I'm really glad to have finished the Pikes Peak Ascent last Saturday. It's been on my bucket list since the early 1980s, but being a specialty race (one that you have focus on for a number of months to the exclusion of 'normal' training) it never fit into summer racing.
A year ago today I got the job offer to move back to Colorado and I immediately planned on doing the Ascent in 2015. When I signed up back in March, I'd been on a roll for a year and felt confident of breaking 3 hours, thinking about the rule of thumb that a Pikes Peak time translates roughly to what you can do in a road marathon. I'd been around 1:20 for the half and 3:15 at Equinox--a tough marathon in its own right--so a sub 3 didn't seem out of reach.
I was wrong on that one.
Felt more or less great and raced well through April, but things caught up to me after the Greenland 25K trail race in early May. My legs weren't recovering from workouts and then I'd been stressed, with finalizing the move from Alaska and a number of other matters.
During May and June I put in okay miles (about 50 per week) but felt chronically tired. By June I started mixing in long runs and weekends at altitude. And in July I got up to 12,000 feet on several runs and over 13,000 feet a couple times. Ended running a solid trail race on the Barr Mountain trails (6,600 to 10,200) in mid-July. So all was heading in the right direction.
But a pinched nerve in my neck flared up the week before and after the trail race and it took 3 weeks for that to clear up, and only after intervention with anti-inflammatory medication and physical. All just in the final two weeks. July's mileage was adequate at 40-45 a week (but had planned for 60 or so). However, those miles were on a weekend warrior schedule, typically with a 13-16 miler at altitude on Saturdays and then 9-10 miles on Sunday. The rest of the week was recovery and easy runs of just 4-6 miles.
I was just glad to be able to line up in Manitou Springs, but with some readjusted time goals (3:00 to 3:15, but hoping for sub 3:10). However, on race day I woke up nervous! I could bare gobble down a bagel and banana that morning and had severe cotton mouth even after downing a quart of water. That mountain looke so huge, so daunting.
I started out cautiously over the first few miles, and seemed to be about where I had wanted to be, but had a rough patch at about 5 or 6 miles. Was optimistic at the Barr Camp check point with a 1:31 at 7.6 miles (roughly 3:05 pace). The next few miles went pretty well and I felt comfortable as one can be at 11,000 feet pushing on at marathon effort (albeit at twice marathon pace if you're on the roads).
Hitting the A frame at just below 12,000 feet was semi-surreal. We were finally above tree line. Like when you are at lake and people a mile away sound like they are close by, I could clearly hear when the leaders crossed the finish with all the sirens and cheering up above.
I would still have an hour to go. It was all switchbacks over and between boulders and I was no longer running much. Often it wasn't even power hiking, but just walking. For the last three miles I stopped looking at my watch and only focused on moving and finishing. I was getting dizzy and stumbling a lot.
Do not fall, do not throw up.
The last mile was pretty frantic but at 18-20 min pace! Passing and getting passed. Just finishing was one of the toughest things I've had to do in a race.
So 3:14, 73rd, and 3rd in age group. In the past 5 years that'd be 1st or 2nd in age group but there were a couple of very fast 55 yr olds in there (including a former U.S. mountain bike champion!). But the competition in this event is not about time or place as much as just getting up the mountain.