Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pikes Peak Ascent & Marathon - Reflections

I never got around to writing race reports for the Pikes Peak Ascent and Pikes Peak Marathon, and with so much time having passed, it seems anti-climatic and dated to do so at this point.

Even though I haven't written race reports, it doesn't mean I haven't been thinking about the races and the lessons and learning gained by running them.  So, in no particular order, here are some post-Pikes Peakalooza thoughts.

The weekend's haul.

The Ascent:  I was very happy to break three hours on the Ascent. This was my #1 goal for the weekend.  I crossed the finish line in 2:56:30.  Frankly, though, I had hoped to break three hours more convincingly than I did. Still, I'm pleased with the result. This year was my fourth time running this race. My previous times looked like this:

    • 2007 - 3:23 (just started mountain running)
    • 2008 - 3:27 (injured...strained chest muscle, couldn't take deep breaths)
    • 2009 - 3:06 (poorly executed run)
    • 2010 - 2:56 
Like last year, I received a small trophy for getting fourth place in my age group.

I've never experience cramping on a run, let alone in a race, before. I started getting cramps in my right calf just before Barr Camp (Barr Cramp?). The first time was when I stepped up on a rock and my calf muscle seized for a second, then released. I remember thinking, "Uh-oh!" Things were OK, but tight, up through the two-to-go sign. After that, both calves started cramping, slowing me down and making my footfalls much more tentative. Several times, I had to stop to massage the calves to get them to release.

Through the 16 Golden Stairs, the cramping became more regular. If the calves weren't cramping, they were feeling on the verge of cramping. The worst of it was around the Fred Barr memorial sign. I had to stop (with JM, GZ, Homie and others yelling at me to get my ass moving!) to pound the right calf. Fortunately, I knocked it enough to get it to release and was able to sprint to the finish, passing a final runner in the last 50 meters. (Turned out that guy was in my age group.)

Those calf cramps hurt! - Photo J. Mock
I figure the cramping was the result of not enough race-specific training. I ran pretty much everything on the way up, which meant I was running longer uphill on my toes and forefoot than I typically do in training. I fueled well on the way up, so I don't think I was low on electrolytes. So, I just must have out-run my training a bit. Aside from the Barr Trail, it's tough to find a place where one can run three straight hours up 8,000 feet.

The Marathon:  As I was hanging out at the race starting line Sunday morning, I had no idea what the day would hold. My legs felt reasonably solid. I was in a good frame of mind. I was enjoying the relatively mellow vibe at the race start (compared to the more hectic and crowded Ascent start).  My plan was to just let the race unfold. I hadn't studied splits. I didn't know what a fast descent time was. I was just going to see how things felt and react accordingly. My only plan was to work hard and see what happens.

The climb was hard. I hit Barr Camp about six minutes slower than the previous day. My legs were tapped out. No pep. I pretty much walked it in from Barr, summiting 22 (!) minutes slower than the day before. Terrible.

I felt decent on the descent down to the A-Frame. I was chasing a solid descender in front of me and holding off anyone behind me. After A-Frame, the rock-laden trail and a brief pit stop above Barr Camp set me back a bit. I ran into Barr Camp feeling fair.

I quickly refilled my bottle, grabbed a handful of grapes and dashed out of there, leaving three runners grazing at the table. Suddenly it felt like a switch was flipped. I started feeling good...really good. I decided the race was starting over. No one was going to pass me. Over the remaining miles, I picked off about eight other runners, including two in the last 1.5 miles. Since I leapfrogged over the runners at Barr Camp, no one passed me (whom I didn't pass back) on the descent.  I finished strong. If I had run the ascent even 10-12 minutes faster, I would have picked up a bunch of spots in the overall finisher ranks, more, perhaps, if I'd had run the descent just a bit faster as well.

Chillin' out in Fountain Creek post-Marathon.

Makes me think I will run the Marathon next year (only).

The Double:  Running both the Ascent and the Marathon in the same weekend was a bucket list thing for me...just something I wanted to do for the hell of it. During the weeks leading up to the races, I had lost some enthusiasm for running both races. I was clear in my head that the Ascent was the priority. I would give that race my all and do the Marathon for kicks.

After the Ascent, it would have been wise to have gone back to our B&B and kicked back to aid recovery for the next day's 26,2 miles. Instead, the family and I spent a good two hours walking around Manitou Springs, seeking out food, visiting the race pavilion and goofing at the playgrounds. We had a great time, time I wouldn't trade for anything, but in terms of racing, it wasn't the best decision. I definitely learned about the importance of getting off one's feet, refueling and letting the body do it's thing in preparation for the next day's physical stress.

For the weekend, I had the sixth fastest double, or combined, time, behind the likes of Tim Parr, Keri Nelson, Megan Kimmel and Jim Mallory.

I doubt I'd do the double thing again.

The Training:  I've had the most consistent, highest-volume training year I've ever had. Still, I fell short in a number of key areas related to this race. I did a lot of uphill running, but I didn't do enough fast uphill running, nor did I run uphill as long as I should/could have. I ran at higher elevations a number of times, but far less than I should have. In the late spring, I mentally committed to getting up high at least two mornings a week. I don't think I ever made it more than once a week, and even once a week was rare. I also slacked off tempo and interval work after the San Juan Solstice (for which I was following a loosely prescribed plan courtesy of AJW). Still, I did enough of all of the above to meet my goal, but not enough to convincingly exceed the goal.

The Fun:  For my money, the Pikes Peak races are among the best-run, most enjoyable races around. The course is stunningly beautiful. The volunteers are first rate. The race is brilliantly executed. The course is challenging (to be sure!). The competition is fierce. It's a great race for meeting up with friends, acquaintances and other folks one may only know from their blogs. And, Manitou Springs is only 70 miles from the house! Everyone should run one of the races...at least once.

There's more to do in Manitou Springs than just run up large mountains.


  1. Yeah - the double is pretty punishing. Good work. That pic of the haul is pretty sharp. And I agree - I am pretty sure I am not doing it again ... unless there is an opportunity for it to be part of a triple.

  2. A triple, eh? Maybe the TransRockies is for you. Thanks, by the way, for the crosslink.

  3. It's never too late for some post race thoughts. Awesome job with doublin' up on the awards...

    BTW, I'm sure your time in 2008 was also impacted a bit by the weather. I know mine was...

  4. JM - regarding 2008, I self-limited myself to one excuse for poor performance per race!

  5. I'm the last one to critique anyones performance but I thought the times you posted a few weeks back were damn impressive.

    Now rest up and I'll see you in Steamboat in a few weeks!

  6. Thanks, Jaime. Yeah, we are our own worst critics. See you in Steamboat.

  7. You've had a phenomenal year of racing. Very inspiring. That is an impressive haul from your Pikes weekend. I'm sure Steamboat will be the icing on the cake!