Your biggest challenge isn’t someone else. It’s the ache in your lungs and the burning in your legs, and the voice inside you that yells ‘CAN’T’. But you don’t listen, you just push harder. And then you hear the voice whisper ‘can’, and you discover that the person you thought you were is no match for the one you really are. ~ Unknown
This year’s race experience was incredible. I had some of my best girlfriends to train with this summer which made the journey so much more enjoyable. I skipped the TCR series this year – missing both the Garden 10 and Summer Roundup, opting to train on Barr Trail instead for just two races: July Barr Trail Mountain Race and of course, the PPA. I also had a little Epic adventure thrown in . The rest of the summer was spent with weekends somewhere on the Barr Trail, weekday trips up the Incline and eventually time at the summit just breathing.
The week before the race was very reminiscent of 2010 for me. Looking at the mountain, checking the extended forecast (repeatedly), checking out the marathon and Ascent message boards, planning an outfit, planning what to bring, what to eat… and trying to get all negative thoughts, and PPA 2010 memories out of my head. After all, it was a new year, new race.
2 days to go…
I found some peace in the few days before the race. I had some nerves but mostly anticipation and a readiness to simply get it done. We had a nice lunch the Thursday before the big day, followed by a movie (the Help). It was a perfect, relaxing way to spend a non-workout, taper week day!
The evening before the race, my husband and I had a nice pasta dinner with a side of potatoes – yeah lots of carbs!! I had most of my race stuff planned out. There were some rumblings about early storms on the Peak the following morning and even some snow talk at the Expo. So I added some gloves and a long sleeve t-shirt to my race gear … just in case.
In the morning, my husband was up early for his wave 1 start. He brought me some coffee which I sipped while in bed. After the coffee, a few deep yoga breaths, I was up and preparing for the day. My breakfast was 2 waffles with soynut butter and syrup (a meal I had been using for all long training runs). I gulped it down with a bottle of Aclimate and headed out the door to meet my gang for the carpool into Manitou Springs.
We arrived in Manitou with plenty of time to see the wave 1 runners start their race and to hit the restrooms a few times before we crammed our way into the wave 2 start.
This year, I had actually thought about my strategy. I spent some time looking at my splits from last year trying to figure out what went wrong. In the 2010 PPA, I hit Barr Camp at 2:11… according to Matt Carpenter’s calculator, that would’ve put me at close to a 4:20 Ascent! But then I lost it completely between Barr and A-Frame (1:28)… so I was thinking I must’ve really gone out too hard. Therefore, I made the decision to go out a little more slowly this year, begin my race at Barr Camp and test the theory that I would feel better at the top.
The slow strategy was a sound one but it did mean more bottlenecks, a few areas of just standing around waiting for the crowds to move. It was frustrating but I stuck to my plan and avoided passing anyone but the slowest runners until Barr Camp. From the start to Barr Camp, I made sure to drink lots of water with Nuun, I ate one GU Rocktane gel and took 2 Hammer Endurolytes. I also relied on FRS chews along the way. I felt pretty strong (albeit slow) to Barr Camp. I hit Barr around 2:28 minutes.
At this point, I opened up my Mix 1 and drank half, refilled my handheld water bottle and my spare 6 oz bottle with water as well. Between Barr and A-Frame, the crowds were still thick. I did start passing people in this section as I could. I had stayed hydrated pretty well up until this point and I started to feel the urge to pee. I kept looking for a spot to stop but never really found one (I managed to hold it all the way to summit somehow). I made the Barr to A-Frame trip in about 58 minutes (so far the strategy seemed to be working). As I approached the A-Frame Aid station, I drank my remaining Mix 1, ate a FRS chew and dropped a Nuun in my water bottle in anticipation of filling up at the station. Unfortunately, at A-Frame volunteers were urging people to go on if they had any fluid at all because the filtering process was going very slowly – everyone was waiting minutes (tick tock) for half of a cup of water. I made the decision to wait, got 2 little cups, partially filled with water so I could dilute my Nuun a bit. Six minutes later (yeah – six minutes!!), I headed up, away from A-Frame and above tree line.
I’ve never felt better above tree line. I had a steady pace and passed so many people at this point… cruising along ,”on your left” my mantra. I can’t explain how good I felt… or why. Maybe the fuel, maybe I saved a little too much.. but regardless, those last three miles were mine! I think I ate one additional FRS chew and took 1 more endurolyte in this section as well. I had a fellow runner urging me on to make up the time we lost at A-Frame. He happily provided me with goals for each mile – it helped! The weather held out pretty well. I didn’t need my gloves or long sleeve shirt or even my arm sleeves. As we hit the Golden Stairs, the crowd was very backed up and I was very aware that per my watch, I could easily break 5 hours if people would get out of my way!! Once the thunder started rolling at this point, I was vocal about it. I am sure I annoyed my fellow runners as I urged them to hurry so we could break 5 hours and not get hit by lightening – but somehow we did it, 4:58:40. I was so excited at the finish – I had a little “I did it” moment!! PPA 2011 – joy instead of tears.
Post race was a madhouse. My friends had driven my children up to see the finish – it was so nice to have my babies there. But the temps were cooling and the thunder was rumbling and we were all urged to get off the mountain. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see some of our girls finish but it was too dangerous (especially with the kids) to hang around with the looming weather. We all agreed to meet in town at the Expo tents. We picked up our race shirts, had a beer and relaxed in town while the rest of us finished up.
At a glance, the numbers show that I was less than 20 minutes faster than last year and my finish time certainly doesn’t impress any seasoned PPA’ers. But I am satisfied with my achievement. I felt strong, and in charge (instead of helpless) on the mountain this year. I was human after tree line instead of a zombie. Trail running is a challenge for me and facing this challenge in good spirits was a powerful feeling. And unlike last year, when I felt defeated, this year I felt victorious. I also feel like I may have left some minutes on that trail – at A-Frame, maybe at some of the bottlenecks (although who knows, maybe I got those moments back after tree-line)…regardless, I was happy. I am happy. And I’m not ready to say “I’m never doing that again.”