I had some good moments, I threw up, I cried… I finished.
And really, that about sums it up. My PPA race report in a nutshell.
Saturday was sunny and warm with no surprises! I had heard the stories, particularly of the 2008 race, enough times to be anxious about what might happen on the mountain but as far as the weather went, this weekend, I lucked out. I know some runners would have preferred cooler weather, not so much heat - but I was happy . I didn’t carry much with me – a pair of gloves pinned to my fuel belt that I never used and some sleeves that I used off and on above tree line. So after a week of compulsive weather.com visits, I breathed a sigh of relief heading out to Manitou in the morning.
Nerves… I was full of nerves glancing out the window at Pikes Peak during the ride to the start. My brother –in-law dropped me, Mark and Joe off near the start at Memorial Park just as wave 1 runners were getting ready to begin their journey up the Peak. So with a half hour to go before our wave 2 start and the quickest gear check that I have ever experienced, I spent my time pee and re-peeing. Yes, I went, got back in line, went again until it was only 6 minutes to start. nerves.
Like most races, after the gun went off and I began my run, the nerves started to disappear. I felt pretty strong running to Ruxton and up the hill… things were looking good and I was upbeat as I finished the paved portion of the race and entered the trail.
I felt great for the next 2 hours and 20 minutes… really great! I shuffled my way up the Ws feeling strong, picking up my pace on the ‘flatter’ sections and made it to Barr Camp about 5 minutes ahead of schedule. I had written down some splits on my arm for a 4:45 Ascent – it was a reach but I thought do-able. I was feeling particularly good about my goal with the 5 minutes to bank for the 2nd half of the race!
Barr Camp to A-Frame
I started this section feeling strong and optimistic. Unfortunately, this elation lasted for only about 30 more minutes before some major nausea set in. I was fueling with tried and tested Gu gels but something wasn’t settling well with me. I eventually gave in and tossed my cookies (well, my gels) about a mile after Barr Camp. The nausea came and went after this point but I only lost it like that once. I started to slow down – I slowly made my way through the remaining 1.6 miles to A-Frame and realized I had lost my 5 minute gain plus another 5 minutes – and I wasn’t feeling so strong or optimistic anymore. I kept my water bottles filled – one Gatorade, one water and kept hydrated but I wasn’t able to eat any significant calories after this point.
A-Frame to Summit
What can I say? I was starting to hurt – my legs were heavy, my back was killing me and I was feeling beat down. As I trudged my way toward the summit, I could hear the announcer at the top, cheering in the finishers. I still had over an hour to go – the first threat of tears started. I sucked it up, willed myself to hold it together. Every time I stumbled (which happened quite a few times), the tears would start again – but I finally pulled it together at the Cirque (1.5 mile to go) aid station. I am very glad that I had completed a full Ascent during training because there were too many times during these last three miles where I questioned whether or not I could finish the race. As much as I was hurting, I kept moving… slowly. Many other runners had pulled off onto rocks – sitting down. I managed to eat a few grapes at Cirque and focused on conquering the next mile and half – counting off each tenth of a mile on my Garmin. Finally I saw the 16 Golden Stairs sign – and I felt I was going to make it. With the finish in sight – I heard my friends Julie and Kathleen cheering me on. Fellow springs runner, Jim took my picture, capturing a surprisingly upbeat snap of me.
I crossed the finish line, got my medal and then I saw my husband and I let it go – flood gates opened for a moment and I just cried. I dried my eyes and turned to Julie and the first thing I said was “I am never doing that again.” 5:14:59 – I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed with my time. Maybe my 4:45 goal was a bit of a reach, but I honestly thought I had a good shot for under 5 hours. The second half of the race just didn’t go my way this year. It’s ok – I am ok about it now…the Ascent is the hardest thing that I have ever done and I simply didn’t have any more to give on Saturday.
A big congratulations to both Joe and Mark who finished in 4:11:18 and 4:12:36 respectively – both of them qualifying for wave 1 next year if they choose to run again!
I guess I am ready to start thinking about next year despite my initial post race denials. I don’t know if I will do it but I can at least think about it now. Even more than the pain experience, I need to think about whether I want to spend another summer training for such a unique race. Ascent training can be logistically difficult because it is ideal to train on the mountain – but you gotta get there, get up the mountain and figure out how to get down … not as easy as running out the front door of your house for a long run. Anyway, we’ll see. For now I am satisfied. I did it. Every once in a while I look out my window at the mountain in awe and wonder… humbled. I don’t think I will look at Pikes Peak in quite the same way ever again.