We've come full circle. I started blogging about my training for the Pikes Peak Sports.us Triple Crown Runners with a picture of me in the creek, and here we are again.
I hadn't been this nervous the night before a race in a long time -- probably since before my first marathon, for which I was woefully undertrained. (Evidence of that here.) Race performance and the quality of the experience can be affected by any number of things on the day, but it seemed like the Pikes Peak Marathon had countless intangible factors ready to trip its racers up (often literally).
Sure, I could stumble and bloody up my knees in a trail race in the PPRR fall or winter series. That would mean, what, half an hour of painful running? I could get dehydrated on the ADT marathon. Aid stations pop up much more frequently when you're running a flat course with good accessibility. This event just seemed that much more extreme than anything I had attempted before.
I'd also never undertaken an organized athletic endeavor that would take me this long. I hadn't done a full ascent or a full descent in training (whoops!), so I only had estimates to hint at how fast I could get it done. I knew a "good" time for me in training to Barr Camp was just over 2 hours, and from A-Frame to the summit was 1:15, for example.
The weirdest part of the whole day: As soon as my feet hit the dirt at the end of Ruxton, all the nerves fell away and I was able to focus on the task at hand: climbing the mountain I see every day.*
*We are so lucky to be able to train on that mountain, by the way. I don't think I'll take it for granted again after hearing racers from Albuquerque and Canada describe their typical training runs, which top out around 10,000 feet.
This was another extremely well-run and -organized event by Ron Ilgen and the Triple Crown crew. The aid stations were fantastic. I stuck around for about a minute at Barr Camp sampling all the goodies the crew had to offer. (My favorites were the dill pickles.)
My 4:31 Ascent time wasn't blazing, by any means, but I felt strong the whole time. I ran the first mile and the flat bits before Barr Camp, but after that I fast-hiked it up to the top, like I usually do. (JT, let me know when you start fundraising for your next walkathon; we could make a lot of money.) I stayed steady with fuel and hydration -- small quantities, but often, which I've found works best to maintain my energy level. My watch read 2:44 somewhere between Barr Camp and A-Frame when Killian blazed past my group. It felt like yielding to the downhillers in the top 3 miles added quite a bit of time, both in time stopped and loss of momentum. It was a bit of a disappointment to come in several minutes slower than my Ascent time from two years ago, especially with feeling so strong at A-Frame. That's the only small regret in an otherwise fantastic race, though, and the downhill runners ahead of me were always going to be part of the day. There wasn't much I could have done about them, except to go out much faster and be among them myself!
I turned around and swapped gear with my friend Tess, who was awesome enough to be my summit support crew. I traded my hydration pack for a small handheld bottle because ditching extra weight seemed prudent. I also put on some gloves to prevent trail rash on the palms, should I nosedive. I didn't know what to expect for the descent, so I just started running. I turned both ankles (right twice, left once) below A-Frame, but not seriously. I saw a couple of spills that resulted in runners dropping out, but I again took the advice of a race vet: If you hear someone sliding, don't look at them, because you'll probably fall, too. (I did, however, make sure they were OK.)
I gave Teresa a big hug my second time through Barr Camp (5:50 total time elapsed); she was my favorite person at that moment. I bypassed the smorgasbord that time, though, because I had finally realized I was going to finish a lot closer to 7 hours than 8 hours. She told me to push fluids because it was getting hot down below in town. The mister at Barr Camp and the hose guy at Bob's Road were wonderful, and at the subsequent aid stations I just started throwing cups of water at my face instead of drinking them.
I kept eating, too, but not as diligently on the way down. When I got to three miles to go, I realized it was muscle fatigue, not dehydration-related cramping, that was causing the pain in my quads, so I kept going on diluted Gatorade alone. I've run those three miles so many times I just put my head down and got it done. I was amazed that I was able to keep my mental focus throughout the downhill: I watched the footing closely and concentrated on my steps.
That pavement ... wow. I knew it would hurt, but that was in the abstract. What a cruel way to end a race. At least with the Barr Trail Mountain Race, the paved section is very short.
The things that got me through it were (in no particular order):
I have never been happier to see friends as I was at the finish line. I finally met Amy Perez during the course of this race (she was on the PPS.us TCR team last year), and her encouragement meant a lot to me, as did her "I'm so proud of you" and hug after the finish. (Amy is a certified badass.) LB, who missed almost a whole summer of camping trips because I was always training for this damn thing, was my biggest fan. Mike, my high school friend from North Carolina who had been thwarted by altitude sickness the previous day at the Ascent, was back to his usual self and generous with the praise. The Beagle was there, as well as a healthy chunk of the Attack Pack.
I'm still processing the feeling of finishing this race. I've had a mild obsession with both the Ascent and Marathon since I first read about them in 2006, when I moved here. Like hiking the Incline, it seemed another example of "crazy Coloradans" being "extreme," but not something I would ever attempt on my own.
The proof is in the pudding (side note: my legs still feel like pudding): I hiked up and ran down in less time than it took me to summit Pikes Peak via Barr the first time (plus 30 pounds, minus 3.5 years of running strength).
Full Splits (Segment/Total Elapsed):
Top of Ws: 47:42
To No Name: 22:44/1:10:26
To Barr Camp: 54:44/2:04:10
To A-Frame: 59:27/3:03:37*
To Summit: 1:27:55/4:31:32*
* denotes an official chip time; the others are estimates I pulled off my watch
Will I run it again? I honestly don't know at this point.
What I do know: I'm damn proud of this accomplishment, and that's enough for now.
In closing, some hilarious race photos!