Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sunday, 08/17/14 Pikes Peak Marathon

Sunday, 08/17/14
59th Annual Pikes Peak Marathon
26.2 miles
7,815 vertical
4:59:38 (3:00:55 ascent)
28th overall
Garmin Data

Short version:  Could have been better, but am thankful that it was not much worse.  Ran smart on the up, moving well, but still saving enough for the descent.  Hit the summit in 18th place and was very much in the mix, close to a handful of guys who I hoped to pass on the descent.  The descent ended up being a bit of a mess and I wound up losing 10 places, was 12 minutes slower than last year and not quite where I envisioned myself finishing.  After some digesting though, I am reasonably OK with it.

Longer version:

"Training" or whatever you might call it (I generally refer to it as "just getting outside") went reasonably well this year.  I got in my usual vertical (370,000 feet prior to Pikes this year), a Grand Canyon RRR run, a few PR's and some very solid and encouraging runs thrown in here and there.  No injuries either to speak of, just the usual ups/downs of working full time and parenting 3 year old twins, maintaining a home etc... which can be much more exhausting than any runs or races I ever do in the mountains.

Normally I am able to get to 14k several times (or up to 30+ times in the pre kid years), but this year only managed to get up Grays and Torreys once.  I was able to get in some 13ers here and there, primarily a few solid runs on Audubon/Paiute, which helps, but is not quite the same as getting to 14k in my opinion.  However, despite the relative lack of altitude training, I still (correctly) suspected that it would not be much of an issue.
I felt reasonably confident going into this race, felt well tapered and though antsy and somewhat nervous, had it all under control and was ready to give it my best.

Did not leave Louisville until nearly 7pm on Saturday evening (as Allison had to work and I was on daddy duty all day), which is a change from previous years, where I would arrive in time to get my number, attend the PPA awards and eat the spaghetti dinner.  I like to soak up the race vibe and it puts me at ease being able to pin my number on the night before (but getting my number race morning turned out to be a non-issue).

Had a better than average night of sleep at my friend Jeff's house just 5 or so miles from the start (thanks Jeff!), a solid 7 hours worth, which is more than normal for me before this race.  Parked a bit before 5:30am, just in time to get my favorite parking spot.  Was able to eat breakfast with ease, a bowl of cereal with strawberries, an English muffin with jam and some coffee.  I rode my bike up toward the finish to lock up for post race transportation and then bumped into George, where we ended up hanging out for much of the following hour leading up to the race.  It was great prepping with George, as he helped keep me calm and distracted from getting too nervous.

The calm before the storm

(Gazette Photo)

(Pikes Peak Sports Photo)

My shorts this year are actually shorter than George's
(Pikes Peak Sports Photo)

Having some good laughs about Man Show bits
(Pikes Peak Sports Photo)

I started off at the front and despite the pace feeling conservative, was surprised to find myself in 9th place until half way up Ruxton.  I got passed by a few and did some re-passing, but generally maintained somewhere in the 11-15th range much of the way to Barr Camp.  It felt as though I was moving well, but my time splits were not indicating any real magic and I knew I would go through my usual fading beyond Barr Camp.  I just made a conscious effort to not be racing anybody (yet), stay within my own limits and pace myself reasonably.

(Pikes Peak Sports Photo) 

Looking at my watch, wondering if we are there yet.
 (Pikes Peak Sports Photo)

(Pikes Peak Sports Photo)

Up Ruxton.  Seems MUCH shorter going up for some reason.
(Not sure who took this photo...)

(or this one)

Starting up the W's
(wait, who took this?)

(photo by Nancy Hobbs)

The ascent ended up being textbook for me, but it seemed as though I walked a bit more than normal just below A Frame and certainly above treeline.  I forced a jog when I could, but most often noticed noticed that I could walk just as quickly at a slightly lower HR.  Either way, I continued to will myself onward and upward and on the uppermost ~1,000 feet, I gained on and even caught several who had passed me just a mile or so below.

At the Cirque 
(photo by Wes Go)

Looking haggard

I topped out in 3:00:55, 5 or so minutes slower than I intended, but at the time I thought I had conserved enough energy for a good descent.  I paused for a moment to have my bib marked, sat and drank for no more than 30 seconds, and was on my way.  Once I got my legs under me, I felt like I was moving well down the first mile or mile and a half, but I knew I was not moving quite as well as last year.  My energy was still OK, but for good measure, I took another gel and drank some (my 4th and final gel after taking 3 on the ascent), hoping to give  myself a bit of a boost.  Below the Cirque aid station, the crowds became quite thick and although most were courteous and encouraging, there were a surprising percentage who took advantage by passing those in front of them who were properly yielding to downhill traffic.  Ultimately, it most likely would have made very little difference, but I found it to be annoying and made it difficult to find a steady rhythm.

As I neared treeline, it was becoming more and more clear that I was quickly transitioning from not quite getting into a groove to starting to feel bad.  Nothing specifically was wrong, no leg cramps, no abdominal cramps, but just a general feeling of not being strong or coordinated.  My 32 minute split from the summit to A Frame (vs. 29 last year) confirmed this and I was a bit discouraged.  I stopped at A Frame to drink a cup of water and a cup of gatorade, slowly walking trying to get my shit together, but it was not happening.  From A Frame to Barr Camp was the low point for me and is where I got passed by the most people, as I alternated walking and picking my way through the rocks.  On any given day, these more technical sections are where I should at the very worst be holding my own, if not gaining time on my competitors, but on this day, I was a bumbling fool.

I am ashamed to admit that I essentially gave up competing and felt sorry for myself.  I just wanted to be done, but there is only one way off the mountain and that is down the trail.  My resolve and willpower fluctuated wildly and I alternated between just surviving and pushing a bit.

Once at Barr Camp, I slowed and walked for more drinking and passed a guy who was in pretty rough shape, looking much worse than I (this very surprisingly happened 2 or 3 times).  I was a touch better below Barr, but then slowed to a complete slow walk on some of the minor uphills and I kept expecting a train of runners.  I also expected George to come by me at any point, as he was looking good and only a few minutes back at the summit.  Sure enough, he soon came zooming by and I did not even try to keep up.  I was happy that he was having a better day and encouraged him on to a possible masters spot.

I stopped for my last time at Bob's road and guzzled a few cups and was looking around for a place to sit, but there was nothing that looked comfy, so I pressed on.  It was here that I started coming around a bit, not really feeling better, but something in my head clicked to push harder, I was back in a racing mindset somewhat, but I just really wanted to get this done.

By now it has progressed from pretty warm, to quite warm to very hot.  One more quick cup of gatorade at the W's aid station and I could smell the finish.  At that time, I caught sight of the lead woman, Anita Ortiz creeping up on me.  A few switchbacks later, she was on my heels and I encouraged her by.  She said I was doing fine, but I think she was just being nice.  She gained a few seconds on me, but I stuck close and used her to pace off of.

Once at the final aid station on the dirt road, she peeled off to puke or dry heave, not sure which, but I shouted some encouragement and kept on going.

Finally on the last mile or so on Ruxton Ave., like previous years, I think I am home free, but also like previous years, I am deceived by how long it is to the finish.  You have 7,800 feet of ascending in your legs and now nearly the same of descending, it is hot, it is paved and it feels like a cruel joke, as if somebody keeps adding another corner, then another, then another, then you think this has to be the last corner, then somebody yells "only 1/3 of a mile to go!!".  I notice my watch clicking by quicker and quicker and I am getting really close to the 5 hour mark.  I am sprinting now for all I am worth trying to not be the first person over 5 hours.  I just barely sneak in at 4:59:38.  Whew.

(Pikes Peak Sports Photo)

Dang that hurt!, but I am so happy to be done and take a seat next to George in the finish tent.  Remembering how much it helped to lay on a cot last year and letting them talk me into an IV, I sheepishly head in that direction for some recovery.  I most likely would have been fine with some time spent sitting and drinking, but being there early enough that most of the cots were empty, I figured I would head over there for some care, even if not entirely essential.  They put a pulse ox on me and I had a reading of 82%, which concerned them a bit, so they put me on a nice flow of oxygen.  Blood pressure was good, but they thought my color was a bit off, so again offered up the IV.  Soon I was feeling much better and my oxygen level was back up to 98%, so I passed on the second bag of saline and was on my way.  A huge thanks to the crew who took care of me.

(George Zack photo)

I finally headed out into the real world, cleaned up, ate and socialized with many friends and acquaintances, Dave H who came to cheer, George of course, Brett W, Don S, Tim S, Mark S, Bruce A (who was waiting for his wife to finish her double) and many others.

There was some confusion as to the results, but I called it to the race officials attention and after all the usual offsets for top 10 and masters, I ended up with a 2nd place 40-44 age group trophy.  I felt a bit silly about it, somewhat undeserved, but I took it anyways.

George on the top step, me on the second.  This has become somewhat of a tradition here at Pikes Peak.  The empty podium step is for Dave Mackey, who could not make it to the race (who was racing some easier race in Leadville instead).
(Don Solberg photo)

Looks like a trophy, only smaller.

Though I was hoping to improve upon my 4:47 last year and once again score a masters top five placing (and the free entry that accompanies that), I came up a good bit short of that.  I did not necessarily have a bad day, but I did not have a great day either.  Maybe a good day with some bad moments, which I assume is the case for many others as well.  That is the nature of these kind of events, especially something so unforgiving as Pikes.  In shorter races, a bad patch can cost seconds or minutes, but on this hill, those deficits can compound quickly.  During my down moments where I somewhat gave up, I figured I would end up walking it in for who knows what time, but am thankful that I was able to rally and sneak in under 5 hours.  I have a bad tendency in these situations to be discouraged that I am last of those in front of me instead of being thankful of being ahead of the majority of the field behind me.  I had to keep reminding myself of that which helped propel me forward.

Of course after the race, I pick apart the results and myself, questioning my resolve, my will to fight and compete, to improve upon my previous best and then am forced to reconcile that with reality.  Like many, I really just do this for fun, I am by no means even close to a pro athlete and I don't have the desire to engage in a structured training program, speedwork, intervals, diet, or take away from my family.  Perhaps those things may help for some, but I don't really respond well to it.  It would become so much less fun, that it would  most likely negatively impact my performance like it did when I was cycling in my 20's.  Oh well, it sounds like a cop out, but I am slowly learning to accept that I get out of it what I put into it.  Sometimes that is a lot (the journey and overall experience is very much worth it), other times I fall short.  All part of the game.

I also have to remind myself that despite not meeting my expectations, it is quite an honor to be able to run up Pikes Peak and back and I do not take it for granted.  My times will gradually slow and someday I may not be able to run this race, so I try to appreciate all that I have now.

Random thoughts in random order:

  • I have heard various complaints about the shirts.  Though in my mind not a big deal, I too have to admit that they are not my favorite (looks a bit like a LA Rams jersey, or perhaps something an Admiral would wear) and I would be a bit sick of the purple if I were running the Ascent.  They have also seemed a bit too similar over the past 4 years.  I would love to see a different design next year, maybe something short sleeve, gender specific colors, or even a no shirt option for the race at an appropriately reduced price.  The grey short sleeve shirts that the race staff were wearing were quite nice and would be a step up from the usual.  More of a suggestion though than a complaint.

  • Questions and comments from my 3 year old daughters when I got home:  "Daddy, did you see any balloons?  Did you see any animals?   Why was George Zack not wearing a shirt?  Daddy, did you win?  How come you did not win?  Because you are older?  Did George Zack win?  I want to race Pikes Peak Marathon with you dad! (Amelie)  I want to race the Tour de France (Isabelle)

  • The Hoka Huaka was the PERFECT shoe for this event.  Light, stable, great control, protection, cushion, just enough traction and I was the least beat up afterward of any of my previous Pikes Peak Marathons (wore the Stinson last year, Bondi the year before, Pearlizumis the year before).  Some of that may have to do with not running as fast down the mountain this year, but still.
  • On the descent, I was grumpy and was thinking this was my last Pikes after 6 Ascents and now my 4th marathon since I first ran here in 2004 (missed 2009 due to a broken foot).  I still contemplate other races, but suspect I'll be back next year to redeem myself.  Even if I don't ever live up to my expectations here, I still love the race, the tradition, the mountain, organization, friends and overall experience.
  • I was surprised how minimally impacted I was physically after the race (well, after the oxygen and IV).  I was a bit slow the next day on the stairs, but I could fake a pretty normal walk.  Shoulders, glutes, arms and lower back were a bit sore and stiff.  No blisters or sore spots on my feet/toes.  Am taking 3 days off, partially as recovery, but mostly because live coverage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge is cutting into my normal post work running time.
  • Ate 3 gels on the ascent (before Bobs, before A Frame and around 1.5 to summit, then a last one ~1.5 down from summit.  Carried a bottle, sipped off it often, but the bulk of my fluids came from stopping on the descent and guzzling a few cups each time.
  • George has an excellent summary here, does a much better job conveying thoughts on the race and has many points I can relate to.


Ruxton:  2:52
Hydro:   9:32
Top of Ws: 32:04
No Name:  47:21
Barr: 1:23:35
A Frame: 2:02:50
Summit: 3:00:55
A Frame: 3:32:59
Barr: 3:59:16
Bob's Road: 4:19:32
No Name: 4:28:12
Top of Ws: 4:39:19
Finish: 4:59:38


  1. I don't have to run this race because I live it through you every year.

  2. Your splits down are telling:

    ... you were actually ahead of yourself from last year at the summit, but then started to lose time to the Aframe, then Barr, etc. 3-4 minutes across each of those sections add up to the 12 minute difference between last year and this.

    I find it is true on the climb as well though ... those little 1-2 minute diffs between each part of the climb above Barr Camp suddenly mean a 10-15 difference ... and the difference between a good and a bad day (in our own heads).

    It is always good to share the trail with you.

  3. Your daughters questions were AWESOME! At least GZ put a shirt on for the awards show. Sub 5 is solid however you dice it so congrats!