Friday, September 12, 2008

Reflection on Pikes Peak Marathon

Well it has been over 3 weeks now since I ran the Pikes Peak Marathon and I'm only now posting some thoughts on it as I get ready for the Colorado Relay.

I was pleased to finish 53rd this year and ran the same ascent time with a loss of about 4 minutes on the descent to run 5:19 compared to my 5:15 three years ago. I do think the performance this time was a bit better as this year we faced off with several inches of snow and I had to carry lots more gear to protect myself from the elements. I carried my camel-back without the water bladder and filled the space instead with a pull over hat, two pairs of gloves, biker sleeves for legs and arms made of lycra, and a water-proof jacket. I also carried 5 gels and 9 ziplocks with gookinaide for energy replacement and hydration.

I ran with Bren for a little while but by the incline aid station, I seemed to have lost him. I wondered if maybe he turned because I know he sometimes has stomach or breathing problems and thse long distance races are not suited for a guy who once ran 1:48 for the 800m... he's a sprinter so Pikes is about 24.5 miles too far. I called out and he replied so I was glad he was OK. I kept pace figuring he might have stopped for a pit stop. At French's (I know the race calls it No Name, but that leaves me cold) I stopped for a gel and finished off a full cup of water. I waited a bit and still no Bren. I thought for sure he must not be feeling well so I headed off... turns out he was just pacing himself and I was underestimating how fast I was going.

My hydration method worked great as I blew through Bob's and got a nice gookinaide hit with nary and pause in the station. By Barr camp, the weather above was closing in and I steadied my pace to be sure to run all the way through to A-frame. I was starting to tire a bit but still had something in the tank to give. At A-frame, I stopped and pulled out my gear: hat, gloves, arm sleeves and rain shell. It took me several minutes to cover up, eat soemthing (gel) and hydrate, but I got going again. For the first time since I was competitive (I think my best Ascent is 2:37), I was able to run for short bursts above A-frame. I'm usually well acclimated enough to run at the altitude, its just that I'm rarely quite prepared for that amount of climbing IN COMBINATION with high altitude. Pikes is always a reach for me.

At cirque, I once again faced severe muscle cramping but unlike in 2005, it was only in the right quad... I think I like to step up with the right to protect an old injury in my left. So there I was moving uphill like Igor: step with the left, drag the right. Into the 16 golden stairs, the cramp let go and I was moving again, but for the rest of the day, I was anxious about cramping as I could feel the memory still hanging in the muscles waiting to trigger again.

At the summit, I took some food and an extra gel and began the descent. The environment was all snow and slush. What had been cold coming up (like 29 degrees cold) got windy and the snow became a bit of sleet that stung my legs as I came down. I sang Aerie by John Denver (completely off key) as a way to honor the mountain and to let runners below me that I'm coming down so we don't collide on the trail.

"Excuse me, but could you please get out of my way" I heard from behind me. Well, she did say please, but I took some tone in her voice: "OK, but I will see you later." She passed by without another word.

Dodging rocks, descending and hopping past people still on ascent I spot Bren. So! He didn't turn, and he's OK...good! Now, onward. Below A-frame my glasses begin fogging beyond support so I take them off and use the force to navigate the trail. I see darker spots and know those are rocks... step between those. Unwilling to break my pace, I slipped the pack around onto my chest and began stripping off the hat, sleeves and gloves, packing them away. I kept the rain jacket because by now it was pouring rain and thunder overhead. Only when I was done did I realize that I had been descending at breakneck speeds without my glasses on while intently looking into my pack to put things away... the force is strong in this one.

Through Barr Camp with yet another hydration success and I closed on the hill leading up to Bob's. This rude section always gets you because you told youself you were done climbing uphill when you reached the summit... nope, here's more... and there was the woman who ordered me out of her way back on top.... walking on that uphill.

"Thought so" I mumbled as I wet by. We met up at the base and shook hands in mutual respect. She was really a fine runner.

Down, down and down and this is the part where I alwyas ask myself why I do this. I'm now counting down the miles hoping against hope that I missed a mile marker and that I'll actually only have 3 miles to go now... nope there's the the 4 mile marker. Dang this is a long way for me.

At long last, the Chariots of Fire music is audible. There's a guy who always stations himself at the exit from Barr trail and plays the theme from the movie all day. It must be maddening for him, but is always motivational for us... we love him for it!

Now the Ruxton avenue incline takes its licks on my screaming quads but I persist on running down at pace. Overhauling a few I finally close on the finish line. Hmm one more guy ahead I might be able to reach. Why not. Driving down, the gap closed and I figured I could slip by in the last 100m... yup, looking good... but then, he pauses and his two kids- no more than 6 years olf- join him heading to the line in te final 100m chute... I can't bring myself to do it and cruise in just behind the happy father. My son sees me do it... hopefully he learned a little something there too.

Cold, soaked to the bone and 5:19 with a good finish. I wait for Bren to get in and he proposes on the course. Cal gets it all on video and you can find it on YouTube. I also waited for Mike to get in and he safely made it home.

All in all, this was the toughest Pikes Peak Marathon I ever ran. The weather was as brutal as it could be without closing the trail. Maybe next time I'll get some nicer weather and maybe I could challenge that 5 hour barrier...