The Pikes Peak Ascent played host to the World Mountain Running Association Long Distance Challenge. Basically, on top of an already deeply-talented field, an extra 75 or so runners from around the world were invited to represent their countries in the Challenge. Happy to say that Team USA won both the men's AND women's challenges, but damn were there some fast runners from all over the world. The highlight of this race for me - and basically the main reason I was able to run the time I did - was that I ran 3/4 of this race with Stevie Kremer. For those who don't know who Stevie is, she is one of the world's elite mountain/trail runners, and basically wins ultras every weekend.
My usual goal with the Ascent portion of the race is to hit the first mile marker in under 8 minutes. This year, since I did the Ascent only, and with the crazy fast field, I ran the first mile in 6:58...thought to myself that I was basically setting my legs up for failure, but also figured that since I wasn't running back down, I could burn myself a little more going up and leave it out there. Just after we passed Hydro St onto the very steep ascending portion of Ruxton Ave, I started my walk/jog plan, as I always do. Got passed by a lot of the international (and Team USA) runners at this point, but I was perfectly fine with that. This is what they race for and it's their strong point, not mine. Played frogger with Stevie and Nuta Olaru (another crazy talented runner who is skilled in all course disciplines) for the next few miles. Also settled in with runners from Ukraine, Italy, and a few other countries. Felt pretty awesome to be surrounded by those likes, made the race feel that much more special and international countries were taking part in the beauty.
Once we hit around mile 5, there are portions in the course where the ascent decreases, and it somewhat flattens out, so I was able to open the legs and make up a lot of time. Passed Stevie and the other group runners there, since I think I have a little more speed as opposed to their uphill strength. Also ran with one of the Go Run Wichita runners whose goal was to go sub-3:00. I remembered him from last year, so we chatted on our way up and I gave him pointers on when he needed to hit certain checkpoints to attain a sub-3:00 (he finished at 2:55, woohoo!). My goal was to hit Barr Camp around 1:25 or under, which would all but ensure me a sub-3:00 finish, which was all I was after today. When I hit BC and saw that I was at 1:19, I was completely overjoyed and enthused, and felt very confident that I would go 2:50, let alone 3:00.
Barr Camp to A-Frame is always a tough patch for me mentally, mainly because the footing is pretty technical up there, and it's impossible to get momentum going in a lot of places. It was also through this stretch that a friend of mine on the Carson team caught up to me, running his first Ascent. Also at this point when Stevie Kremer caught back up to me, and we chatted for the next few miles as we basically ran together until around mile 12. John took off in front of me saying that he needed to run faster, whereas I bid my time knowing that above tree line can be a killer on fatigued legs. Let's just say he learned it the hard way, but I feel that's the best way as well. Go for it, learn from it, be better next time.
Above tree line was awesome. I mean, it sucked, but it was an embrace-the-suck awesome. Caught up to Neil (who was just behind me in the Triple Crown Series), and he was struggling. Gave him some pep talk words and shot past him feeling great about myself (he finished 14 minutes behind me, which means I'll finish no worse than 3d overall in the TCR, depending on what the 1-2 runners do tomorrow at the Marathon).
A friend of mine was at the top yelling down and taking pictures, and hearing her yell out my name when I was around mile 12 was such a boost. For those who have run this race, you know how hard those miles are above tree line. Footing can be terrible, the rocks you have to climb over torch your legs and make you want to stop and sit down. Speaking of, The 16 Golden Stairs destroyed me this year, both physically and mentally. I got to a point where my pace dipped to 36:00+ while climbing, and I just wanted to throw a temper-tantrum right then and there. But I didn't, I kept pushing forward, knowing that I was in store for a huge PR and nothing could take that away.
The crowd at the top of the mountain is always great, and they do SO much to get up over the last stretch. I think I ran the last 1/4 mile because I was filled with so much motivation from their cheering and yelling and applause. Love those people.
In the end, I came away with a 10+ minute course PR on the Ascent, and solidified my standings in the Triple Crown, which is all I wanted. Last year, my 2:43 would have placed me 13th overall, this year, it was only good enough for 49th. Craziness.