Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Pikes Peak Ascent

I have been looking forward to the 2013 Pikes Peak Ascent since shortly after crossing the finish line last year. Many things were different about this year and I was excited to see how much faster I could make the grueling climb from downtown Manitou Springs at an elevation of 6,300ft to the finish line at 14,050ft on Pikes Peak.

Due to slower trail half marathon qualification times, my brother and I were forced to start in wave two last year. This meant we would be starting one-half hour after the 700+ wave one runners. This year, based off our Ascent times from last year we would be starting in wave one. Last year, when we started in wave two, it allowed us to have the trail to ourselves almost to Barr Camp but we would end up passing ~500 wave one runners before reaching the summit. This made for slow going on parts of the narrow rocky single track trail. I figured this change alone would be worth a good chunk of time this year. Another thing different this year is that I had run almost double the number of miles as last year. I thought for sure I was set up well to shave off a good chunk of time, but the mountain had something else in mind.

Google Earth view of the course
Coming just three weeks after the Speedgoat 50k, I was a little lost in how to approach the last few weeks of training before the Pikes Peak Ascent. I felt surprisingly good after Speedgoat so the following Saturday, I decided to run the La Luz trail round trip. It ended up being my slowest time in the last three years. Obviously, my legs were not fully recovered yet. So I took it easy the next week and decided to hit Santa Fe Badly as my last tune up run before race day. My legs felt really good and I think I set a new personal record on the climb to the 12,622ft Santa Fe Baldy summit, although my watch died so I wasn't sure exactly. Either way, my legs felt good and I thought I was ready for action.

Brother and I just before the start
We arrived at my brother's house in Colorado Springs late Friday night and were quickly off to bed for a few hours of sleep before the early wake up. Little sleep is not ideal for the night before a race, but life always seems to get in the way. It was nice to have a place to stay just a short drive from the start. In the morning I headed outside to take the dog for a walk before the race and noticed a strange car in the driveway. Didn't think much of it until I noticed my mom sit-up from the reclined passengers seat, then my dad slowly popped up from the reclined drivers seat. They decided to make the 12 hour drive from North Dakota to surprise us and watch the race! They had arrived at 4:30 in the morning and decided to catch a bit of sleep in the driveway so they didn't wake us up. It was quite the surprise and it was the first time they would see my brother and I race.

My training buddy waiting for the action to begin
The rest of the morning went smoothly and we arrived at the starting area to pick up my bib with plenty of time to spare. It was then that my wife noticed I forgot my watch! Luckily my nephew was willing to cruise back to the house and grab it for me. (Thanks Alex, you're a lifesaver!) I have become quite attached to my watch while running as it lets me know how far I've gone, my pace, elevation and all that good stuff. I feel lost without it! He arrived back at the starting area just in time to deliver my watch and we made our final warm-up jog down Manitou Ave.

And we're off!
We lined up a few rows from the front and prepared for the mad dash through town. At the gun, a good number of people took off pretty fast but it wasn't quite as bad as I anticipated. We covered the first mile in 7:54 before the serious climbing began. As soon as we hit the trail, the crowd ahead started to slow down and we passed a lot of people in the steep initial climb called the W's. I felt pretty good during this section and we reached the top of the W's in ~34 minutes, right about on pace for a 2:50 ascent. For registration, I predicted a finish time of 2:45 but knew that would be a tough task. I did however think somewhere in the 2:50-2:55 range was pretty realistic.

After the W's, the crowd started to thin out and there were just a few people to pass and play leapfrog with. This section is deceptively hard as it seems less steep than the W's but it is still hard to get into much of a consistent running rhythm. We reached the next aid station at No Name Creek(8,800ft) in 50:33, 4.3 miles from the start.

All bundled up and enjoying the morning at 14,000ft
From No Name creek to Barr Camp, the trail starts to level out a bit and even has a few short downhill sections. Through here I was still feeling pretty good and tried to keep a nice steady effort. I felt like we were moving well and started pulling away from a few of the people we had been running with since the top of the W's. My legs started to feel the burn of the strong running effort as we got closer to Barr Camp, but I felt like it was a sustainable effort. Barr Camp would be my first water refill, so I added a couple servings of Tailwind powder to my bottle as we approached the aid station in order to minimize time spent at the aid station. The refill went smoothly with minimal time lost. I reached Barr Camp slightly behind my brother but we would leave the aid station together. We arrived at Barr Camp(10,200ft), 7.6 miles into the race with 1:27 on the clock. We were still on pace for ~2:50 finish time, but that would soon change.

Leaving Barr Camp I was feeling pretty good, but soon started to slow down. I wasn't feeling particularly bad, but my brother and a few others started slowly pulling away. This was my first indication that I was not moving as well as I thought anymore. It was hard to get into any sort of rhythm with all the boulders and irregular footing on this section. Approaching A-frame I knew 2:50 was long gone and it was going to be tough to break 3:00. I reached A-frame(11,950ft), 10.2 miles into the race in 2:07. My brother put three minutes on me from Barr Camp to A-frame! Last year I hit A-frame in 2:10, so I knew it was not going to be easy to break 3:00 at this point.

Coming up the switchbacks near the Cirque
"16 Golden stairs" come up behind this rock pile
Shortly after A-frame the trail breaks out of treeline. This is my favorite place to run and despite the lack of oxygen, it managed to put me in a little better mood. I could also see that there were a decent number of people just up ahead that I could work on catching. The first mile above timberline I was able to catch and pass 5 or 6 people and even though it felt like it took forever to catch them, I was surprised when I looked behind me to see I was quickly pulling away after passing. After the initial group of people, it became a little more spread out and I found it difficult to get motivated to keep pushing myself.

Entering the home stretch
Finally caught green shirt guy
My legs were still feeling pretty good, but the thin air made it difficult to maintain a run for more than ~100 yards. Approaching the Cirque at 13,300ft elevation I was catching up to a few more people and tried to push the effort once again. There are a few runnable sections through here and I tried to make the most of them, because I knew I would slow to a crawl at the 16 Golden stairs. After this point it is mostly a blur, I could hear the cheers of encouragement from my family, but only caught a quick glimpse of my wife as I went past her. I was in the zone and trying to move as fast as I could for as long as I could. Since my legs still felt pretty strong this consisted of some short sprints followed by out of breath stumbles, until I could surge ahead once again. I know I managed to pass a few people in the final mile, but don't really know how many.

Almost there, one switchback to go!
In this section I heard someone yell "a minute thirty to break three hours"! I could not believe how fast the time past. It seemed like I had only taken a couple steps when he yelled out "one minute to break three hours"! And the same for "thirty seconds"! Before I knew it the time was gone and I didn't break three hours. It was the most surreal time warp I've ever experienced, I couldn't believe the time could disappear so quickly.

Brother crossing the finish line in 2:56
Crossed the finish line in 3:01
I ended up crossing the finish line near the summit of Pikes Peak at 14,050ft after 13.32 miles and 7,815ft of climbing in 3:01:07, about five minutes behind my brother who crossed the line in 2:56. I was a bit disappointed in my finish time, but I shaved 3 minutes off my time from last year. It was a perfect day to run up the peak! Anytime spent in such a place is a good day, so it's hard to be too upset. I was just really expecting to break 3:00, but I guess the Peak had different plans. This just means I will have to go back and try it again. It was great to have my parents there to watch my brother and I race for the first time! Hopefully they will be able to make the journey to watch us more in the future.
We survived another Ascent!
With my parents and brother atop Pikes Peak
La Sportiva Vertical K shoes
Smartwool PHD Run Light Micro socks
Garmin 405cx GPS watch
REI Fleet running shorts
CEP calf compression sleeves
Amphipod 20oz handheld bottle
Nathan 10oz Quickshot handheld bottle

~350 calories Tailwind nutrition
~40 ounces water

1 comment:

  1. Wow! You are an awesome trail runner, and an awesome writer! We were so happy to be at your race. Driving all night was a piece of cake compared to the race you and Tom ran. Great day on the mountain - and here's to many more!