Monday, August 18, 2014

Twice the Fun at the Pikes Peak Double

This last weekend, I had the great pleasure of joining 2,200+ mountain runners for some high altitude fun at the 59th annual Pikes Peak Ascent/Marathon in Manitou Springs, CO. This year I signed up for the "double" - the 13.3 mile Ascent on Saturday, and the full Marathon on Sunday - which would provide two trips to 14,000'+ elevation, and some time in between to show the family some of the sites. I had some challenges along the way, but nothing that the awesome volunteers and great weather couldn't overcome. Now I'm officially a Doubler!


I ran the Pikes Peak Marathon (PPM) last year for the first time, and was blown away by how epic and historic it was. There was no doubt I was coming back, and bringing the wife and kids to get a taste of the grandeur of Pikes Peak that just can't be captured in pictures, and explore the cute kid-friendly town of Manitou Springs. The Pikes Peak Ascent (PPA) was a World Mountain Running Association championship race this year, so somehow my logic concluded that the "double" would be a good idea. At a minimum, it would be a great story to tell!

My preparation for the two races was minimal, if not borderline irresponsible. My only altitude training was the 86 cross-country flights I had taken in the last year for work; the same job that had erased every long run on my calendar since June, and led to my DNS at the TRT100. I'm not sure what I was thinking when I signed on for that job, but I did know how to fix it. Last Monday, I resigned. Yup, I'm now gainfully (f)unemployed, and at the end of the week, back in California for good. Aaaaaahhhh....


So although not peaked to race, my psychological and spiritual load is significantly lighter. ;-)

It was wonderful having my girls with me on this trip. There was lots to do, from the Garden of the Gods, to the Penny Arcade, frozen custard from legend Matt Carpenter (whose course records of 2:01 for the Ascent and 3:16 for the Marathon still stand from 1993), and lots of kid-friendly restaurants. We did it up!

(Sophie and Christi enjoy a frozen custard, served by legendary Pikes Peak CR holder Matt Carpenter)
(Lots of time spent here)
(Sophie checks out the Garden of the Gods)
(Quinn shines in the local playground)
(Looking for ice cream stores)

Pikes Peak Ascent
-----------------------
A cloudless sky greeted the 1,600 runners of the Ascent, and the starting line was particularly colorful with the flags of 19 countries that sent teams for the WMRA championship. Team inov-8 had local legend Peter Maksimow and Spartan champion/50-mile Trail champion Cody Moat on the front line, in fast company with Sage Canaday, Joseph Gray, defending champion Eric Blake, Jason Delaney (doubler!), and 30 others worthy of a sub 2:30 finish. At 7am, we were off!

(Arlene Piper, the first woman to finish the PPM - or any marathon for that matter - wishes me luck)
(It was great to have a deep international field this year, such as these teams from Solvenia and South Africa)
(No, not that mountain...the brown one waaaaay up there on the left. GULP!)
(The Ascent is a HUGE race!)
As we filled the streets of Manitou, I realized that the Ascent is a MUCH bigger race than the Marathon. Despite a sub-8 min/mile uphill pace to the trail head at mile 2, I was easily 250 people back when we hit the single track. No worries though, since the thin air was already clawing at my lungs. I stepped into the conga line and danced my way up.

(Just one more hill! Ha, ha)
(C'mon everybody, do the conga)
(Ain't no rest for the wicked)
There were Doublers all around me (125 this year, including 72-year-old Bill Squier), and I ran along with Californian Jason Reed, who let me know in his 4 doubles he always clocked a faster time ascending in the Marathon. Everyone nodded - I took that to mean holding back today was a good idea. My previous ascent split last year was 3:18...I was thinking 3:30 sounded right.

(Up, up, up!)
(Weaving through the boulders)
(Ukraine represents!)
I made good time from mile 4-9, much in thanks to my inov-8 X-Talon 212's gripping the soft, wet ground left behind by yesterday's thunderstorms. As we cruised through Barr Camp and broke out over the treeline, the view consumed me...it is truly beyond words. The sky is a special kind of blue in this rarified air, like touching heaven itself. We would soon be on top of the world!

(Above 12,000')
(On top of the world!)
The last two miles, as always, was a hands-on-knees, gasping scramble. A few well-acclimated runners cruised right by me, including...is that Sarah Syed? Wow! She was absolutely flying. Later, should would tell me she's "not doing the marathon thing so much anymore"...well whatever she's doing, it's clearly working!

(Peter Maksimow gets a strongman cheer on his way to 9th)
(Beer aid station, oh yeah!)
I made a push to the top, just squeezing in under 3:30 in 3:29:31, and right in a pack of fellow Californians that included Sarah, Jason, Erica Kikuchi, and Amy Burton. I felt great, so clearly had paced well, and enjoyed a beer with Peter Maksimow who had run a PR 2:21 for 9th place! Outstanding.

(Done! Photo courtesy of Sarah Syed)
(And still feeling good, photo courtesy of Sarah Syed)
(Hanging with Sarah, who cruised by me for a 3:26 finish!)
(Peter Maksimow, with the best smile -  and mustache - in the field)
Peter ran me through the top finishers - Sage Canaday had surged in the last 500 meters to go from 3rd to 1st, finishing in 2:10:03, with Erytria's Azerya Weldemariam (2:10:47), Andy Wacker (2:11:39), Eric Blake (2:12:15), and Joe Gray (2:13:02) filling out the Top 5. In fact, the first 23 runners went under 2:30, making it the most competitive field for the Ascent ever. In the Women's race, Allie McLaughlin (2:33:42) held off a charging Morgan Attola (2:35:39), while Shannon Payne (2:40:28) secured third ahead of Slovenia's Mateja Kosovelj (2:42:41) and PPM defending champion Stevie Kremer (2:43:16). Team USA handily won the Men's and Women's WMRA championship, with Italy taking second, and Germany (men) and Slovenia (women) getting the bronze.

(Sage Canaday wins!)
Pikes Peak Marathon
----------------------------
Sunday morning brought that deja vu feeling as the sun came up to a cloudless day, about 10 degrees warmer than yesterday. I did my best to shake out yesterday's romp, but was definitely feeling tightness in my back and calves. Perhaps walking around the Garden of the Gods with a 30 lb. 3-year-old on my shoulders wasn't the best tween-race recovery plan. ;-)

(Hmm, I wonder why my back is all jacked up? So worth it though )
George Zack said hi at the start, and we got a chuckle over the fact that his work travel was as weird as mine, and had robbed him of his home-based acclimation in Colorado (no worries - he would still go on to win his age group in 4:54). We lined up with the other 600 runners, and at 7am, started the 7,100' ascent one more time!

(Hmmm...I bet that ventilates well)
(George Zack wishes me luck!)
(Smaller crowd this morning)
(Let's do it again! No ride back this time)
I was definitely slower this time, adding 30-60 seconds to every mile. The heat felt more oppressive today, and by the second aid station, I was already coming to a full stop to drink 2-3 cups of water AND fill my water bottle. By mile 7, my lungs were doing fine, but my lower back was seizing sharply when the footing got tricky (which is pretty much everywhere from here to the top). I can't recall ever having this problem before, but suspected trading long runs for long flights had something to do with it. ;-) I took it slow, walking nearly everything to the top, while the great volunteers kept us entertained with costumes, kazoos, and atta-boy's.

(Colorado Springs' Alan Flolo getting it done)
(Up and into the mountain)
(Hey, this looks famliar!)
(Accidental photo, but it captures the heat and spirit perfectly!)
The return runners were absolutely flying, with Switzerland''s Marc Lauenstein leading the pack and passing us below the treeline on a 3:30 pace. Wow! He was going to finish before I even made it to the top! He could be the fastest dentist in the world, and who doesn't appreciate that? Jason Delaney went by quickly too, and you would never have known he was a Doubler. Marco Zuniga, last year's Masters winner, looked comfortable in 4th.

(Back to the top!)
(Marco Zuniga is flying!)
(Or just jump over the switchback)
(At the top, this time to turn around)
I hit the peak in 3:59, well off the previous day, and grabbed some snacks before heading down. Jason Reed had, once again, come within a minute of his Ascent time and chatting his way down. Within a half mile, it was clear my back was having a much tougher time with the technical downhill, and I had to walk it. By the time I hit Barr Camp, I realized if I didn't finish in 7 hours, my family was going to miss their flight home! Wifey would not be pleased, so once I had some runnable trail, I went as fast as I could. My choice of shoe today - the new inov-8 Ultra 290's - have quite a bit more cushion than the 212's, so it was easy to open up my stride and pound the hills.

(A little blurry, just like my head)
The last few miles were well over 90 degrees, but I tagged along with a few other runners and we kept at it. I crossed the finish in 6:33 (28th Doubler!), grabbed a bag of ice for my head, and kept running down the street to our rental house to get going to the airport. Would have much preferred the IV like last year! Marc Lauenstein had won in an amazing 3:39, with Jason Delaney (3:57) setting a new AG Doubler record, and Carlos Ruibal (4:03), Marco Zuniga (4:11), and Darren Thomas (4:19) making the Top 5. The amazing Anita Ortiz (5:00) won the Women's race and set a new AG Ascent record in the process, with Melissa Bay (5:17), Doublers Megan Kunkle (5:25) and Monica Folts (5:30), and Jennifer Malmberg (5:36) making the Top 5.

(Not cutting these off. Ever.)
(Schwag central)
We did make our flights, and I left my family behind to depart to Pittsburgh one last time, a ritual soon to be a distant memory. My head and heart filled with the epic trails and mountains of Pikes Peak, and the knowledge I would visit again soon. I refused to take off my wrist bands, wanting to keep the feeling as long as possible as I headed into the vastness of unemployment. "Oh, that magic feeling...nowhere to go". It's the greatest!

My congrats to all the finishers, and a special thank you to volunteers and committee members that make this race so special. I highly recommend it!

- SD

Gear checklist:
Team inov-8 Race Tank 
Vespa CV-25 (one each day)
S!Caps (x2 on Ascent, x6 on Marathon)
Vitargo S2 energy drink
inov-8 X-Talon 212 shoes (Ascent)
inov-8 Ultra Trail 290 shoes (Marathon)
Garmin 910XT GPS watch (uploaded to Strava)
iPhone 5S and GoPro3 cameras