Seriously, I always liken PPA/PPM weekend in Colorado Springs to what the Boston Marathon weekend must feel like in Boston. Obviously this is much smaller scale, but it sure doesn't feel like it. Starting just about as soon as the snow melts off the summit of Pikes, no matter what day you're up there, you're likely to run into dozens of familiar faces flying down or climbing up Barr trail, and it's all that's talked about in the COS running world. Yep, it's one helluva season.
Last Saturday, Ascent day dawned bright and sunny and was the perfect late August morning, with just the tiniest hint of fall in the air (for like the first half hour of the race anyway), with an awesome sunrise over Manitou while we all jogged and pranced around nervously near the starting line, taking way too many nervous-pee trips, and generally doing things that would normally be looked at with puzzlement and maybe disdain in any situation besides that of preceding a race.
I didn't come into the race knowing much about who would show up. I deliberately avoid looking at start lists and have done so since college, because I admit to getting overly nervous about basically everything, and that doesn't ever help anything. But I knew plenty of talent was bound to show up regardless, and I never count anybody out or write anybody off (including myself). You just never know will happen, you never know who will have a great day, or who will have a rough go, and Pikes never seems to cease tossing curveballs.
Anyway, after lots of good luck wishes thrown around at the start line, the A wave got lined up, the gun went off and, wanting to not get bottlenecked in at the start of the W's, mixed in with the men I ran with Anna Mae and Brandy Erholtz, slightly behind Addie Bracy and further behind the eventual winner, who I didn't recognize, and we got out well but not crazy by any means.
It's always fun running through the streets of Manitou with lots of spectators lining both sides of the street. It's quite the electrifying environment. After we climbed Ruxton and hit the trail, we sort of lollygagged--but at a decent clip--up the W's, since it can be a tricky section where you're fresh enough to push hard, but its not a great place to go totally bananas and waste energy, because it's steep and there is a looong ways to go. It was awesome to see Kim Dobson cheering at one of the turns early on, she had a baby in May, so she wasn't here for us to chase this time.
I had set a goal of just being better than 2014. That is to say, I wanted to place higher than 3rd, or go sub 2:40, or both. But, turns out that I did neither. Interestingly, the ol' lungs and ticker felt pretty darn good from start to finish (I mean, good for Pikes) I was working, but not down in the bottom of a deep, dark well, which sometimes happens up there.
Training and racing on Pikes is the only time in running that I ever experience any type of cramping. Generally though, if I'm running from base to summit, it's right around A-Frame, and by that point, who even cares? Just suck it up for the last 5k. But today, it started riiiiight about...mile 4.5, shortly after the W's. Which seemed slightly ahead of schedule. Uh-oh.
First my calves got twitchy, then took turns knotting themselves up into Charlie horses every time I took a misstep, plantar flexed an ankle just a bit too much, or took a big step up onto a rock. It would last a few seconds where I'd hobble like a peg-legged pirate, and then would go away and then I'd run like a normal human again. It was more annoying than anything. But in a way, it took my focus off of the actual racing-hurt, because I was more concentrated on where and how to step to avoid making either calf decide to irritatingly spasm.
Oh good, only 9 more miles to go!
But whatever. Definitely manageable and aside from that, I was feeling good. Still, all I could think of was that at packet pick up the day before, I declined a free sample bottle of Hot Shot, oh snap. Soon, I watched the Salomon pink forms of Anna Mae and Addie gradually frolic away through the woods like tiny wee blonde forest-dwelling elves with flowing locks as we approached mile 5 or so, and I figured my goal of top 3 might not happen, but I wasn't really worried, there's still a ways to go so keep fighting the fight, chin up and never say die! Anything can still happen.
I snagged Gatorade from the volunteers (BLESS THEIR SOULS!) at the Barr Camp aide station, and it helped quite a bit for the climb up to A Frame, where my hip flexors were starting to join the party, which is normal for me at that point in the race, and I grabbed more Gatorade from the volunteers (BLESS THEIR SOULS!) at the A Frame aid station.
Nonetheless, the crampage-rampage escalated a bit running through the "kitty litter" like sand that comprises the majority of the final 3 miles. I was lucky enough to catch up to Jesse Mascarenas and another gentleman who I didn't know and ran with them the majority of the way to the summit, it would have been so much tougher in no (wo)man's land, so I owe those boys big time. Still, breathing-wise I felt good enough (again, as good as one can feel up there), and my brain was actually decently functional enough to register a kazoo, a t-Rex, and Anna Frost. Brain functionality over the last couple miles was definitely not my jam last time I raced this. And while I was certainly tired by this point because this race is a real ball-buster, more than anything I was just frustrated that the legs weren't on board with the brain, and I'm pretty sure the guys I was running with were slightly surprised every time my calf or quad seized up and I yelped out the F-bomb (probably 20 times over the course of the last 3 miles...sorry guys). Jesse, meanwhile, was high-fiving spectators right behind me like a champ. After all was said and done, it was a fourth place effort in 2:52-high.
Afterward, while I was laying in the parking lot (yes I did) in Glen Cove down below with my friend and PPA veteran extraordinaire Simon Gutierrez, waiting for the ride the remainder of the way down and likely appearing strung out on those cool shrooms growing up by Barr Camp (what was really in the Gatorade at that aid station?), I picked apart some stuff. Rather than post-race in 2014 when admittedly my thoughts at this point were, "Eh, I'm probably not doing that again," this time I was devising ways to do it again and better.
I wasn't disappointed so much, I mean, sometimes there isn't a whole lot else you can do, but I was still looking for errors. Maybe I didn't spend enough training time on really steep stuff? Maybe I didn't do enough long runs? Maybe I should've eaten more gosh darn bananas that week (or, in the words of Gwen Stefani, B! A-N-A-N-A-S!)? Maybe it really was as everybody said: the barometric pressure! The impending eclipse! The planetary alignment! No, seriously I think maybe I had some training oopsies and/or shouldn't just tank up on water for two days preceding the race. But who knows? It'd be cool if every race was a guaranteed great one, but that would eliminate half the battle, and that's no fun. Also, the good thing about running like a donkey is that you recover pretty fast.
So, like I said, Pikes is tough and throws curveballs and keeps you on your toes and that's why we all love her. Although I seem to vaguely recall a friend asking me at the finish if I needed anything, to which I replied, "Yes. My soul. I think I lost it down at A-Frame." Before that interaction, the first words out of my mouth to Tim B. after crossing the line were, "This mountain is a real son of a b****." No but seriously, we really do love her in some twisted, maniacal way. Why else would we keep coming back?
So, maybe it wasn't the day that I wanted. Truthfully, I really believed I could win the thing and went in with that intention, knowing it was anybody's race. But you can only do what you can do and that's just how it goes and you roll with the punches and be grateful for what went right and learn from what went wrong, and plenty of things have gone right. On top of that and maybe more importantly, having spent this season following numerous peoples' "Pikes Peak Quests" if you will, I realize that my bad day would be many peoples' best day. And I don't mean that in a bragging sense, so let me explain. Running well takes a great deal of hard training, but it also takes a great deal of luck, opportunity, God-given talent, and, let's be real, genetics. I don't consider myself to be an "elite" in this sport, but I still know how fortunate I am to consider my day to be sub-par, because somebody else would be completely over the moon for it. I know so many folks who were happy just to finish, and I see their excitement and gratitude at accomplishing it, so I'm just gonna be amped that I'm healthy and running and thankful for another Pikes in the books. It was as amazing of an experience as it always is, podium or not.
Still, me and Pikes have some unfinished business now, so I guess I'll have to have another crack next year.
Keep fightin' the fight folks, it's all you can ever do. Always better days ahead.