Earlier this summer, a friend and running buddy of mine convinced me to sign up for the Pikes Peak Ascent. It was something neither of us had ever done and this seemed like the year to do it. Even with a lengthy resume of trail racing and assorted agony-adventures, racing up Pikes Peak seemed an intimidating venture. Intimidating and very painful. I would be wrong of course, a day in the hills is better than a lot of things even when it includes large stretches of climbing. This sentiment is born out by the stampede of registrants each year that rush to claim their spot on the starting line months in advance for the weekend's two races.
When August rolled around we found a dog friendly hotel in the Springs (the La Quinta), and made the drive north. The next morning we made our way into Manitou Springs and found the general race registration area and starting line. The place was congested and chaotic - a couple thousand serious looking runners, ourselves included, clutching Cliff bars and water bottles as if that alone were the secret to lift oneself into the heavens. We pulled the car up as close as possible, Christina snapped a 'before' photo, and the wives drove off for some breakfast before meeting us later at the summit.
I looked around for any NM faces that might be familiar. I heard the announcers say something about the Maas family, that they were running three generations strong that morning with Fred, Dan, and Dan's kid. Brendan Maas was also in the race as were Matt Scarborough and Chris Chavez. Chris has a sizable twenty-or-so year streak going, including running the double - both the Saturday Ascent and the Sunday Marathon - for the last nine of those years. An impressive feat even among this not-so-easily impressed pack of runners.
Boots and I discussed our relative fitness, whether we had a chance of besting any names, and whether we'd blow ourselves up spectacularly before tree-line - the last outcome seeming the most probable. My goals were to dominate folks from lesser states (like Texas), and to not blow-up. We had determined that 3hrs would be a good finishing time, so that would be an additional goal. My strengths as an athlete are suffering, and motoring along at altitude - so I felt the race could go well if I could hold it together after the two-hour mark. All of this is a familiar strategy of lies that athletes tell themselves before racing out into the unknown.
The starters sent us off and we moved together through the village of Manitou along with about eighteen-hundred other runners/climbers/suffer-bunnies at a controlled pace. A large number of the runners we were moving with were sporting tattoos, shaved legs, waist-belts filled with energy gels and multiple water bottles, full camelbaks for some, arm-warmers with skulls and crossbones - I wasn't sure what to make of all that. Boots was sporting basketball shorts because he enjoys destroying inflated egos when he goes by people, the guy is all business and a cold black heart. I wore a Running Hub hat and a NM race shirt so people around me would know what's up, New Mexico in the house people! Boots and I chatted it up for the first mile plus, after which the grade of the road kicked up to an uncomfortable angle and the chatting abruptly stopped.
|A couple minutes from the top|
Boots and I were separated at this point, so I'd jump on the shoulder of just about anyone that came past me. Working with a couple young guys we rolled past half a dozen runners, and then at mile six or so one of the guys I was with just blew up and they were both gone as if they'd jumped off the mountain. Holy smokes, we were barely an hour in fellas. What gives? More than like there's some of that for me up ahead. We'll just ignore that for as long as possible.
|Sponsor's shot, The Running Hub|
I passed a Slovenian runner here who was cutting switchbacks like a mother. Could tell he was Slovenian by the 'Slovenia' on the back of his jersey. My man cut the trail so severely on one turn he moved ahead of me and I had to weave past him for a second time. I laughed and asked 'whassup Slovenia?', and he answered back 'alright!' like Fonzie. Ok dude, might want to stick to the trail. Guy was trying to shark my finishing M&M's or victory beer or something. I'm not ok with that.
Soon after, we had reached tree-line and the finish seemed really close. My legs kept churning away and guys kept coming into view and passing out the back. I passed a few women with national jerseys - USA! USA! That's right. Around mile twelve I passed a kazoo-band playing Coming Around the Mountain. I felt better than I had all morning and continued to press. Feeling great at 13,000 ft. meant surging and digging to bank a 15min. mile split. Lots of legs and arms, not so much forward speed.
|Jackal smile in the finishers' chute|
My crappy sand-bagging attitude from the previous week had given way to serenity as I shared the details of my morning with Christina. I was told they'd seen a marmot on their hike up and Lucy had given it hell. Good dog, those furry rats need to recognize. Boots and I exchanged war stories. We waited for Brendan and Chris to climb the switchbacks and cross the line, and we rang our cowbell and made a racket much louder than the other runners were receiving. We checked the time sheets and saw that Americans had won both races (touche my Slovenian friend), that the 56yr old age-group legend Ed Baxter had crushed me by several minutes, that I just barely made it into the top 50 overall, and that the trail-cutting Slovenian had somehow finished just behind me which was actually a little shocking.
|Self devastation much less than a typical marathon-length race|
Steve Gachupin used to own that race. Los Alamos' Lynn Bjorkland still holds the women's marathon record. I actually got to meet Coach Gachupin this fall at a local cross-country meet and he told me he was at Pike's this year as a dignitary, handing out awards, and giving interviews. Steve was great so we wrote him into a page of New Mexico trail running all-stars and past champions.
The Ascent lived up to its highly rated reputation, at least in good weather. The race organization and after- party were first rate. I don't know if the trail itself can be compared with La Luz or Imogene or Big Tesuque - they're all fantastic trails in their own way. My descriptions above not withstanding, the morning was not as difficult as I had imagined 3hrs of climbing to be. I may have just had a big day.
- Big Tesuque Trail Run
- Pajarito Trail Fest
- Steve Gachupin, Tough Guy List
- 2011 Trail Racing Calendar
- Pikes Race Report from up front - Pete Maskimow
- Pikes Race Report from up front - Pete Maskimow