Wow, what a week. Between our travel to and from Colorado, running the Pikes Peak marathon last Sunday, the altitude, lack of sleep, a proposal that just wouldn’t end, sightseeing, and watching Marie gamble, I am worn out.
I also turned 47 this past week which is probably the real reason my behind is dragging. With my birthday and my battle with Pikes Peak being so close together I could not help reflect on the great life I have been blessed with…. My loving and caring wife… my family and friends… my involvement with TNT and all of the great folks I have had the honor and privilege of meeting and running with.
I also learned a few hard earned lessons during the Pikes Peak Marathon…. (1) No matter how many marathons you run or how confident you are about your abilities, you never know when you will be humbled by the marathon…. (2) You really should wear trail shoes when running on trails (yes, there is a reason they make trail shoes--- to run on trails!)… (3) You are never too old to experience one of those surreal moments when time seems to stand still and things happen in slow motion while learning lesson number (4)…. that after 35 years I can still tumble and do summersaults.
Can a marathon really cause you to reflect on life and provide so many learning opportunities? I really don’t know. As with anything, you have good days and bad days…. And every once in awhile experience something unexpected that completely throws you for a loop. That is the best way to describe my Pikes Peak experience.
I went into the Pikes Peak Marathon cautiously nervous. I knew that if there is a marathon where you can seriously hurt yourself, it is Pike Peak. Sure there are a lot of things that can happen; however, my primary concern was pulling or straining a muscle either running up or down the mountain. With the Tahoe Super Triple just over a month away and having the bulk of the trip paid for, I was worried that I might injure myself and not be able to run the event. The sad thing is I came very close to fulfilling my own prophecy….
The Pikes Peak Marathon is promoted as America’s Ultimate Challenge and from my marathoning experience to date I think that is a true statement. Though it is challenging, it is very much a doable marathon for masochist. What is amazing is that this marathon and its sister event the Pikes Peak Ascent (a half marathon that is run up Pikes Peak the Saturday before the marathon) sell out in a matter of hours once the registration opens. I was fortunate (I think) to get one of the coveted spots.
Sunday morning started out beautiful. It was a perfect Colorado morning with cool crisp temperatures and a beautiful blue and cloudless sky. The marathon started at 7 AM in Manitou Springs and quickly worked its way to Barr Trail and on up to the summit of Pikes Peak. The journey to the summit is 13.32 miles with an elevation gain of 7,750 feet. The average grade for the ascent portion of the marathon is 11% though it does vary and has some nearly flat and downhill portions. About 12 miles of the course is run on trail that varies considerably; gravel, sand, small rocks, and big rocks and boulders. There are also a lot of root riddled sections, water run-off barriers, and loose rocks that you need to pay attention to.
The first 1.3 miles is on pavement which turns into a gravel road and eventually a trail with 13 long switchbacks. Going up this part was not too bad. The trail is narrow without a lot of opportunities to pass so you are pretty much in single file hiking or running as fast as the line or trail will let you. After these switchbacks you hit upon another set of switchbacks and some fairly steep climbs. Miles 6 to 8 were on a great cushioned trail that included some down hills and nearly flat sections. Miles 8 to 10 got crowded again as it was run on narrow, rocky trails with a lot of rocky obstacles. It was on this portion where I took my first fall. I tripped on a rock and went down. Fortunately I caught myself before the whole body hit the ground. Unfortunately, I sprained my right wrist. Miles 10 to 12.5+ was grueling. Most of it is above tree line. We were on a series of long switchbacks working our way up the face of the mountain to the peak. As far as you could see up or down on the trails were other runners, all sucking in as much oxygen as we could to fuel our poor suffering muscles. The distance between you and some of the runners ahead of you can be very misleading due to the switchbacks. Even though they were only 20 or 30 feet up the mountain, they may have been a third of a mile or more ahead of you due to the switchbacks. This section was also treacherous as it had multiple, large obstacles (mountain outcrops or large boulders) that you had to traverse. You could not get a rhythm going and literally had to crawl over some of the obstacles. It was on this portion of the course when we encountered the race leaders. They were amazing….. They were running full speed on a very challenging trail full of other runners. I still do not know how they did it.
The last section of the trail you encounter prior to reaching the summit is called the 16 Golden Stairs. First, they are not stairs and second, they are not golden. They are 16 switchback pairs (32 switch backs) that consist of large boulders stacked or placed to basically form a series of 32 ramps to get you to the summit. You have to climb over and around large boulders and rocks all along this section. There is no natural climbing or stair stepping type motion here. You have to pull yourself up and over the majority of the mountain or rocks located in this section. It took me 4 hours and 14 minutes to reach the summit. It took well over an hour to climb the last 3 miles. Once at the top I was hoping to take a small break and take a few pictures before starting back down. Oh no… that is not allowed… they turn you around and you immediately start back down. My legs where spaghetti… they were not cooperating at all. I had to lift them over the rocks and when I planted my feet after going over an obstacle they felt wobbly. That issue combined with the fear factor of having to get back down and over all of those rocks had me going at a very slow pace. Somewhere near the bottom of the 16 Golden Stairs I had my second accident. Runners are still coming up the mountain as you are going down. The rules of the mountain are that you let the runners going down pass. As I was coming over a rock on my way down a lady was coming up and over a rock toward me. As she landed she lost her balance and pushed me and my left knee into a rock. It hurt! I felt nauseous and my knee radiated with pain. I kept moving and it loosened up and I really did not have any issues with the knee after that.
The descent continued slowly. I eventually made it to the tree line and started down the steep switch backs. The trail was a little better than the previous section so I started to pick up the running pace some. It was during this portion when I realized I should be wearing trail shoes. I could not get a grip on anything. Anytime I had to plant my feet or make a quick move I slipped. Just past the 16 mile mark, I was running down a switchback nearing the end when I slipped again. Unfortunately this time I could not keep my balance. I slid and went over a 6 to 8 foot slope down to the next switchback. This was when I learned I could still tumble. I really do remember being surprised that I did a summersault down the slope….especially considering that it was covered with trees, brush and rocks. During this fall, I sprained my other wrist and scraped the bottom of both of my hands; I strained my left ankle; I think I broke my middle finger of my left hand; I have deep scratches and cuts along the right side of my back down to the back of my right calf; and I hit my head (OK face on a rock). The good news is at the time I did not know I did all of that. I got up…. I knew I had hit my head and knew I had some cuts around my right eye and knew I was bleeding. I also knew I had a few deep cuts on my hands and knuckles. But, I actually felt OK. I couple of other runners came up shortly after I fell and did a check of the cuts on my face. At that point I was not wondering if I was hurt, I was wondering if they noticed that by falling down from one switchback to another I had cut the course.
The runners assessed my face and indicated that the injury did not look bad… so I started running again. Needless to say I was moving even slower now due to the fear of slipping and falling again. I got stopped at every aide station on the way down and had to answer a bunch of questions about what happened and how I was feeling before being allowed to proceed. I eventually got back to the 18 to 20 mile point on the course where the terrain became much more runnable for me. I picked up the pace again and passed a lot of the people who had passed me on the switchbacks. I eventually made it back to the last set of switchbacks heading back to Manitou Springs. It slowed down and was extra careful along this portion of the course. I made it back to the gravel road and then the paved road and then cruised to finish line. I felt very strong along the last mile and passed several other folks on the way to the finish line. I crossed the finish line in just over 8 hours.
This marathon took over twice the time it usually takes me to run the marathon distance. It was a very humbling experience. I went into the race believing I could finish in around 6 hours. I did not even come close. I ended up finishing the race with mixed emotions. I was extremely happy to finish and was proud of the accomplishment while at the same time being disappointed in my performance. I knew I could do better but I let the fear factor get in the way which impacted my performance. Worrying, not trying or not giving your all will result in a lackluster performance every time……
Looking back I realized I was ill prepared for THIS marathon. I never felt I had any issues due to the altitude. My problem was not being prepared for the amount of climbing (up and over all of the rocks along the trail) I had to do. Combine that with running 13 miles up and down a steep mountain and your legs just do not want to cooperate. I told Marie today that I will do this marathon again at some point in the future and will prepare for it properly.
Enough of the complaining and moaning and groaning and making of excuses… Now it is time to focus on my recovery and get back to my training for the Tahoe Super Triple. I do not think I have any major injuries that are going to keep me from getting back into the training routine for Tahoe. I have one set of major workouts scheduled for the Labor Day weekend and that is it. I hope it will be enough. Who knows…. Oh, there was one other thing I did learn from running Pikes Peak. If you have the motivation and desire to accomplish something you can. Not at any point during the race did I consider dropping out. Knowing that I had the mental fortitude to get through the marathon will help on day three of the Tahoe Triple when I will attempt to run 72 miles.
Quitting was not on the agenda this past Sunday nor will it be at the Lake Tahoe Super Triple. The quitting theme is a nice segue to why I am doing what I am doing. I am trying to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, an organization that does not know the meaning of quitting…. an organization that directly supports tens-of-thousands of individuals who are in the fight for their lives… individuals that will endure treatments we cannot imagine…. individuals who are not giving up in the fight of their life. As long as there are individuals who are fighting for their lives and need our help, none of us can quit. Please help me with my mission.
Over the last few years I have reached out to family and friends and have asked for donations to support LLS. This year I want to earn your donation by putting in the time, mileage, and effort to successfully complete the Tahoe Super Triple. This effort is the one symbolic gesture I can do to honor those enduring their fight against blood cancer. After reading about my Pikes Peak adventure and as I continue my preparation for the Tahoe Triple, and if you feel compelled based on my efforts, please make a donation or a pledge to help me reach my goal of raising $6,000 for LLS. The link to my fundraising website is located at the top right hand corner of the page.
Thank-you for your help!