got to start at 7:00am instead of 7:30. It was still a little chilly so I arrived at the starting line with the race t-shirt of my trusty Patagonia trail running tee. A large crowd gathered waiting for the start. Probably the biggest crowd of any "trail run" I've seen. Although this race was certainly packed with road runners and seemed just like any large road marathon.

The start was in the middle of the main street of Manitou Springs, about a mile from the trailhead. I took it easy at the start and let the overenthusiastic hordes of runners run ahead. At the left turn on Ruxton Road, as it slanted upwards, the enthusiasm and velocity of many of them wore off and I started passing people. At the trailhead was the first aid station. I abandoned the Pike's Peak Ascent race t-shirt as I had warmed up. I felt good and ran steadily ahead for the next few miles, clocking about 15 minute miles. I was carrying a water bottle so m y aid station stops were short - just enough time to get them refilled. I made myself eat Hammer gels every 30 minutes for the first ten miles (which worked well and I should have kept up the whole way).

The penultimate aid station was Barr Camp, about 5.5 miles from the top. I still felt great and kept up the pace through the turnoff to Bottomless Pit Trail (4.8 miles from the top). I hit mile 12 at 3:05. In training I had been running that last mile in between 20 to 25 minutes (after running from the top down five miles to the Bottomless Pit turnoff and back up). But finally, the dreaded altitude caught up to me as I hit 13,000 feet. I slowed to a pitiful shuffle. I hit the Golden Stairs at 3:37. I perked up as we finished most of the boulders and managed to run the last few hundred meters, finishing in 3:48.

Josh (pink shirt) running me in to the finish

I enjoy the extremity of this race (almost 8000 feet of climbing!). I do think a bit more training at higher altitude would let me finish in 3:30. I'll try to do it next year if I don't do the Leadville 100 that day instead.


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