Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday, 08/22/11 2011 Pikes Peak Marathon Full Report

Pikes Peak Marathon
26.21 miles
7,815 vertical
4:52:08 (2:57:21 Ascent)
20th place out of 728 finishers
4th Master (award, but really 6th Master)

What an awesome day I had running the Pikes Peak Marathon. I felt it to be a far greater challenge than the Ascent and even though for much of the descent I swore I would NEVER do it again, within an hour I was looking forward to the following year.  Here is the full version of my race as best I can recall.

After joining Homie for the pre-race spaghetti dinner and banquet, I spent the night at my good friend Hoot's house in Colorado Springs and it was lights out at 8:57pm. Not long after, it was thundering and lightening which kept me up until at least 10, as I wondered if the mountain was getting snow and if the weather would be good in the morning. I awoke to use the bathroom a bit after midnight, fell back to sleep and then was wide awake at 2:30am, where I tossed and turned for another hour and a half, listening to my heart thump and pound in nervous anticipation, so I just gave in and got up. I was in a bit of a stupor as I got ready and was thankful that I had laid everything out in order the previous evening.

I was out the door a little after 5am and found a great parking spot near the start line by 5:30, where I took my time getting ready, ate my breakfast (a banana, peanut butter toast and yogurt/granola with strawberries and blueberries). I found it interesting to observe other's styles of pre-race preparation and contrast it with my own. One younger guy in particular caught my eye nearby, performing some impressive sprints and plyometric moves that I would describe as boot camp meets dancing with the stars. I was not sure if the dude was going to give Matt a run for his money, or if the showmanship on the field would be the athletic highlight of his day (turned out to be the latter). My routine was much more subdued and involved a series of trips to the portajohns, with mandatory stops at Homie’s van to discuss weather and gear choice.

Shaping up to be a great day (though a bit warm at the end)

With 25 minutes to go before the start, I headed over to the line and met up with GZ for a bit of a last minute warm up, which really involved a bit of nervous chatter and of course looking for yet another last minute bathroom opportunity.

The final minutes on the start line were a little nervous, but not really all that bad, as I was just eager to get going with the run and let the suffering begin.

Saying hi to Ward (following 7 photos courtesy of

Sean, Brad, Ward, me, GZ

GZ, me, Matt C


Bang!!  BOOOOM!!

Just one hill to go!

The gun went off, followed by a loud cannon which totally caught me off guard. I settled into a decent rhythm, maybe in 25-30th spot, not letting my adrenaline get the best of me. I went really conservative up Ruxton, picking off a few people here and there, but kept reminding myself to keep it slow and steady. Once on the dirt, my legs were really feeling good and I slowly and steadily continued to pass more and more runners through the Ws, where I eventually settled in with a group of 3 or 4 other runners and we would stay pretty much within sight of one another all the way to the summit.

We kept a steady and very controlled pace all of the way through Barr Camp and I did a good job taking gels every 45 minutes or less and drank a 10oz bottle of water between almost every aid station. Above Barr Camp, I went through a little bit of a bad patch, but instead of trying to keep forcing it, I backed off and took care of myself a bit with a gel, water and S-caps which seemed to do the trick and by the time I got to treeline, I was feeling particularly good and able to run just about every step. I could see a fair number of guys ahead and got to work catching and passing many of them. Matt passed me on his descent just below the Cirque aid station and he was moving fast as expected and had a significant lead over Daryn. I was surprised at how far up the mountain I got before I began counting the leaders on their descent.

Running through the Cirque Aid Station (John Garner photo)

I became increasingly aware as I approached the summit that my placing was higher than I thought and many of those ahead of me were not that far ahead. I topped out in 12th place and was feeling strong, confident and excited to get rolling on the downhill. I was delayed a moment on the top, as the volunteers had to mark my bib (as I had somehow lost both of my tags, one on the final 5 minutes) and I was a little slow to fill my bottle (wanting a 50/50 mix of Gatorade and water).

I took off down the hill, bursting with overconfidence and enthusiasm and was eager to catch and pass as many guys ahead of me as I could. For what seemed like the first time during a race on Pikes Peak, my competitive juices were flowing full force and I really wanted that Masters win and was ready to fight for it.

Little did I know at the time how bad the descent would hurt.  Overconfidence is an understatement.

Within the first mile of the descent, I caught 11th place and we both caught and passed 10th place. A few times, I tried to get past the new 10th place, but he quickly got a second wind below the Cirque aid station and I was now having trouble staying on his heels. At about that time, Sean O’day came cranking by both of us, showing some really mean downhilling ability and I shouted encouragement, knowing that he was racing for a top 10 finish and a victory for the double.

Now back in 12th position, I ran closely with 11th and 13th all the way to treeline and felt like we were moving pretty well. I traded places with 13th at the A-Frame aid where I stopped for a moment to gulp fluids from a cup. I got going again and was starting to feel crampy (quads and abdomen), but pressed on the best I could. Within the next mile or so, I was passed and moved down to 14th, then 15th, 16th, 17th and then Brett Wilson passed to put me in 18th near the Bottomless Pit jct. They all passed me like I was standing still, as I slowly picked my way through the rocks, seemingly slower than when I ran up. I was sure that my chance of putting in a solid performance was completely gone and I braced myself for the onslaught of runners to pass me by as I choked on a mouthful of Margarita Shot Bloks and S-caps. Nothing was going down well though and my stomach was feeling really unsettled as I contemplated pulling over to puke.

Once below Barr Camp, I felt a little better on the less technical trail and was able to rally a bit and increase my foot speed, but I was still suffering bad and each mile(s) to go sign seemed to be taunting me, I could hardly even look at them. I got passed again just prior to the Bob’s Road aid station and was now in 19th, but despite this, was starting to have visions of holding onto my C goal of top 20. The temperature continued to increase and I was still unable to drink or take anything in, though fortunately I was OK on food (5 gels on the up and 1/3 of a Shot Blok package on the down seemed to be plenty), but I was feeling more and more dehydrated and nauseous and now using the aid stations just to dump water over my head.

Just after I passed the 2nd to last aid station near the top of the Ws, I could hear commotion and cheering, so I looked up to see GZ (whom I consider to be one of my closest friends) one switchback above and closing in fast. I was not at all happy to be passed yet again, but I was simultaneously happy for George to have recovered enough to put in a good descent. As was clear on this day, it was way too soon to count him out and I knew better. I tried to hold him off, as we were both competing for a Masters award, but it was only in my mind, as I just could not muster up any more physical energy or effort and was in total survival mode at this point. He passed quickly and encouraged me to stick with him, which I also tried, but again, it was all in my mind, no matter how hard I willed my body to pick up the pace.

The switchbacks were seemingly endless and my feet were feeling sore and blistered. I had rarely looked at my watch on the descent, but I was now checking it frequently and thinking about my finishing time. I knew I would break 5 hours (another C goal), but I was more concerned about not getting passed. Once on the pavement, for the first time in the race, I began checking over my shoulder to see if anybody was sneaking up on me. I never saw anybody, which was great, though it probably would not have mattered, as I don’t think I had anything more to give. The final mile was the longest I have ever run and the cheering crowds really helped get me through, but was tough to savor at the time as I had tunnel vision and could only think of getting to the line.

Not striding it out very well at all.

I was so happy and relieved to finally cross the finish line and felt like it was the hardest run I had ever done. The volunteers in the finish tent ushered me to a chair and offered me drinks and ice, but all I could do was lean forward with my head in my hands, not knowing whether to sit, stand or lay down. After a few minutes, I got up, leaned over a nearby trash can and threw up repeatedly into it. One of the paramedics noticed this and escorted me to a cot in the back of the tent to lay down and give me oxygen, where George happened to be in the same position. We laughed and exchanged war stories while we recovered until we were eventually able to hobble along to the outside world.

Though I fell a bit short of my primary goals, I still feel very satisfied to have been in the mix and competitive for at least a significant portion of the run. I also feel very satisfied that I did not give up when I felt so terrible for so much of the descent and fought really hard to limit my losses. In my mind, I think I ran a pretty reasonable ascent and for the most part it felt almost easy.  I am sure I could have given much more, but I tried my best to be conscious about saving some energy for the long descent. As I reflect, I do question, what (if any) difference my conservative approach on the ascent had on my descent. I wonder if I had pushed a 5 or 10 minute faster ascent, I would have had the same outcome going down, just with a bit more of a time cushion. Or maybe I would have imploded worse? Hard to say for sure.

I think my performance was generally in line with my fitness and training (or lack thereof) this year and I think that if I honestly expect to do better next year, I will have to be a little more committed to training. I also think that being familiar with what it takes to run up Pikes Peak, then 13 miles back down will also help. I had a lot of respect for what it would take to run this race going into it, but now I have an entirely newfound appreciation.

For my efforts, I was happy to collect a 4th place Masters trophy and a free entry to next year’s race (ascent or marathon), where at this point at least, I am eager to run the marathon again.

Post race, I had a great time hanging out with and talking to Homie, Kunkle, George Z, Scott E, Sean O, Matt C amongst many others. I was also totally stoked for both Homie and Kunkle who each had a great race, setting PRs and also earning 4th place trophies in their age divisions and of course George, for getting that nice big 3rd place Masters trophy.

One of my best buds, George.  Not sure if our friendship made it more or less painful to be passed by him so close to the end, but his support, friendship and vote of confidence going into this race helped me push harder than I might have otherwise.  Either way, I have much respect for his accomplishments and enthusiasm for this race.  Thanks George.

Today (one day after the race), my quads are a little sore, but I feel relatively good and am proud to be able to skip stairs 2 at a time up and down.


Ruxton:  2:53 ish
Hydro: 9:30ish
Top of Ws: 32:07
No Name:  47:50
Bobs Road: 1:01
Barr: 1:23:50
3 to go:  2:01
2 to go:  ??
1 to go:  ??
Summit:  2:57:21

No splits on the descent, I just occasionally glanced at my watch without any thought or committing times to memory.

PPM awards table

GZ and I chatting it up with the two undisputed greats of Pikes Peak with a whopping 26 wins between them.  It is humbling hanging out with these two.  Scott is the only person to have beaten Matt up Pikes Peak on one occasion back in the 90's.

Blurry shot of me getting my award.

GZ is familiar with this process.

Top 5 Masters.  I hope to climb up a few steps next year!

Kunkle on the left with award in hand.

Homie and Kunkle

Homie collecting his award, couldn't have been happier for him.

The race was fun and the award is sweet, but these two are my real prizes.  Maybe as a tribute to them, I should D-D-D-double next year?


  1. Great report! You have to learn how to trip some people though...

  2. Was a bit frantic when I passed you that it was going to end up like the dream ... you and me kicking into heaps of flesh down Ruxton. Damn that road is hard.

    That is a great write up man. Awesome stuff for anyone thinking about this race.

  3. Way to go Jeff! You should totally double next year.

  4. JV, way to bring the experience to life dude. I also found myself enjoying the round-trip much more than I expected. In fact, I'm already looking forward to my next opportunity to head up and down....too bad there's no Pikes Descent.

  5. Great write up JV, congrats on your accomplishment!

  6. The guy that took the master's first place award is the same guy that beat me by 10 seconds in the San Juan Solstice 50 in June. He's tough!

    Congrats on putting in such a solid performance on the Big Hill. Really psyched that you had such a good race...and felt so good about it.

    Hope to see you soon.

  7. I love this post. I also like your quote by unknown - I will have to borrow it for my own blog post re:ascent. Thanks!!

  8. I am so proud of you for not riding the bus down this year! I knew you could run downhill. You have frog legs. Probably more time on Flagstaff next year. I was nervous when you feet started hurting after our last run down it.

    That's a huge trophy for age group 4th. Geez!

  9. Congrats man! That is awesome. Looks like a really fun race, if you like going up and down a mountain. Matt Carpenter must be the man, 6 straight wins! wow.