Sunday, August 22, 2010

Saturday, 08/21/10 Pikes Peak Ascent

13.32 miles
7,815 vertical

Well, what can I say, another Pikes Peak Ascent has come and gone and yet again I failed to meet, what I felt to be, my realistic and attainable goals. I did not necessarily have a bad day, nor did I have a very good day. Everything indicated to me that I was ready to match or beat my PR of 2:46:10 from 2006, as my fitness was as good or better overall this year as it has ever been, I had no injuries and I deliberately avoided the majority of the pre-race hype as to not get too psyched up mentally and went into the race with a relatively laid back attitude. I ran 25 14ers in the preceding months, 106 trips up Green Mountain in Boulder, a handful of 13ers, 175 peaks in all with a total of 465,000 vertical feet, tapered well, slept well prior to the race, ate well etc….

One moment I am accepting of this, the next moment it stings a little bit, as I have developed a true love/hate relationship with the race. I often times question what it is I love so much about Pikes Peak and why I keep coming back despite the radically mixed emotions I feel. Maybe the camaraderie? The training and anticipation? Having a goal for the year? The excitement of the race itself? All of the above?

Though I know better, I have trouble avoiding the pitfalls of judging my entire year on one morning in August and associate a disproportionate amount of athletic self worth on this one race. I know there is much more to it than that. I run mountains almost every day simply because that is what I love to do most and I never run a step because I feel I have to, it is always because I love to. Pikes or no Pikes, I would be out doing the exact same things year round. I do truly consider myself to be fortunate to be able to run up and enjoy high peaks. In the overall big picture of my life, it is a minor irritant, but since these outdoor pursuits are such a major part of my life, I can’t help but to let it affect me, good or bad.

Despite not living up to my race day expectations, I did have a great time. The weather was perfect and I got to enjoy the company of many good friends and even make some new friends. I could try to dissect the race more, my training leading up the race, my motivation, expectations and perceptions vs. reality, but I have done that enough times. It is what it is.

It might sound like a cop out, but increasingly, I feel that Pikes just might not be the ideal race course for me or suit my strengths (whatever they are?). I also only race a few times per year and though I often times fancy myself racing more often and getting better at it, the truth of the matter is that I really don’t race more because I am just not that into racing. There I said it. The days I spend running in the mountains by myself or with a few friends leading up to a race or any other time of the year are FAR more enjoyable to me than the race itself.

I am not sure if I will be back for the Pikes Peak Ascent next year, as Allison and I are expecting twins this fall. I am very much looking forward to this new chapter in my life and don’t yet know how much that will impact my running, but I expect that it will a lot!

A brief overview of the race:

After a great Spaghetti dinner and a good night’s sleep (dinner and accommodations provided by Hoot and his wife Cindy, thanks Hoot!), Nate and I arrived at Memorial Park before 5:30am and scored an excellent parking spot with a view of the park, which made for convenient trips to the bathroom and a good feeling of not missing out on anything.

I took several productive trips to the porta johns and took my time eating and getting ready. I was antsy and a little nervous, but felt as though I had a good mindset and perspective and had a strong sense of confidence that I was as ready as ever for this day. We finally left the car a bit after 6:30am to head over to the start line, where we bumped into many good friends and acquaintances. I milled about for a bit, having brief exchanges, but my mind was elsewhere. I feigned a warm up, running back and forth up and down the road with the other runners, but it was really just some jogging around, debating one last pee.

My plan was to not go out too hard, so I placed myself accordingly, two or three rows back, but in the last minutes, it got really crowded up front and I found myself virtually in the 7th or 8th row, feeling a bit swamped. As the race started, the front runners took it out very hard, but I just did my best to stay upright in the crowd and work my way through those who had placed themselves incorrectly at the start line and held what I felt to be a good pace. As we turned onto Ruxton Ave. and the road tilted up, it was tempting to up the tempo and pick people off, but I knew that would of course be a bad move, expending so much energy so early in the race, so I just kept my HR and breathing under control, took short steps on the steeper stuff and slowly and non-deliberately began to pick my way past people along the way through the W’s.

I was working hard, but I felt good and the pace at no point felt un-sustainable and was confident that I could maintain that or more all the way to the top. On the “flattish” rolling section to Barr Camp, I passed a few people and a few people passed me, but I felt as though I were holding my own pretty well. Though I always want to do more passing than I want to get passed, I was not overly concerned specifically about placement, as there were so many fast people ahead. I knew if I stuck to what felt to be the right pace for me at the time, I would be better off in the long run, vs. trying to directly compete with whomever I was running near at the time. This worked great, until Barr Camp.

Beyond Barr Camp, there was no one point where I felt like the wheels came off and had I been alone, I might have felt better about how I was running, but I soon began to notice people creeping up on me. One here, two there, another one, then three. I lost count. Each time I thought to myself ‘this is it, this one can go by, but no more, that is all’, but of course I had no choice. No matter how I sliced it, it was taking a bit of mental toll. I walked some of the steeper steps on the switchbacks before the A-Frame and spent a bit of time sucking down my now 3rd gel, kidding myself that I was only walking to eat and drink, but deep down, I knew I was in a bit of trouble.

My time split at the A-Frame indicated that I was still on track to come close to PR if I could really pull it together and I actually felt a little better above tree line, mentally and for a short while, physically. I had been playing a bit of leap frog with a racer from Slovenia since before the rock arch early in the race and he was slowly creeping up on me again. I did not really care all that much, until he cut a switchback, and in an instant closed in significantly. I pointed out his mistake to him, but my comments went seemingly un-noticed. Soon after, he did it again, and I made mention that this was not an open course. No response. Before I knew it, he had done it 2 more times and was now moving ahead and I was a bit pissed at the nerve of this guy. Whenever we were moving along equal ground, I would gain on him and even passed him back at one point, but sticking to the trail proved to be no match for cutting switchbacks, as he continued to do all the way to the summit.

Over the final mile or so, my determination was fading and was really just ready to be done with it, as I knew that I was falling far short of my goal and what little fight I had left was fading quickly. Though I did not feel terrible, I was just not producing the power I knew that I should be and was walking more than I care to admit. I forced myself to run as much as I could, as I knew I was going to get some much welcomed flack from George, Homie, Justin and Scott (an 8 time winner no less). Their cheers boosted me a bit over the final section and I just squeaked in before 2 guys who were charging hard up the final section (one who I later found out was Jim P setting a 10 minute PR for himself, congrats Jim!!, well done!). Had the race continued on another few hundred yards, they would have passed me for sure.

I spent about 40 minutes on the summit, reporting the wayward Slovenian to the race timing crew (not sure if it did any good though, as I still see his name in the standings), chatting with friends and fellow competitors and just enjoying the nice day and the fact that I was finished, regardless of the outcome. The shuttle down the mountain was efficient and I was pleased to ride on the bus with Jim Mallory, whose conversation made the always long trip down go by much quicker.

As always, the race was run extremely well and I want to express my gratitude to all of the volunteers, SAR and the race organization. This race is a model in which all other races should follow. I also appreciate the timely and almost live results, awesome!

Oh, of course, can’t forget my splits/results:


8/154 in the 35-39 age group
53/1166 out of all males
65/1716 total participants


Ruxton: 3:00
Hydro: 9:07
Top of Ws: 30:28
No Name: 45:08
Barr Camp: 1:20
BP turn: 1:34
A Frame Aid: 1:58 (2:01 at the sign?)
Summit: 2:56:11


  1. Hi JV, I came across you long ago via GZ.

    My brother has been struggling with a persistent stretch of underperformance (in his head). Also coupled with an overly sensitive (if you ask me) feeling of getting old.

    Anyways, I am not really one to give advice, but when he was questioning racing anymore, racing long, etc., I said so what? What does racing really matter? If you want to race every weekend, then do it. If you never want to race, then don't. Make your own race - go out and make your own course on your own day by yourself wherever you want.

    I do not believe there is any right answer to any of this stuff, so I say do whatever it is you want to do that makes you happy. Kind of generic, but anyway, hope it helps.

  2. Not that you asked for my opinion (evil grin), but...

    If you want to just run mountains to have fun, there's nothing wrong with that. But then you have to adopt a compatible attitude when racing: you're not training to race, you're just training to have fun zipping up Green with your dog.

    If you want to kill your PR, place even higher than you do now, and focus hard on PPA, then you should seriously train for the race specifically, do hill repeats, taper, etc.

    I don't think anyone has the exact formula for producing a great day on demand (if they do, they're not talking). So while I think training like you do, unstructured, free-flow, enjoying the mountains, is wonderful and fits your lifestyle, you can't really rely on it to produce consistent race-day performance even when you are overall fitter than when you PRed.

    Anyway, I didn't think your blog was full of self-pity... glad you enjoyed the day. I wish I could be half the runner you are.

    Take care of those incoming babies! Life is about to get crazy. :)

  3. Thanks guys. It is something that I have always gone back and forth with, balancing my level of committment with a laid back perspective of just enjoying what I am doing, balanced with what I expect out of myself for results. It really does not matter whether I run "x" time, or "xx" time, or "xxx" time, I'll just be striving for "xxxx" time after that. I guess many of us are like that to a certain extent. I might not have expressed it fully, but I do very much appreciate the journey and never take for granted how fortunate I am to be able to enjoy the mountains and exercise the way I do. Not achieving the result I want on Pikes is frustrating at times when I think of it, but it is just a small blip on the radar screen in terms of my overall performance and a much smaller blip in the bigger picture.

  4. Back on the horse.

    I really think you should consider PPM if you go back.

  5. Great to meet you this weekend JV... Solid time in my book! You got 363 days to let this one stew so you come back and kill it next year!

  6. Yeah - I'd never recommend the Marathon to a normal person, but you can descend as good as anyone I know.

  7. Hi Jeff. I'm digging back a bit in my memory, but I think I remember reading MC talk about setting the CR's in 1993(?). He attributed alot of it to his road marathon training at that time, qualifying for the US Marathon Trials. I think this is where he started incorporating as much flat speed work as hill speed work. I see that you've done a done ton of climbing and altitude training and I can certainly attest from my own (fun) runs that I am not getting any faster going up hill, it's just easier! Just something to consider...
    Also - I think we have a common friend, Erin H in Flagstaff, he's mentioned to me that he knows you and perhaps have run the canyon togather. I'm alwys hoping he has have the chance to get back at it, he's such a great mountain runner and a person who I've thought to be one of the toughest guys on the courses every year.

  8. I told you my thoughts on the phone. But for the record, you still make me push myself harder through your training discipline and passion for anything with a slope to it. Love you, brother.

  9. Jeff - Linked to your blog from the results page. I must have been running with you for a short time, that Slovenian dude had me fired up. Thought I had gone past and left him way behind by the top, but there he was - not 30sec back. Couldn't friggin' believe that. Reported him to the race directors but they'd said he'd already been pointed out. Not a huge deal but it sure was a distraction for a good mile (a 15min mile).

    In any case, nice running with you. I'm no coach but just from casually reading your blog here you need to incorporate some speed workouts into your running if your goal is to move faster. A problem I ran into myself (pun very much intended) when I realized my 5K pace was also my marathon pace. You'll notice the improvement in ~6weeks, but take it easy at first to avoid stress and injury. Cheers.

    Kevin in SF

  10. Hey JV, I'm sorry your time wasn't what you had hoped but you have the right attitude about it all--just run because you love it. Races are great to put on the calendar so we have motivation on those less-than-ideal weather days or dragging our asses out of bed on those dark mornings knowing that as soon as we get on the trail, we'll be glad we set the alarm for such an early time.

  11. Hey JV, I am a little late in catching up on things, but good job on another finish at Pikes, even if it did not meet your goals. Having goals and trying to meet them is a good thing, but also realizing that it is only a race and that you are having a good time is just as important. I hope that you can still get out for some runs when the girls show up.