Sunday, August 22, 2021

Race Report: Pikes Peak Marathon

 After 8 months of training, including just over 33 miles of elevation gain, today was the day. The Pikes Peak Marathon, called by Runners' World as one of the toughest races in the world. With 7800 feet of elevation gain over 13 miles on top of a granite mountain, Runners' World might have a point.

I was up at 4:30, drinking coffee and making eggs and toast with fruit. Eric, bless him, chose to sleep in another bedroom this week so he wouldn't risk his famous SeaWorld style moves in his sleep. Unfortunately, the coffee and fruit did not produce... umm... the intended results. We were out the door a little before six and headed to Manitou Springs. Eric, bless him again, dropped me off and went and parked. We met up with a friend of ours, John, who was also running. He was starting before me, because he's amazing and fast, and so we parted ways and headed to the start line. It wasn't too long before I was off. Eric took some video of me, and I saw Andy, a runner from Arkansas I met the first year I did the Ascent. We ran several miles together, and then saw each other the next day at a diner, and then the next year both ended up running the Marathon together too! He snapped a couple of photos of me, which was super sweet. 

The race runs the first mile and a bit on road - through downtown Manitou and up Ruxton Canyon before angling steeply uphill to make the connection to the spur trail that takes you to Barr Trail. I was a little slower than my time check run on Thursday through town, but I figured I had taken that a little too fast, so no big deal. 

By the time I hit Barr Trail, it was warm. The W's, the first three miles of the trail are the steepest part of the whole thing except for the last .25 miles, and it was a mix of hiking and running. The temps were climbing, and by the time I hit the aid station at the Incline bailout, I had decided I needed to consistently take water and also Gatorade -which I don't always do in races. The W's didn't feel overly comfortable, but I was making decent time. Before I knew it, was over to No Name Creek and while still warm, the temps were manageable. Miles 4-6, I was running relatively consistently, although I did have a couple of breaks on the steeper uphills and this poor woman near me kept getting passed by me only to pass me again. Fortunately, she had a good attitude about it! I ended up running downhill with her from the Summit past A-Frame, although I lost her at some point, and I didn't see her at the end... although she may have been closer behind me than I imagine and I didn't see her (more on why later). 

I felt a little tired coming into Barr Camp but I was about 3.5 minutes ahead of when I wanted to make that landmark, so good deal. Water/Gatorade and I was out of the aid station in no more than a minute. After Barr Camp, I'm not sure what happened. I couldn't quite keep my emotions in check and I started to get weepy, and wanted to quit. No particular reason for any of that... it just was. Eric had read me inspirational movie quotes about sports and whatnot in the morning... and weirdly, what stuck and worked to pull me out of this weirdness was "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die." 10 or 12 times of repeating that in my head and I was doing better.

But I had slowed down. I had trained running above Barr Camp, but today, it was 95% power hiking. Every time I started running, it just felt like I was burning so much energy and not making the progress I wanted to. So, I hit A-Frame about 10 minutes slower than usual. Just above tree line, I ran into a runner who was cramping up and in some pain. I stopped and gave her some of my leg cramp meds, and power hiked on. I was breathing like a walrus with a cold, but making pretty good time. I started passing folks, and things were feeling pretty good. Just past the two-to-go sign there was another running who was in trouble, laying on a rock, cramping hardcore. I again stopped and gave this guy some leg camp meds, and then left as I was told medics were coming. I'm not sure quite what was going on, but it was also full sun and while there was some decent wind, it was warmer than "normal" up there.

At this point, I could feel the elevation endorphins kicking in. As you all know, this doesn't always happen, but when it does, I get a bit euphoric and life is pretty good. I wasn't fast, but it felt like I was making good time (even though some lady was like "you are working really hard to breathe." Whatever, I passed you, so apparently not that hard.) Along with an amazing Doubler (ran both the Ascent and the Marathon), James, behind me, it made sense to start cheering on the runners who were now coming back down the mountain. Our bibs have our names on them, so anytime I could, I addressed the descending runner by name. Cheering people on also makes me feel good, so that added to the endorphin fueled euphoria and I got a little ridiculous. I'm pretty sure I told someone his beard was amazing. I know I leaned over a rock to get out of the way of a descending runner and told them they were seeing my best side. 

At the 16 Golden Stairs, John showed up above me and started calling my name. We both confirmed that we were doing well and he kept going. At that point, I was feeling so good, although not going terribly fast, that I thought maybe I could catch him on the way down. Spoiler, I did not. However, I did meet someone named Jason, who happened to be on the same Arkansas running team as my old Ascent buddy Andy! 

I got to the top, turned and burned. I was about 15 minutes behind my goal time for the top, but I thought maybe I could make some of it up on the downhill. Still feeling pretty high, I started making my way down. I made up a song, to the tune of "A Whole New World." It went, "A whole new race. Now we get to go mostly downhill..." and that was about it. I think there was some other song at some point, but I don't quite remember. Like I said, ridiculous. Also, I ran into the people I had given the cramp meds to and they were moving again, and that made me feel good. 

The euphoria started wearing off before two miles down, but the lady who traded places with me on the way up was behind me and we chatted a bit. She pulled off the trail for a bio-break at some point but caught me around A-Frame. A-Frame had Cheezits and that was amazing.

Below A-Frame, the game changed. I was slowing down. I ate some of the food I had with me and took some Aleve to combat some aches I was having in my ankles, but I knew I was moving slower than I planned. I also knew I was begin more conservative in running because the full sun in the trees meant some serious shadows that made the rocks and tree roots harder to see. I slogged down. The temps were rising and I was starting to feel tired.  I got back to Barr Camp slower than I expected, and texted Eric where I was at what time, so he knew I wasn't likely to make my planned finish time. At Barr Camp, a woman I volunteer with at Achilles International happened to be manning the aid station, and unexpectedly, I got weepy seeing her - and I don't really know her. It took a little while to get my head back under control. I was moving at an ok pace and I know this section of trail well. There's also a flat section that I have fallen on before and so I was careful to really pay attention in that area so I didn't bite it. With about 4.5 miles left in the race, the wind picked up and it felt like a hair dryer blowing on you. The sun was beating down and I was drinking water regularly. I later learned it was 91 degrees in Manitou Springs, so it must have been in the high 80's on the trail.

Through the aid station at No Name and on I went. There's a technical bit below No Name, but then at the sign for the top of the Incline (which is actually well past the Incline - there is a spur trail that can take you over there) it flattens out. I was on that section when...

Not only did I trip and fall, but for the first time in my life, my face met a protruding rock. Fortunately and luckily, I didn't hit my cheekbone that hard, but it turns out face cuts bleed instantly and profusely. I rolled over, realized I was bleeding. Three incredibly kind runners stopped to check on me and one amazing woman whipped off her neck gaiter and I had to stop her before she used her personal clothing to wipe up my blood! Their kindness, and realizing I was ok when I could have been more seriously injured caused me to burst into tears... which only made these poor people think I was really hurt. So I'm on the trail, crying, trying to tell these people I'm ok, which they clearly do not believe because my face is running with blood and tears and snot. Finally, I'm able to tell them convincingly I am ok, I have tissues to clean up my face (which the woman helps direct for me because I have no idea where the blood is), and that I am ok, just tired and having trouble regulating my emotions. They finally believe me and continue on. I was so discombobulated I didn't get their names, but bless those people. 

I texted Eric "I am ok, But I fell and hit my face an am pretty sure I look really bad. I'm bleeding. But nothing is broken and I'm ok, I promise." I didn't want him to get shocked seeing me come in with a bloody face. I took the final trail miles at a bit of a slower clip. Coming into the last aid stations, I didn't know what I looked like, so I started calling out "I am ok! I look worse than I am! I do not need medical attention!" The aid stations got it, but with a little less than a mile of trail to go, I passed some hikers who had come out and got a very loud "Oh. My. GOD" from a group of large men, followed closely by a woman who gasped and I had to repeat I was ok. 

I continued to pass people on the way down, even at my reduced pace (including two of the three people who stopped to help me), and finally made it back to Ruxton Avenue. By this point, I was actually feeling better, mentally and physically, and moving at a decent pace. Unfortunately, because its the last mile of the race on  a street, there are spectators, and they were not quiet about how I looked. I also passed two of the Incline Club folks I run with on Thursdays who had run the Ascent the day before. Then, just before the end, surprise! My friends Carrie and Emily were there with a sign, cheering me on! Just before the finish, Eric and our friend Amy were there, with Eric filming.

When you finish the race, you run into a tent lined with chairs. They have you sit for a bit, drink something and give you ice. The woman who helped me after my fall had finished a few minutes ahead of me, saw me and immediately came over. She told me she had alerted the medics that I was coming in, and they came over right away. By this time, I was able to tell everyone I was ok, a little thirsty, and yes, I would like them to take a look. This is when I realized that I had gashed up my knee (I knew I had skinned it) and had bled all down my leg and soaked through my ankle gaiters. I really must have been a sight out there. They took me back to the med tent, and let Eric come in. The kindest people - the owners of the medical response company serving the race, took great care of me and spent a long time cleaning my knees, my hand (big gouge in there) and my face. They were so awesome. After I have no idea how long, I was ready to move. I picked up some more snacks and exited the tent. Andy and his wife Michelle, their teammate Jason (who I met at the top) and the friend that Andy ran with yesterday were right outside the tent! We chatted for a bit, and then we went to find first John, and then Emily and Carrie. I talked with Emily and Carrie for a while, and then headed back into the finishers' area for food and drink. Reg Leg Brewing was a race sponsor. It turns out, when you have dripped blood on your race bib that also includes your free beer ticket, they not only do not want your beer ticket, but they give you two beers instead of one (so Eric got a beer too).

Eric and I chatted with John and some other runners for a while. John had finished a good 30 minutes or more before me, but was kind enough to hang out with us instead of immediately driving himself back home to the Denver area where he lives. 

I drew quite a bit of attention at the post-race party, but what can you do. I came up with all the jokes I could about it, and let a couple people take photos because they asked. If you see me on an advertisement for Bacitracin, please let me know because I would like a publishing fee. 

I crossed the finish line in 8:17:30, 30 minutes slower than the last time I did this race - 7 minutes slower on the uphill and 23 minutes slower on the downhill. All things considered, I'll take it. However, I think I'll refrain from motivational materials from Rocky for a while. 

John and I after the finish. He's been done so long he's already iced in the creek and taken off this medal.

No comments:

Post a Comment