Monday, August 18, 2008

Saturday August 16th, 2008 Pikes Peak Ascent

2008 Pikes Peak Ascent
13.32 miles
7,815 vertical
32 Overall/30 Overall Male
3rd Place 35-39 age group

What a tough day out there from a weather standpoint, truly an epic mountain race in full on winter conditions, but a fun time regardless!

I was wide awake at 3:53am and tried unsuccessfully to go back to sleep until my 5:00am alarm sounded. Listening to the rain alternate between a sprinkle and a heavy downpour was a bit discouraging to say the least. I finally just got up, got dressed and headed out the door to go find a good parking spot, eat and prepare. Many others got there early as well and I was still parked further away than I had hoped. I was really dragging my feet getting ready, not anxious to get out there in the rain as I kept making last minute gear adjustments. I ultimately went with shorts, cycling jersey with arm warmers, GoLite windshirt, Smartwool glove liners, ball cap and my Pearlizumi Peak XC race flats. In my pockets I carried 4 gels, a wool beanie (in a ziplock bag) and light overmits for my gloves.

It was steady rain from the start to soak us all down and I did not even bother warming up. It was a tough call on what gear to bring, some people opted to chance it and go light, others erred on the side of caution and brought more (good move). At the last minute I decided to add my WTSHTF hooded waterproof jacket I was using for my trip to the start line and was I ever glad I did as the added barrier and hood would prove to be essential above treeline.The race started off quick, as most races do and I quickly warmed up as I was questioning all the extra gear and almost dumped the big jacket.

I was careful to pace myself well and not get too caught up in the excitement, just focusing on myself and not really paying attention to what others were doing or what place I was in. For added excitement, there was a loud crack of thunder as we were running up Ruxton, certainly making me further question our sanity for continuing on.As expected, I was able to pass some people once we got on the Barr Trail and was keeping a smooth and steady tempo through the Ws, never really digging deep, just wanting to save energy for the second half of the race.

I felt good on the rolling trail leading to Barr Camp and again never felt like I was pressing too much, just kind of rolling with it. Based on information from others (I purposefully left my watch behind), I later learned that I reached Barr Camp in the vicinity of ~1:20. Physically I was feeling great, but I was already getting cold and had donned my hooded jacket by this point, plus my soaked wool glove liners, over mitts and wool beanie.Going into the race, I was naively hoping that my mountaineering experience would be an asset to me with the cold/wet conditions. To a certain extent, it was, as I think that made the difference for me not dumping the jacket at the start, but no matter what, it was too cold for me to perform at my best and I think just about everyone out there that day would share that sentiment.

There was no point at which I really broke down or had the wheels come off, I just gradually found myself more focused on my physical well being and could tell that my body was more focused on keeping warm, vs. running fast. I did not have my watch, but I could tell that I was slowing some and not on pace.At the A-Frame, SAR was there advising people on the conditions ahead and at least one runner ahead of me turned around here as he only had shorts and a singlet.

Once out of the trees, the wind really picked up and the precipitation froze into driving sleet, hail, snow and was starting to accumulate more and more the higher we went and visibility was minimal. I hunkered down in my hood and just pressed on, running when I could and walking when I had to.The final mile got pretty slick as the trail was now completely snow and ice covered. I just went steady, trying to not take a spill as I saw several others do nearby. It seemed counter intuitive to be going up in these conditions, but on this day, the nearest salvation was the summit and all I could think about was getting into my warm clothes.

Normally during the race, you can hear the announcer and crowds on top from well down the mountain. On this day, I did not hear anything other than wind and sleet hitting my hood until the final few minutes of the race. Near the top, my great friend Kevin Lund was there taking my picture and could hardly tell if it were me or not, I was looking pretty grim. Kevin and I went into the summit building where he gave me my bag of clothes and I huddled in front of the electric dryers and got changed in the men’s room. I was quite cold, but I was never desperate and luckily nothing was completely numb. The gear I brought and the pace I kept was fortunately enough to get me to the finish without getting hypothermia, but the margin was slim for most and certainly very uncomfortable to say the least. Many were shaking uncontrollably and were seeking help in the medical triage and I was very thankful to not be there.

Soon after, Kunkle and Jason showed up and we all talked about plans to head down. It was tough coordinating with everyone in those conditions, as we were all over the place. Kunkle and I were thinking it would be best to just get the heck off the mountain, then as if on cue, a loud crack of thunder resounded through the tempest which was all we needed to validate our decision. We were soon on a van following a snowplow for an eternally long ride down the mountain in blizzard conditions.

I was honestly pleased just to have completed the course in those conditions. Despite it all, I was faster than last year, but I was regretfully (yet not surprisingly) still not near my PR. I felt fitter than ever going into this race, but unfortunately a PR was not to be. I was neither excited nor disappointed over my performance, it just was what it was, I did what I could at the time and certainly further reflection inspires justified or perhaps unjustified critical nitpicking. Certainly better weather would have helped and that is certainly beyond any ones control. Might I have achieved my time goals otherwise? I would certainly like to think so, but I’ll never really know for sure. Better luck next time I guess. Congrats to everyone who got out and participated this weekend!

I can’t close without thanking Allison for putting up with all my selfish focus on this one race, I’m sure if she hears “Pikes Peak” one more time she will lose it.

Thanks to my great friend and running partner George Zack for offering so much positive encouragement, camaraderie and advice throughout the year. He is even more into this Pikes Peak thing than me I think. George always believes in me even if sometimes I don’t.

Thanks to the Kunkles for putting us up and feeding us the night before, thanks to Kevin Lund for braving those conditions to cheer, take pictures and getting me my warm clothes. Thanks to all my other friends and training partners as well, I can’t even name them all, but it always helps tremendously to have great friends to share the journey with.

Pictures from PPA:

Post race ramblings….. Jeff, Jason, Wayne Herrick, Fritz, Jean, Mark Silas and I headed to The Loop where some indulged in fish bowl sized margs and we all chowed. It was really fun having a mini 14erworld gathering in Manitou instead of blowing out of town like I normally do. Mark was a bit bummed as he and hundreds of others got turned around at A-Frame because of the dangerous conditions. Real bummer. Later, Jason and I attended the awards ceremony where I accepted my 3rd place trophy. It felt good to do this, as in the past I find out much later as a friend gives me the trophy a day or two later.We hung out at the Kunkle’s that night, watching the Olympics and feasting on pizza, having lots of great laughs of course.


  1. Man, JV, you had a great run despite the very challenging conditions. I think everyone (except, apparently, Kunkle) ran ~10 minutes slower than expected. Those cold conditions just wouldn't allow for pushing it.
    You should look for another upcoming race to take advantage of your fine conditioning right now.

  2. Thanks Jason. I've already thought of that and have an upcoming challenge in mind.... to be continued... ;).

  3. Upcoming challenge? And what would that be? I want in.

    Someday we will sing songs about this past weekend. The snow will have been as high as our necks. There will have also been a forest fire occurring at the same time. And the guy from Spain will have become a Ninja.

    The whole thing was freaking epic. I am glad we got to share it.