This year’s Pikes Peak Marathon was good to me. Although standing at the starting line on Sunday morning I had no idea what to expect—what the day would bring, except that it would be a long day. After all, Pikes Peak is a very challenging race—it routinely makes many of the “toughest marathon” lists. The altitude and elevation gain alone certainly provide bragging rights for anyone willing to take on this race.
I went into this race with the same feelings of doubt that haunt me at the start of every race—did I train enough, will my body hold up, will that little tweak turn into something significant? It’s usually here that I wish that I trained more, gotten in a few more long runs, did a few more hill repeats. Casting aside any doubts, I was determined to make it a good race. I wanted a PR and I wanted redemption for last month’s DNF at Speedgoat 50k. DNF’s have a tendency to play with your mind and I needed to shake this one out. I needed my confidence restored.
Having run Pikes Peak Marathon the last three years, I knew what to expect. I knew when my body (and mind) tends to give out. So, I devised a plan for the day—run as often as I could and run when I wanted to walk; this alone could subtract minutes from my overall time. This would require pushing myself at times when walking would seem like a welcomed gift. I also wanted to enjoy myself and be present throughout the day. In essence, I made a secret pact with myself to push hard and have fun. And with that, the gun went off and my race began.
The climb to the summit seemed to go much better than previous years and I was surprised by how fast I was getting to the aid stations. And true to form, the grapes at Barr Camp (mile 7.6) were the perfect antidote to keep me going. I left Barr Camp feeling refreshed; however, I knew what was waiting for me about 2.5 miles ahead. The A-Frame aid station stands at 11,950’ and it signals that you are close to the summit…but not really. Once you leave A-Frame you’re above treeline and have three miles to the summit, but those three miles can be brutal—often described as the “zombie walk,” taking nearly 30 minutes for each mile.
The best part of the race (well, besides finishing) is turning around at the summit (14,115’) and heading back down. Looks of doom and gloom on exhausted runners’ faces quickly turn to delight—it’s hard not to feel that you have some sort of superpower. The boost in adrenaline is contagious and propels you down the mountain—however, you’re still only at the halfway point. The descent can be demanding and is where I tend to struggle, as I‘m not a strong downhill runner. The views at the top are spectacular, but if you look away from the ground for one second you risk tripping on the rocks and roots perched below your feet. While slowly navigating my way down, I remembered my pact, my little promise to myself—run as often as I could and run when I wanted to walk. I repeated this mantra several times during my descent.
The descent also seemed to go a little easier for me this year. Although, at times, I made a mental note that perhaps next year, I’ll just do the Ascent (I’ve said this before). Temperatures were climbing and it was getting hot, but I focused on my breathing, water intake, and moving one foot in front of the other instead. As the miles came off, I thought that sub-8-hours might be a possibility, but I lost hope as I felt my body slowing down. However, I was fairly confident that I would still PR and was overjoyed with that alone. As I crept closer to Manitou Springs and heard the roar of the crowds, I realized that I did it—the clock read 7:55:26 as I crossed the finish line—sub-8-hours and a personal best by nearly 30 minutes! It was a good day.
A BIG thanks to all of the volunteers along the course and at the finish line—they were helpful, positive and encouraging. I fought hard on Sunday, but couldn’t have done it without them. Congratulations to all of the runners who took on the challenge of Pikes Peak this year—while each of us may have leveraged our own running superpower to get to the finish line, we certainly shared one tough and special race together.