“I can’t believe how HAPPY everyone is," said Kathy Pieper, youngest and first female to ever do the Pikes Peak Ascent. There’s no truer statement about this past weekend. The happiness pouring out of Manitou and Pikes Peak confirmed yet again why the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon weekend is my favorite of the year.
At 7am on Saturday, I felt like the Ascent had snuck up on me, but I felt ready. Like every year, I began to tear up at the singing of “America the Beautiful”, and we were off within the blink of an eye. We were off so fast with so much adrenaline that I forgot to judge my effort level and went out way too fast. Needless to say, the first few miles of the race were rough, trying to find my comfortable pace. Along the way, seeing signs of encouragement, Greg and Allison at the incline aid station, the “Halfway to Heaven” signs, hearing Teresa’s ever-enthusiastic cheering and just a few steps later receiving help from Neal as my already-hypoxic brain tried fumbling with my twisted pack bladder (Thank you!!) improved my run immensely. Running out of Barr Camp donning a smile and hearing the booming voice from the summit lifted my spirits for the next miles. (Photo by Greg Cummings)
About a mile out of Barr Camp, I could feel my foot coordination and placement were headed downhill, and suddenly I was down, blood trickling from my knee. Trying to test for any injury, I immediately hopped up, discovering that Pikes Peak simply had realized it had not received my sacrifice of blood for the training season yet, and left me with a few less red blood cells and a well-earned subsequent gravity tattoo. :)
By the time I emerged from treeline, I was cramping off and on, blood-streaked, but happy – I was now in one of my favorite sections of the course. My race was even more brightened when other (awesome!) runners commented, “Look at this beautiful day! Could it get any better?” and whooped and hollered every time we hit a mile sign.
Progressing through the last 2 miles, I had realized that some sucky training runs in fact did help – more for mental purposes – to calm me from worrying about cramping limiting my ability to run. Though not something I had planned, it reminded me of why I love these races – they’re different every single year, and you’ll learn something new each year, no matter how many times you do them.
When I hit the cirque and the infamous band of kazoo-playing Search and Rescue, my cheers for them reminded me again why I love this weekend. And at last, hearing the speaker announcing every runner’s name as they approached the finish line reminded me again why: the committee makes everyone feel like a champion. As I ran up those last few switchbacks and had this surge of energy across the finish, I was nearly crying from happiness.
Marathon day, I awoke ready, before my alarm announcing a favorite day of the year. With fewer nerves than Ascent day, my brother and I started the race together. We started off laughing and smiling as he fumbled with his watch after crossing the mat, exclaiming, “No! Crap! How do you restart this thing?!” A mile later, I couldn’t believe how good I felt, and couldn’t help but smile as runners yelled out, “WOOHOO!!” as we passed the ’12 miles to Summit’ sign. About a mile later, I was waiting for soreness to give me a hint of my run Saturday, especially while transitioning from running to walking a rock step-up, but my endorphins must have been running high, preventing any signal of pain.(Photo by Amy Perez)
A few more miles in, I was feeling alive. No, not just alive, but ALIVE! The run was going so much better than the Ascent, I wasn’t contemplating simply quitting, and the miles and landmarks were flying by. Then Barr Camp came and with its wonderful sight were cheers of the ever-inspirational Neal and Teresa. I was still feeling strong up to A-Frame, just waiting for cramps to twinge, but it thankfully never happened. Up above A-Frame, breaking out of the trees into full views of the scenery, I was so happy. I love this mountain, these races, and especially the time I get to spend above treeline. Once we hit the first runners heading down, cheering all of them brightened my race even more.
After hitting the top in a marathon day ascent PR, my legs and feet took about 3 miles to adjust to the downhill, but luckily they began to feel fresher the farther I went (quite possibly due to the fact that I knew the finish was that much closer!)
During the last 3 miles, I was soaking up every minute of them, knowing that I would look back at those very moments in the future, waiting another 365 days to be able to soak in the ache, the push to finish, and one of the most absolute feelings of happiness. Coming up on the switch back where ”Chariots of Fire” would typically welcome me to mile 24.5, I was trying to remember how it went, and at the exact point where the stereo and generous spectator usually cheer, the chorus replayed for me, with an urge of speed and tears of happiness building up in my eyes. Within just the blink of an eye, I saw my elementary school PE teacher, friend Mandie, and stepdad cheering me in to a new PR – I was so happy.
This weekend will always be one I look back on with such fond memories, with such happiness. I want to sincerely thank every runner, volunteer, Search and Rescue member, spectator, race committee, sponsor, and resident of Manitou for making the Pikes Peak races what they always are – an incredible success.
Thank you and congratulations to all my awesome teammates – Kristy, Vanessa, JT, Dave, Ryan, and Mel – you are such great runners and it was an honor running with you this summer! Thank you to Tim, Ron Ilgen, Mountain Equipment Recyclers, and West Side Papa Murphy’s for the opportunity to run on the Pikes Peak Sports Triple Crown team and run my best summer yet!
Congratulations to my mom, stepdad, and cousins that ran great Pikes Peak races, and especially my brother who ran his first marathon by doubling, and in doing so, became the youngest doubler! Huge congratulations to my dad who not only ran his first ultra this weekend, but his first Leadville 100!
Racing season is now over, and every day I’ll be remembering how GREAT of a weekend this was. So now, in the midst of heading back to school, I’ll be figuring out what this whole not-prepping for an impending race thing is about (what is this madness?!?) and starting my training to experience the Double magic all over again.