pike’s peak? seriously?

A couple of months back, someone at work asked me if I were a serious runner.  I told him “well – I really try to have a sense of humor about it”.  Humor can really help you when you find yourself in situations that by any reasonable measure are ridiculous.  Such as “running” up 14,115 foot Pike’s Peak.


course picture from http://www.pikespeakmarathon.org/course.htm#Course

I’d made a conscious choice to do more trail events this year.  I was logging reasonably good times in road marathons, but not enjoying them as much.  Coupled with my lifetime goal to do a marathon in all fifty states, and given that I’d not yet done one in Colorado, it made sense to try to get into the Pike’s Peak Marathon.

I marked my calendar for registration day, and it’s a good thing, as the race filled within an hour.  I read up a bit on it – this is an event with more than its share of lore.  It’s the third-longest running marathon in the United states, behind Boston and Yonkers (yes really).

arlene pieper - the first woman to finish a marathon in teh united states, pike's peak in 1959.

arlene pieper – first american female marathoner

One item that caught my eye is that this is where the first American female marathoner was crowned – Arlene Pieper did this in 1959.  I had the opportunity to meet her at the race expo last week – and made a point of thanking her for blazing the trail so that my two daughters have the option to do one.

Okay – once registered, I needed to prepare, right?  I can’t prep for the altitude in Seattle.  The only “fourteener” we have in Washington State is Mount Rainier, and we don’t have a marathon there.  We do have mountains, but most of the runnable trails near where we live top out at about 4000-5000 feet.  There are plenty of hills to run, but they’re well-stocked with oxygen.

In the months leading up to Pike’s Peak, I did a number of local trail events.  Back in March I did the Chuckanut 50k, with a total ascent of about 6800’.  I’d also done some smaller events, the Evergreen Trail Runs 50k events at Taylor Mountain and Lord Hill were definitely challenging, but not at altitude.  And to top it off, things have been crazy busy at work, so I didn’t get out to do all of those Cascade Mountain runs I’d planned to do.

Desperation set in two weeks before the big event.  I decided to do a two-fer on Mount Si.  The peak tops out at about 4000’, but the climb is tough.  With two of these, I rationalized that I’d get 6800’ of ascent in (less than 7800’ but at a steeper grade than Pike’s Peak).  First thing about that – this run wrecked me.  I did a fair bit of walking, and my quads were tired for nearly a week.  Second – it tops out 10,000’ lower than Pike’s.  I sensed that I was in for it, but had sunk costs of registration and airfare at this point.  Would have to make the best of it.

garden of the gods

at the garden of the gods, just outside colorado springs

I flew in three days before the race, which is as much time I could devote to ‘acclimating’ to the altitude.  Given that – the only pre-race run I did in Colorado was a sedate flat run along the Monument Valley Park Trail in Colorado Springs.  Being the last run prior to the event, I didn’t think it prudent to try anything too taxing.

near the starting line in manitou springs, elevation "only" 6300 ft above sea level.

manitou springs welcomes us.

Over dinner a couple of nights before the race, I benefitted from some expert advice offered by friends who had run both the Pike’s Peak Ascent and Marathon events, and had run along the Barr Trail (which forms the majority of the course).  Their advice was great – take it easy early on, bring salt tablets.  And some of it was a bit concerning.  I learned that the final two miles before one reaches the summit is where one “earns their big (boy,girl) pants”, and that it’s not unusual to shed tears up there as you climb.  Okay then.

The night before the race, I ate an early dinner, met and talked with some fellow Marathon Maniacs for a while, and then hunkered down in my hotel room, nervous about what the next day would bring.

silhouette of pike's peak

To be continued …

2 responses to “pike’s peak? seriously?

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