Friday, August 30, 2013

Pikes Peak Marathon


A mere 5 weeks after I ran the Leadville 50 miler, I dragged my sinus infected lethargic self up (and down) that 14,115' pile of rock called Pikes Peak and completed my 20th (and first in Colorado) marathon - the Pikes Peak Marathon.

12 days ago, I had the privilege (?) of running the 58th annual Pikes Peak Marathon in Manitou Springs, CO. Considered “America’s Ultimate Challenge”, this marathon has drawn runners from all over the world to scale the 13.2 miles to the top at 14,115’, with 7,750’ of relentless climbing, then come back down the thing.  Events like these are destined to push us each to our limit, whatever flavor we may desire, and I definitely was not spared reaching both my physical and mental ceiling.

A couple months before Silver Rush 50, I was searching for ways to get out of running Pikes Peak because it dawned on me somewhere smack between the 188th bloody knee and the infamous pulled rib muscle that I was a wee bit tired of running relentless vertical walls of solid granite. I half-jokingly started begging runners at Silver Rush I spoke with mid race who were doing the Leadville 100 mile run the same weekend as Pikes Peak to please let me come back and pace them so I had a legitimate out for my own little sliver of upcoming misery.  My friend Samantha actually took me up on my pseudo-offer and had she emailed me to confirm within the two-week post-Silver Rush window when I was feeling the most apathetic, I would have taken the bait and paced - but she emailed back exactly one day too late, when I could actually move without excruciating pain, and thus had to decline the pacing duties (this confirms how selfish runners can be).

PPM has been one of those races on my imaginary to-do list for a ridiculously long time.  I've bailed on it a whopping four times over the course of 19 years (yes, that's correct - 19!); two of those were due to injury, one was due to being in super pathetic shape and another was just because I was chicken (that'd be 1994... though we could certainly clump the other 3 times into the 'chicken' category also).  It's one of those things that sits at the back of your brain and festers on the 3 remaining cells there, telling them repeatedly that you gotta this this monkey off you back now, while I'm still in quasi hill climbing shape from my Leadville training, and before there's a 5th entry in the 'chicken' category.

Let's take a closer look at this little gem of grueling vertical sickness, just for giggles, shall we....

In comparison, let's take a peek at a popular road marathon, say California International Marathon (which I'm considering in December)


Oh God, please help me!!!

I rode an hour down to the race (at the inhuman hour of 4am) with a co-worker and friend, Kerry.  Kerry and I ran Moab Red Hot back in February together but we hadn't run together since. She's a super fast ultra runner and I am...well...not.  But she offered to wait the 40+ hours after she was done for me so I welcomed the company for the commute down and back.
Pike Peak is that faintly gray colored blip in the upper right - which I swear is a million miles away
A bit of confusion as to exactly what time we started; Kerry and were standing on the sidelines, gabbing, when the starting gun went off.  Opps.  I grabbed my hydration pack sitting on the ground and jumped into the race - still needing to pee like a race horse.  I don't know if a race horse really has to urinate badly; it's a long held belief that people have to "piss like a race horse", so I'm going with it.  I'm sure I knocked a few competitors out as I slung my 10 lb pack on as we ran - oh well.  I'm sure there's a lesson to be learned in here somewhere, like maybe there's imperative race information in those "Final Instructions" emails sent the week before race day. Though I really wouldn't know.

Regardless, we're off.

Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon course

Start to No Name Creek (1:12):
This section (4.3 miles) has an elevation gain of 2,150' for an average percent grade of 13.4%.  If you think I'm all badass-like and "ran" all of this section, you be wrong.  I barely ran any of it other than the first mile, which was only about 8% incline.  I'll use any excuse in the book, but honestly, as mid-to-back of the packer on a "hill" this steep, your pace is at the mercy of whomever is in front of you.  The trail is narrow, the protruding rocks are plenty and passing is virtually impossible.  It was nearing 400 degrees and I was sweating profusely - which was a huge concern (me + heat = potentially pissed off stomach).  
Photo: Stolen from Happy Trails blog (thanks, guys)
No Name to Barr Camp (55:56, 2:08 total):
From No Name Creek to Barr Camp is about 3.3 miles with an elevation gain of 1,450' for an average percent grade of 8.3%. This is the fastest section of the course and even includes several slight downhill sections roughly 1.25 miles above No Name Creek. This is my favorite section of the entire course because I actually like to consider myself a runner vs. a hiker and I could actually RUN here.  I still felt pretty good, but the heat was starting to take it's toll; I could literally wring out sweat from my "wicking" shirt.  I was so relieved to get to Barr Camp, which is about the half-way point (in mileage, not in time (for me) - unfortunately).  Barr Camp aid station is like a carnival of cheering volunteers - absolutely uplifting.  I saw, and spoke briefly to, a woman who was volunteering whom I met while crewing at Zion 100 for Tim.  It brought a big (but short-lived) smile.




You can also get the first glimpse of the summit of Pikes Peak on this section, which has been hidden after the first half mile. Though it's only 7 miles away, it appears more like 200.



Barr Camp to A-Frame (1:06, 3:10 total):
Barr Camp to the A-frame shelter at treeline is 2.6 miles and 1,800' in elevation gain for an average percent grade of 13.1%.  13.1% at 10,500' and we're back to hiking, baby - every single step.  I pretty much hated the sun about now and doubted there was such a thing called the ozone layer.  Somehow. I managed to become the yellow-shirt in a peloton of about 20 behind me, which was weird because I didn't even think I had taken any EPOs at that point.  The ever increasing mass of people behind me may have caused me to increase my pathetic crawl up a notch to a now slow slog pace - and overdoing it slightly.  But I don't know for certain ... I felt I had one sloth-like speed but the growing mass behind me was stressful so at A-frame aid station, I pulled off to the side to let them slide by and felt a huge sigh of relief to be "alone".



A-frame to the summit (1:36, 4:46 total)
From the A-frame to the summit/turnaround (14,115') is about 3.2 miles with an elevation gain of 2,050' for an average percent grade of 12.4%.  The trail is primarily loose gravel with one short section of broken rock and the section known as the 16 Golden Stairs being gravel with frequent step-ups of some 10 to 15 inches (the Golden Stairs refers to the 32 switch-backs remaining to the summit).  Yes, it took me an hour and 36 minutes to go 3.2 miles - you can stop laughing now.
These last 3 miles of this thing was an entirely different race than the previous 10 - which is to say I have never, ever, ever been so close to the end of me as I was during those 3 miles above tree-line (GZ says this race is actually 4 races woven into one - this I wholeheartedly believe).  Every single step was a decision. Pain.  No oxygen.  Nauseous.  Light-headed.   My head was a bowl of mush.  I wanted to stop so bad, but I couldn't.  I've crossed that proverbial red line in altitude before on Mt. Evans this summer but I never felt this miserable ever (PP is TWICE as steep as Mt. Evans, so there is that), but holy mother of peril was I wretched.  Runners were coming down in large quantities, and the trail which was treacherous for ONE runner to occupy, now squished TWO on the narrow trail.  The person going up got the short end of the stick (that'd be me) so a lot of time was spent hugging a boulder so some speedster could get down.  With about 2 miles to go, I saw my blog friend, GZ, flying down and got a high-5 (obviously, he's part mountain goat), which lifted the spirit a tad.  I just kept going.  One mile from summit, which is to say an ETERNITY from the summit, the '16 Golden Stairs' begins and the two-way traffic is insane.  My 35 min/mile pace felt like I was going flat out as I scrambled on all fours to climb up and over.  Somewhere on those stairs I must have looked like death was a better alternative to what I was doing because someone coming down told me I'd feel better the second I turned around - and suddenly I felt considerably stronger and clawed my way to the summit.  The enormous support from the amazing volunteers up here was incredible and I got a little chocked up.
NEVER wear a white shirt in a trail race.  Just sayin'.


Summit - 4:46.  If you look closely in the lower center of the photo below, you can see the display clock proving how God did not grant me any hill climbing genes.
Kathleen, look - there's Joyce right in front of me :)
Summit to A-Frame (49:29, 5:36 total):
I grabbed about 5 grapes and a few jelly beans at the summit and started my way down as I gnawed at my gourmet meal one morsel at a time.  Within 20 steps of descending, I felt remarkable.  It helped tremendously too that some clouds decided to stroll in which allowed the 5 hours my back previously spent swimming in sweat to finally dry out some. 



After scrambling past the intense staircase and hordes of ascenders still making their way to the top,  I reached the loose gravel section and was surprised I could actually RUN.  At 14,000'.  It's not a secret if you read my Leadville Race Report that downhill running and I are bff, but I decided I needed to play it safe for a few miles - I've never run this far, this steep down, and I didn't really relish the thought of blown out quads with 8 miles of intense downhills miles left.  I latched onto a guy for a couple miles who was from Minnesota and let him set the pace.  The one and only time I fell (I know, hard to believe it was only once) was on this gravely section; I hit a switch back too fast and went sliding down.  But no DNA left on the trail, so all was good. 

A-frame to Barr Camp (33:50, 6:10 total):
Mr. Minnesotan and I picked off about 5 runners before he decided he had enough of pacing me and pulled off at A-frame.  It was a relief to get back down to tree-line - you could almost FEEL the increased oxygen invade the lungs!  About a mile further, I started running with a guy who had done Silver Rush a handful of times, including this year.  We ran about a mile together; he was a lot of fun and had the most inspiriting words when he told me he couldn't believe I was 50 and how well I did at Leadville :). He was having some stomach issues so slowed some... and I realized here, I had a LOT left in me and it was time to see just what I could do.
I picked up the pace and was floating by so many people.  I couldn't believe how good I felt and how well I was holding up.  I also knew I was embarking on a big section of trail with a lot of rocks and tree roots, which could take notorious face-planter me out in a heartbeat.  I had some stupid song stuck in my head for hours (I honestly couldn't even tell you what it was any more) but it was time to let those lyrics go and instead think, constantly: pick up your feet, do not fall. Pick up your feet, do not fall.  Pick up your feet, do not fall.  I swear I said these words 500 times until I crossed the finish line.

Barr Camp to No Name (32:00, 6:42 total):
My confidence was soaring (for once).  Every person in the peloton I was holding back earlier on, whom I let go by me at  mile 10, were long ago passed.  Every.  One.  Of.  Them.  The support from fellow runners was extraordinary when I passed (and when they passed me up), and every pass generously had a pat on the back as I went by.  The bond of runners on Pikes Peak had its own sense of magnitude which I have never witnessed on any other trail race I've ever done.  Suddenly, I was showered with immense courage and I started soaring down this portion of the trail which has always intimidated and scared the crap out of me in the past.  Just three weeks prior when I was on this same section of trail training, I was side-stepping some of steep, rocky portions just to get down ... today, I was hopping off the rocks and floating as fast as my legs (and lungs) would let me.


No Name to the Finish (37:27, 7:19 total):
I stopped at the No Name aid station to grab more jelly beans and ingested a pickle for the first time ever in a race (well, ever, while running).  The pickle just looked good (and I've read successful stories of pickle juice fueling) so OK, sure.  It was getting really warm again but I was determined to keep up my zippy pace - visions of becoming a real trail runner one day entered my head as I counted  my 40th victim I passed from the summit.  A guy I passed with about 2 miles to go clipped onto my heel and was matching my pace stride for stride....the competitive juices oozed out (as if they weren't out already?) and when I hit the paved road, I kicked it into high gear and left him behind.  Gawd, I wish I had my Garmin at this point because I know I was well above my lactic threshold and gunning a sub 7:30 pace (just two weeks ago Kathleen and I hit this mile at 7:19, but I also didn't have 25 miles on my legs that day :)). 

It was so fun to go from practically zero spectators on the entire course all day (aside from a handful of hearty soles who drove to the summit) to the sounds of many cheers along the sidelines as I hit downtown Manitou.  I eased up slightly on the pace because I thought the finish line was about a half mile further down the road where the start was (info in the "Final Instructions" email, perhaps? :)) and I was getting a little cooked.  I rounded a corner and suddenly, was across the finish line.

Descent - 2:32
(Ascent: 4:46)

Total Time: 7:19:51


Overall: 406/707
Female: 81/170
Age Group: 11/18
Miles: 26.4
Vertical: 7750' (all but about 50' is in those first 13.3 miles to the summit)

Pikes Peak Marathon -
The views...
The intensity...
The majesty...

I wasn't sure what my fifty-year-old body could hold out there just a few weeks after the longest run of my life in Leadville.  I didn't really care what my time was on the clock at PPM (not entirely).  I pushed past some seriously low lows to rebound and give that race every ounce of strength I had in me.  It was by far the hardest race I've ever done (it shredded me much more than Leadville did, even).

19 years of chasing.  

Finally caught.

I did it.

And THAT matters to me.


The shirt's pretty ugly, actually.  Whatever!
Back of shirt
If your dreams don't scare you, my friends, then they're not BIG enough.

Run strong!

36 comments:

misszippy said...

Awesome Jill! I remember one of those times you couldn't run it so it's so nice to see you completing it now! You have had an amazing year of running this year, all due to your dedication and hard work. Way to go!

Andy said...

Nice and a bonus after running SR50 just weeks before!

Char said...

Well done Jill. You're inspiring!

Robert said...

Excellent race report.

Makes me laugh when you sound so surprised that you're able to mow down the competition.

Very cool!

bobbi said...

I freaking love reading your recaps. Way to put that one to rest - CONGRATULATIONS!

(also, am I the only one surprised that in all your marathons, this was your first in CO?)

Matthew Smith said...

Congrats on a great race! That looks like a doozy! The finisher jacker looks pretty sweet too. Was it worth all the training, bloody knees and being tired? Way to go!

hiker mom said...

Wow Jill what an amazing adventure! Way to push yourself up that crazy hill! Love all the pics:)

Kiki said...

Awesome Congrats. I agree dreams should scare us!

sllygrl said...

ohmylanta that doesn't sound fun at all - but you rocked that one!!! so so awesome - now on to bigger(longer) things *wink*wink*

Karen said...

Awesome job! I love how you write your race reports, they are funny, honest, and entertaining from beginning to end. Also, let me know if you're running CIM, I am too. :)

Cory Reese said...

Here is the one thing that is not completely awesome about this race report: heading for the race at 4:00am. 4:00am makes me almost as nauseous as that elevation profile.

Huge, huge congrats!!!!

Bluegrass Tri Chick said...

Seriously impressed!

My husband & I drove to the peak a few years ago & I thought an elephant sat on my chest. It didn't help that we were up there in January & the wind was blowing a kazillion miles an hour.

Congrats on your amazing achievement!!

ajh said...

Amazing. Awesome. Incredible. You and your achievements are all those things. I love your saying at the end about your dreams. Perfect.

bangle44 said...

Well done, young lady! Freaking awesome! Now I am adding it to my bucket list. Maybe. Looks pretty darn scary.

HalfCrazed Runner said...

Wow! That's incredible! Great job! Congratulations!

Mike said...

You are awesome! Tough race and you kicked ass. Nice compliment from the guy you chicked and all the ones that thought it and didn't say it :-).

You are in better shape at 50 than most people 30 years younger. Keep enjoying it and rockin it :-).

Kate Geisen said...

Yes!!!! I love it!

"Oh by the way I just happened to run this uber tough marathon. No big deal."

Girl, you are so tough and strong! I live all the good things that are happening in your running bc you believed in yourself and reached big. You tick.

Kate Geisen said...

Rock. Lol. You rock. But my phone won't let me backspace. True story.

Liz said...

Sometimes just looking at your photos makes me feel tired! You have been doing some amazing running and racing lately - inspiring.

Stacey UltraPrincess said...

Awesome race report. You did fantastic. It's so nice to get that second wind during a race.

Congratulations!

HappyTrails said...

You HAVE had a most wonderful comeback year and you have the trail chiseled quads of steel to prove it! Look at them! :-) Glad you got to share some race time at PPM with our local superstar, Joyce. She is the bomb - so are you!

Adrienne said...

What a great report and ending quote. If we're not a little scared, then what's the point!?

CIM will likely feel like kid stuff in comparison!

Congrats on an awesome accomplishment!

chris mcpeake said...

Great stuff Jill. Congrats. I think PP is one of my favourite races of all time. Its mind boggling how everything changes the second you make the turn around on the summit.

Just think now your qualified to run the double next year ;-)

Kandi said...

Incredible! You are very inspiring, Jill! Glad you were able to check that off your list.

Robin said...

That's incredible. Congratulations to you! That's some race. Love the race report and the pics! Thanks for sharing...

Teamarcia said...

How do you keep slipping these posts in when I'm not looking?
Ok I feel like I've bagged that 14er just reading this.
Way to chase down PP Thelma! Holy cow 50 is your year girl. How can this be your first CO marathon???

David @Captain Speedypants said...

Wow, congratulations. You are a trail running machine. :)

Black Knight said...

That is not a marathon but a lot more!
The elevation chart and the path are more than scary. Congrats, Jill.
...now you deserve a period in Tuscany to prepare other adventures.

GZ said...

Glad to have shared the trail and to have finally met you that day. Careful - this race has a tendency to get into folks blood.

Raina said...

Congrats on getting that coveted jacket, Jill! You have worked HARD for it. No doubt in my mind that Pikes Peak makes you realize what it is that you are really made of.

Very proud of you! Now, on to bigger and tougher goals :)

petraruns said...

I love everything about this - that you did this SO quicly after Leadville, that you had to FIGHT to just stay in it and then that you completely SMOKED everyone else! you are phenomenal!

And that last phrase - was just what I needed...

Carilyn said...

Hi Jill! Can't figure out how we've never crossed paths - at least in the blogosphere :) I just saw your comment on Char's blog, saw you have twins (I have twin 17 year-old boys), and decided to come over to say hi!

I'm so impressed with your Pike's Peak race as I am the biggest trail chicken on the planet. Seriously. Looks like you had a great race, and more importantly, reminded the rest of us to BE BRAVE (I need to put that on sticky note on my fridge).

Terzah said...

OK, this may be the latest I've ever been to comment. I'm sorry about that! And such a great report--I felt like I was there with you (except I hate running downhill--downhill and I are not BFFs). You've had a wonderful year--just think how easy CIM is going to feel now (especially since I took the lousy weather hit for you). I was also glad to see that you were not without jelly beans in this race, at any point. :^)

lindsay said...

Go Jill!!! You could have said you were backing out because you were waiting to run it with me... you know those grand plans we had a few years ago. LOL. I'm proud of you!

Michael said...

Congrats on a completely AMAZING job! I can't even comprehend this race. I was dying on a hilly 5K this am :) and it wasn't even close to anything, anywhere like that. I think it would take me like 12+ hours for that race. Way to go! You completely ROCK!

JONES MILLER said...

Thanks for sharing this great news with us. I hope we will get great knowledge by this.
Travesti