Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pikes Peak Marathon Race Report

I didn't post any predictions or goals going into Pikes, but I felt like 4th place was wide open with maybe 10 guys that could take it. I'd conceded the top 3 to Matt Carpenter, Ricardo Mejia, and Daryn Parker, but after that, I thought that whoever could get under 4:10 would take 4th. Although I hadn't ran a trail race since last year's Pikes Peak Marathon and had only really decided to race this 3 weeks ago, I was planning to give it a go.

I don't race to just be out there or just to do a workout, so I made the most of my limited training time and hit the mountain two weekends in a row. I got two massages leading up to the race, took a big taper, carbo-loaded, gave the legs a fresh shave, and really did everything that I could to set myself up for a good race. I'd weighed myself a few times during the week and whether morning or night, I was coming in at 125 lbs, right on race weight.

The Day Before

The day before I jogged an easy 7, mowed the lawn, and then got some good news when Frank the exterminator gave my house a clean-bill of health on termites. Excellent. I met a potential roommate and got an email from another who is a 23 year old cocktailer at Piflers (I had to look it up too, a sports bar down on West Colfax) - yeah, I bet we'd get along well. I picked up some lunch at my favorite bakery/deli, Hi Rise, headed down to Manitou, got the lucky #14 bib, and then checked in at the Fairfield Inn for a little nap. I'm pretty damn particular in my race prep, so I turned down the mom and pop hotels in Manitou for a Marriott property where I knew I'd get a comfy bed.

Caught up with Mike S, George Z, and Nick C at the ascent awards ceremony that night, where I loaded up on some pasta. As competitive as the ascent is, and I know it is way more competitive than the marathon, I can't help but think of it as the kiddie race. I think mountain running is as pure as it can get and taking a bus down just doesn't appeal to me.

Keith Wood, at 80 years old, who had completed the ascent in 4:51 sat with us briefly wearing a "Nut Case" t-shirt and it turns out that he doubled, running 8:43 for the marathon next day. Impressive. That's what's great about this weekend - so many stories come out of it. From the return of Arlene Pieper to the place where she became the US's first female marathon finisher, to Ed Baxter's amazing 2:41 ascent at age 55, to the winning runs by 44 year old Matt Carpenter and 45 year old Anita Ortiz.

I was tired and turned in a 8 PM that night, but slept like shit. I-25 was right outside, so I put my ear plugs in, but never got completely asleep, just this half in/out of sleep mode. Really the same crap I go through every night before an out of town race. I just don't sleep that well in other beds. Still, I always seem to get up on race morning ready to go and that was the case again here. I'm thinking of taking some sleeping pills to TransRockies since I sleep like shit in tents too.

Sunday Pre-Race

Parking was already filled up in the usual spots at 6 AM in Manitou, but I found a pay lot that had a broken ticket taker (and was hence free) that was nearly empty. Even better, they had a clean bathroom facility. Unfortunately when it was time for round 2 at 6:45 AM, they had decided to clean it and I had to hit the porto pottys instead. Not sure why they couldn't have waited until, oh say, 7:01 AM to clean it, but whatever. Ironically, ascent winner Meghan Kimmel was parked in the handicapped spot in this lot for a while. While she was sipping her coffee, I thought about knocking on the window and asking if she was really handicapped. How's that for a pick-up line?

I warmed up for 15 mins, decided to go without the arm sleeves, and headed to the line. I had 4 Gu's clipped to my waist band, a pair of gloves in my waist band, and a throwaway winter hat on. Consistent with last year, I went with the 5.9 ounce Brooks T5 racing flat. The first official female marathoner in the US, Arlene Pieper, who ran Pikes 50 years ago, sent us off. They had said that it was 30 degrees on the summit at 7 AM with a 15 degree wind chill, but still, just 2 mins into the race, I decided to toss the hat.

The Start

Thinking I needed to get up in 2:40 if I wanted to run 4:10, I planned to get out hard. After 2 lackluster efforts above treeline the last 2 weekends, I didn't think I could run with Bernie and Bryan D those last 3 up and wanted to put some time on them early. A lead pack of 8 formed ahead of me in the very early going. I was looking around, seeing who we had. It looked like 4 were contenders and 4 were pretenders. No sign of Ricardo Mejia. I wasn't surprised since it seems that there are tons of DNS's for Pikes each year. A Euro, who I correctly guessed was JP Heneghan (2nd at UK 3 Peaks Race in 2008), was locked on to Matt's shoulder and it was clear what he planned on doing. Kudos to him for giving it a go, but I wondered if he was being a little naive. Either way, I was sticking to my plan and not letting passion overwhelm my judgment, at least not 5 mins into the race.

By the time we hit Hydro St., I was in 4th and right behind Daryn P. Last year he and I ran through the Ws together before I fell way off. I knew it'd be foolish to try to do the same thing again, but at one point around the Cog, he slowed so much that I had no choice but to go ahead briefly. Once we hit the trail, he quickly took off and it was clear he was just using the first mile as a warm-up. I was relieved that he went by and I was positioned right where I wanted to be.


I held a steady effort through the Ws, not too hard, and hit the rock arch in 38:4X, about 5 minutes faster than my fastest training run up here 2 weeks ago. On the flats and downhills, I blasted it as planned and then pushed hard and hit Barr in 1:13:30, about 2 mins faster than last year and 90 secs faster than my 75 target. I was working, but knew that if I could maintain the effort, I had a good one going and should be under 2:40 up. I guessed that I had at least 2-3 minutes on the next guy back.
Barr to A-Frame

Somewhere before here, one of the search and rescue guys had said I was in 3rd. I corrected him, "4th." At Barr, they again said 3rd though. I wasn't sure what had happened to Matt's tail then, but assumed that Matt and Daryn were running 1-2. My biggest mistake of the race was not popping my first Gu at Barr. I had planned to hit the Gu at 90 mins like I had in training, but without a water bottle, I had to wait clear until A-Frame to get my first Gu down, 1:45 or so into the race. This was too late and I could feel it. On top of that, it was just hard to swallow it. Running uphill where you're huffing and puffing so much, I could only force a few bites down. I hit the "3 to go" sign in 1:47:48 and then finally up above treeline, could look down and see Bernie coming for me.


Somebody at the last aid station up called me out by name like they knew me. This happened a few times during the race and I presume that they maybe just checked my bib #. Coming down, lots of folks gave me encouragement by name too. Not knowing too many people that were running, I was surprised at this, but was too out of it to look up and see if I recognized any of them.

About 1.5 miles from the summit, I looked back and saw that Bernie was hiking. Even though I've been able to run to the "1 mile to go" mark in training, I started hiking too. Usually my hiking sucks, but I was hiking better than ever and felt like I was moving quicker hiking than running, so it made sense to hike a bit. I ran/hiked then, like Bernie, but he soon caught me. We ran/hiked together a bit more and just after the "1 to go" sign, he ran by while I hiked a few more steps and watched him put some time on me. I struggled up the 16 Golden Stairs, scrambling on all fours a few times, and hit the summit in 2:36:14, 34 seconds behind Bernie and in 4th place. I chugged a water, hit my second Gu, and someone said "get your head together before you go down." I threw the water cup in the trash and took off and he goes "well okay then." I hit the summit at 2:36:09 and left 5 seconds later, I presume at the recorded 2:36:14.


This was exactly where I wanted to be. Bernie has a reputation as being lethal on the downhills. After running 1:28 last year down and stopping twice, I thought I could take him and was looking forward to the challenge. Before the race, I'd hoped that I could go sub 1:25 on the descent and in summiting in 2:36, I thought that I had an outside shot at a 4:00 finish, 4:05 more likely. I was hurting pretty bad, but hoped that it would come together on the descent, let the downhill carry me.

It didn't work out that way though. The first miles down, I was grunting with each breath and losing brain cells with each step down. Coming down, lots of folks shouted encouragement at me, but I was too listless to respond or return the kind words. My stomach was in knots and coming into the first aid station, I needed some sugars and yelled "Gatorade" ahead a few times, but they were all looking the wrong direction. I just grabbed a cup out of someone's hand and it was water. Runners heading up did a good job of dodging me and I didn't clip any shoulders.

Even though I had only done one 20+ mile run since April, my legs really didn't feel that bad. It was just my body that was bonking - I dry heaved a few times, stomach never felt great, and whether from the altitude, time, or effort, my head hurt and I was half in zombie mode the first 5 miles or so down. I just did a poor job taking Gu going up. After that first aid station down, I came to a complete stop at the next four aid stations and chugged a Gatorade and a water, and got my last 2 packs of Gu down, completely. At one of these aid stations, they were filling trash cans (lined with garbage bags) with water from a hose and then filling cups from there. My head was a mess and, although I was staring right into it, after swallowing my Gu and drinking my Gatorade, I threw the trash into the trash cans that were full of water. I quickly apologized, but the volunteer understood.

I knew I was going slower than last year, but had no idea where. Finally with 5 miles to go, I could calc a split that made sense - I needed to run 30:00 the last 5 to get under 4:10. Either the mile marker was off or I calced it wrong, because I thought I ran a 6:40 the next mile, but maybe it was 5:40 in my delirium. I'd conceded the 4:10 barrier then, but then hit the "1 to go" mark and realized that I just needed a 6:30 to get under 4:10. I put up a good effort that last mile to make sure I was under the 4:10 mark and hit the line in 4:09:15.


Thinking ahead to TransRockies, I went and sat in the creek for 8 minutes to ice my legs. I started to cry.

It wasn't the perfect race, but I felt like I left it all out there on that day. Too often after a race I'm left second guessing myself and wondering if I could have done better. I didn't have that feeling today.

Rest of the Day

I got a $20/30 min massage post-race. The massage therapist was a big lady and I feared that she was going to tip the table over at one point. This was my third massage of the month and I had a fourth the day after PPM (total 240 minutes = $120). I talked with Fritz VdK a good bit post-race, loaded up on free food, and waited around on the awards.

Matt C took the win as expected. With Mejia no showing, Daryn P moved up to 2nd in a very fast time. His 2:18 ascent would've placed him 2nd in the ascent the day before. Even if Mejia did show up, I think Daryn may have beaten him. Bernie took his fifth 3rd place finish in the last six years, and third in a row. I hate to get beat by someone who is 46 years old, but I think he really cemented his "legend" status at Pikes now, so I feel pretty good finishing so close to him. I'll take some solace in knowing that I helped to push him to his 2nd fastest time ever at Pikes. I had 4th then and Justin R ran a balanced race and closed hard on the downhill to take 5th ahead of Peter F. Bryan D in 7th, while Brit J.P. H who had tailed Matt up Ruxton apparently took a wrong turn right above the Ws, but came back to finish 8th. Not sure where he would've been had he not taken a wrong turn, but he likely would've given Bernie and I some company for the 3/4 spots. Samual M, a guy who was on no one's pre-race prediction radar, nabbed 9th ahead of Fritz VdK, who had just ran 2:34 at the SF Marathon three weeks earlier.

I was comped in for taking 7th last year and then won a nice trophy, a free pair of LaSportiva shoes, a comp in to next year's race, and $100. I didn't realize that I won the $100 until yesterday. I didn't receive it at the awards ceremony, so hopefully that'll be coming in the mail. Pretty good prize pull, on top of the nice jacket that they gave all finishers.

Icing in the creek, the massage, and wearing the Skins tights all day, I did everything I could to recover quickly and didn't feel too bad on Monday. Certainly sore, but way better than I felt last year. I'm planning to race a steeple on the track on Thursday night and should be good to go on Sunday for TransRockies. I just realized that I've ran 0 miles in my Salomons so far. Since I'll be putting in 116 miles in 6 days in them, I really need to get them broken in quickly.

It was a very fun weekend, one of the highlights of my summer as it was last, and it would've been a shame if I skipped the race as I'd initially planned to do. This was certainly one of the best performances of my running career. I still like my 1:13 half and 1:57 20 miler from this spring too, but those were on much smaller stages. I definitely still have some goals for the road, but I look forward to keeping the nice road/trail mix going, hopefully including more than one trail race per year.

Next year is a long way away, but hopefully I'll be back for more.


Brett said...

Man awesome. A good tear in the creek - reminds me of the grimacing GZ picture. You guys laid it all out there. Awesome job.

GZ said...

This is what it is all about:

It wasn't the perfect race, but I felt like I left it all out there on that day. Too often after I'm race I'm left second guessing myself and wondering if I could have done better. I didn't have that feeling today.

Well done. I salute you.

Nick said...

Great race, great report! 125lbs, wow! Tears in the creek: Way to lay it all on the line.

I could have clued you in on Sam M, had I known he was racing. I've run against him three times this year, including at Leadville. He's just getting into trail running since his move from NE. 2:32 road marathoner and fast 5k runner at college.

He didn't have a clue who Anton K was after Leadville, but Anton recognized him from the high school cross country scene in NE back in the day when Sam was winning everything and Anton nothing. Sam will be one to watch out for next year once he gets the whole downhill thing dialed in.

Congrats again on a great race and have fun next week, Mr. 'Wings of Glory!'

GZ said...

I am pretty convinced that Henegan went off course. If I had to guess where based on where he passed me, it was that turn off that JV and I screwed up in 06 - where that is that yellow sign back to the Incline, just before No Name Creek.

Justin Mock said...

Thanks for the link. I'll edit and include them now. Had signed up for the email when they became available, but did not receive an email.

RunColo said...

Awesome job, man you killed it. I'm now trying to get my own weight down to 125lbs and will start shaving my legs in order to get faster.

Matt said...

Great race and report. Soak it up.

J.P. Patrick said...

Blown away! Congrats! I can't believe you only threw in your hat a few weeks back! A testiment to all your hard work over the last few years. Very few athletes can switch gears like that.

Brandon Fuller said...

Once again, great job. Glad to know that I have more things to tweak for more speed. Looking for my razor now!