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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Pikes Peak Ascent

Tight Pants

January of this year came around and I found myself at my fattest ever. I am 6' tall and was 216 lbs of which not very much was muscle but rather a beer gut and love handles. Luckily, I can blame that as sympathy weight for my wife and our at the time one month old son. I didn't exactly have or at least make a lot of time to work out and it was rapidly starting to show. I decided to start running again. In the past, I have been what you might call a "seasonal" runner. I would pick a running event in the summer, train for it, and try and do well for myself. Training for things is the best way to keep me focused on staying in shape. Even at my fattest, I would still consider myself fairly active with rock climbing (which was getting harder as I got heavier) and mountain escapades where I would take off for a week and climb tons of mountains such as the adventure last summer where I knocked out 8 14ers in 6 days between Colorado's San Juan Mountains and Elk Mountains. My first run out was very painful. I was able to run a full 3 miles without stopping or walking at all but it was hardly running at my sloth like 10 min per mile pace. I was so sore that I didn't run again for a whole week. The next week, I ran the same distance probably 3 times and was already seeing major improvements in my pace and how I was feeling to include sleeping better, faster recovery, and overall health. I knew it was time to pick an event to work for so that I could keep this up and do my "seasonal" thing.

For the past few years, I have talked about doing the Pikes Peak Ascent or Marathon but never got around to actually signing up. I have always figured they would be a good mix between my mountain experience and staying in shape. After finishing the last of Colorado's peaks over 14,000' last labor day weekend on Mt. Huron with my 6 months pregnant wife and a pony keg of beer (which I still have to write a blog about), I had to find something new. People keep asking me what now? What will you do next? I hadn't given it much thought. It was kind of the end of one goal. I knew I wanted to do the rest of the centennials which are the remainder of the highest 100 mountains in Colorado after the 14ers but not with as much vigor. I also would like to climb Aconcagua some day but I also know that things will slow down a bit for the next few years until my son and any other kids get old enough to bring along on these adventures. That is not to say that we won't be doing some things still with young kids. Finally I decided this might as well be the year to do the Pikes Peak Ascent. I knew I could hike that far but not if I could run some. Late January, I decided to sign up with a goal of 4 hours. Early Feb came around and I was already down 10 lbs and signing up not only for the Ascent but the entire Pikes Peak Triple Crown series which consists of the Garden of the Gods hilly 10 miler, the Summer Round-Up 12K trail run and the Ascent. I figured if I was going to do the ascent, I would need to be hitting milestones with training along the way anyhow. I set a goal for the Garden of the God's 10 miler for an 8 minute per mile pace at 1:20:00 and the roundup at 1 hour.


By Mid March, I found myself signing up for the Colorado Springs St. Paddy's day 5k and finishing with a time of 23:03. That works out to roughly a 7:30 pace which I hadn't hit in the couple months of training for multiple miles in a row. This was a good check to see that I could improve so much in such a short amount of time. Sometime around April, I decided to join the Manitou incline club that hadn't actually run the actual incline for several years since it was technically private property. I figured if I was going to do well in the ascent, I would go learn from those who do it best. I would run with the club that Matt Carpenter, who holds the all-time records for the race, hosts. I think I started with a training run to Barr camp and back to Memorial Park in Manitou and then did one up Crystal park road up to section 16 and back to the same park. By no means was I fast, but I was learning to run up up and away. While not even making the club runs every week, I was still seeing improvements. Mid May, I ran the Take 5 Mile Race in the Garden to see how bad the hills really were. As many times as I have climbed there and never once actually ran. Running at a weight of 15 lbs loss down to 201, I ended up winning the Clydesdales big guy class with a time of 36:46. That's a pace of 7:22 a mile. Not only was I faster than the St. Paddy's race, I did it through the hills of Garden of the Gods. I began to align my new goal of finishing the Triple Crown in a total of under 6 hours. Finally, June came around and it was time for the Garden of the Gods 10 miler. I ran the full course a week prior with the dog in 1:20:00 almost exactly then, the Tuesday prior, I broke 1 hour for my first time ever on an 8 mile tempo training run on a flatter course. Unfortunately, I pulled my groin slightly doing so. GoG 10 finally came and the weather was perfect. In my excitement, I passed by mile 1 and looked at my watch realizing that I just ran a 6 min/mile pace. Knowing that could not be good, I slowed up just a tiny bit as the hills kicked in. With my original goal of 1:20:00, I was sort of hoping I could do a 1:15:00 but was unsure of how my groin would hold up as it was sore. At the 5 mile mark into the race, I was right on schedule for the 1:15:00 time and then I started to realize that I was still undertrained. I began to slow up more and more and my groin started to hurt. Losing a few minutes on the return trip and not being able to hammer the final downhills exiting the garden, I finished with my chip time of 1:18:55. I was happy I beat my original goal but sad I couldn't hold up to hit 1:15:00. Anyhow I was still on track for my triple crown goal so I was happy but my groin was trashed. That was June 10 and I knew I wasn't gonna be able to run for a while. June became my lowest mileage month of the year as I dropped from my 123 miles in May to 49 total for June. Into July, I finally decided that I could not just sit around anymore. I needed to at least run and completethe su mmer roundup 12k so that I could do the ascent as I signed up for the Ascent via the triple crown. Knowing my time wouldn't be great with the minimal training and the nagging groin, I decided I would try hard on the uphills and take it easy on the down. The ascent was slow and I couldn't run fast downI was gonna start trying to get back out there but just slow. My groin was still pinching but I went for it never going too fast. The day before the race I drove to the top of Pikes Peak, hiked down to A-Frame and ran back to the summit as a first try figuring the uphill wouldn't hurt my groin so much. With a goal of 1 hour that I could have made, I ended up finishing in 1:05:49 and feeling like crap. This put me 5 minutes behind my 5 hour finish goal on the full triple crown. 1:18:55+1:05:49= 2:24:44 leaving me to have to finish the ascent in 3:36 which was faster than my goal but I knew if any race was possible to shave time it was this one with my altitude experience on the 14ers and continued training through race day with no further injuries. I decided to run Barr Trail Mountain Race as a test to see where I was at for Pikes Peak. At just over a month from the Ascent and even less with needed taper time, it would probably be a pretty close test.

I ended up running BTMR in 2:23:17. Still not sure if I would try and slowly run all of the way on the ascent or go for a run/walk method, I opted to speed walk some of the way to the w's to preserve energy. I found I could speed hike faster than many could run. My split to Barr Camp ended up being 1hr 28 min and according to Matt Carpenter's calculator, that should be 51% of your ascent time. Given that detail, there was no way I could have finished at that pace to the top and I knew I needed to go slower on race day. Anyhow, the descent proved I was nowhere ready as I had to take it easy for my groin I was also tired. Several folks I passed in the last 30 minutes of the way up were passing me on the way back down. I'm just amazed that even that time I was only sort of proud of was only 13 minutes slower than my first road half marathon. I got 2 more practice runs bottom to top timing at 3:55 for the first time and 3:44 the second time. Interestingly, the 3:55 I used the run/walk method and the 3:44 I ran almost the entire way. Also I did a sprint triathlon the day prior to the 3:44 so the improvement was nice. The following week was taper time. I went to the pikes peak summit and ran down to the 2 mile sign and back to the summit being really happy with my splits without 11 miles of ascent before those 2.

The final taper week before the race and I cut my mileage and planned on maintaining intensity only to get some PR's on my 3 and 4 mile runs.

Two days before race day I came down with a horrific sore throat and I immediately knew that it had to be strep throat. While I usually wait at least a few days before running to the Doc, I didn't wanna waste all this training and not get to race. They just gave me antibiotics in case it was strep so I would start feeling better. Normally that wouldn't be the right solution but I was in a pinch and it was a quick fix. The final night before the race I had the luck of Matt Carpenter visiting me in my dream and telling me that I was running too slow and that I was actually capable of being much faster if I would just try it. Great timing. Thanks Matt!

The Race

Race morning came and my throat was still sore. Was I ever mad. However, I was still running. Knowing that the "fast" runners were in wave 1, I started at the very front of wave 2. Most races, I leave some room for the elites and all those faster than me but this was different. While being careful not to make my garden of the gods sprint out of the gate mistake twice, I also was leery of not getting caught behind er'body on the trail. I hit hydro street in about the first 20 or so runners and let the speed demons pass me figuring I wouldn't win my heat. Feeling great, I made Barr camp in about 1:39 (keep in mind this was starting down at memorial park and not at the train station) so this was about the same speed as my BTMR a month prior but I wasn't spent at Barr. I just ran right on through. Prior to that though, I kept track of everybody in my heat ahead of me (or at least tried to). One by one, I picked them off. Several I passed through the Ws and then several more in the next few miles that went out too hard through the Ws. In the downhill sections a couple of miles below Barr Camp, I was already passing slower folks from heat 1. With a 30 minute lead, I was surprised that with the qualifying times this would happen but they can qualify at sea level I suppose and it could have been years ago. By Barr Camp, I only had 3 left in my heat in front of me. As I continued to pass wave 1ers left and right, I found my self stuck in long waves of wave 1 death marchers the farther I went. They were in groups of 5-15 all stacked up so I had to pass when I could and it became frustrating. An interesting note is that on my other training runs from bottom to top, I was drinking only about 32oz of electrolyte drink. By A-Frame, I had more than double that. The sickness had sucked out all my liquid. I was filling up my 16oz handheld bottle at every aid station. By the time I hit A-Frame, I couldn't believe my watch. 2:23 and I only had the 3 to go which I knew I was capable of 52-55 minutes. At about that time, my calfs started cramping up and locking up my legs. Any big step-ups just locked me up and I would have to stop and stretch. Even through that I was able to speed hike without the locking up so I continued to do that and run where I could. By this point, the death march line was unbelievable. There wern't groups anymore, It was just like a solid line of zombies. I tried to pass where I could without being too rude but it was my race. This felt worse than the stories I hear of the traffic through the Ws cause this was at the top. Getting a little rude through the 16 golden stairs as folks were just plain in the way, I pushed through to the giant surprise "Beer" aid station. I awoke out of my cramping funk and was so excited after a few oz of beer that I just took off. One more beer station just prior to the finish and I got a 3:26:06. UNBELIEVABLE!!! Never in my wildest dreams of training, would I have planned for that time. Matt's little visit in my dream seemed to work out magnificently. My friends Jeremy and Jessica were volunteering to shuttle runners and they happened to get to seem me finish. Jeremy got a video of me being so excited. I ended up going through over 3 liters of water and had 4 or 5 gels which were clif shots or honey stingers. I ran in the soloman sense mantras which seemed to be a good mix of trail, semi-light, and only a small heel to toe drop with great control due to the tight heel.

I am having trouble embedding it but my friend Jeremy made this video: Youtube Video

There isn't a better time than sharing such a good time with friends. In one event, I went from 18th place in my age group in the triple crown to 8th place. Taking 39th place overall in the series coming from 97th after the summer roundup 12k, I couldn't have been happier. I finished the series ahead of people who were getting the 1:15:00 I wanted in the garden 10 miler and 55 mins in the roundup. Not to brag too much but I am really proud of my turnaround. There were 375 runners total and 36 in my age group. I would say not bad for a little over 7 month's work from barely being able to run 3 miles in 30 minutes. I can't wait for next year although I expect the progress will slow up a bit. Maybe I'll give a shot at the full. For now, I gotta figure out my next adventure but combining my love for mountains with a little running has been so beneficial.

Last, a big thanks to my wife Anna and my son Eli for supporting me through my comeback and all the training time away from home. With a starting weight in January, I weighed in on 189 just before the race. If nothing else, the weight loss is a good thing to have.

Until next time... See you at the top!