Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pikes Peak Ascent Race Report

Last Saturday, this flat lander, mountain/trail running virgin made it (by foot) to the top of Pikes Peak.  My uncle, who lives by the base of it and did the race back in the 80s, had 2 pieces of advice beforehand:  1) The mountain will win, and 2) I will set a PR.

First of all, if I'm going to do this post justice, I have to start by mentioning Jill of Run With Jill fame.  Before I ever made it out to Colorado, the aforementioned Pikes Peak Ascent alumna would make time to talk to me about the Ascent and other running topics.  Then, once I got out there, she met my family for dinner and even picked me up at 5:45am to shuttle me to the starting line so that my wife could sleep in, and more importantly, my little offspring could sleep in too.

Jill and company all smiles early in the morning while picking
 me up for the race.
Jill sure was in good spirits for that early in the morning.  Had I tried to snap a picture of most girls that early in the A.M., I could probably expect to have my camera broken into a thousand pieces over the top of my head.  Talk about dandruff.

We got to the starting line in plenty of time to mull around and chat.  I saw a few of my friends from Wichita who ventured out to run/hike/walk the race, including Hannah.
Jill, myself, and Hannah giddy with excitement.  Don't
we look fruity.

Ready to start.  Can hardly see Pikes Peak with the first
"hill" in the foreground.

The Ascent has 2 waves.  The first one starts a half hour earlier than the second, and has a smaller, faster  field based on qualifying times.   I suppose that was done so that when you're single file on the mountain trail, you're not waiting on other runners as much.  I might be 2 slow 4 Boston, but I wasn't 2 slow for that first wave.  Booyeah!

The Race Course:

In-line perspective

Side Perspective

The first small section of the race was on the road heading up to the mountain.  It seemed pretty tough going for a beginning to a race, but it was a 4.5% average grade afterall.  That was just a warm-up.  Once we got on the mountain, I really started sweating.  Not because I saw what was ahead of me, but it was actually unseasonably warm and the slope had increased to about 13.4% (as per race's website).  I started worrying that I would become dehydrated.  Luckily I was able to cool off as the temps. started to drop with the elevation gain.
Ignoring the glare from the sun, this is looking down
 at the runners going through the Rock Arch.

The middle part of the race is the easiest.  There are about 3 miles where you run through a bit of a valley and hit an aid station or two.  I actually got my pace up to sub 9 minutes for short stretches along there while watching my heart rate drop.

Aid Station.
View of the finish, kinda.

The most depressing part of my race came at mile 9.  My Garmin GPS switched itself off after it's memory filled up.  After noticing this, I first was in denial that I had that many previous workouts stored, and wondered if it was the elevation that took out my watch.  Unfortunatly, it was done recording data for the rest of the ascent, but I was able to use it as a heartrate monitor and a pace calculator.  Here are my Garmin's charts up to that point:


Points to notice from what Garmin data I did collect:  The first 9 miles took me from 6,000+ feet to 12,000 feet elevation; my heart-rate stayed around 177 bpm the whole time; and if the first 9 miles took 2:30:27, then the final 4.32 miles took 1:37:23, or an average of 22:32 minutes/mile.

Fast forward, the treeline arrives about 10.2 miles into the race at an elevation of 12,000 feet.  I envisioned getting past the treeline being comparable to the scene from 'Total Recall' where Schwarzenegger is on Mars and his eyes bug out of his head after the oxygen gets sucked out into the atmosphere.
This is either a still shot from Total Recall, or it's an edited
pic of Maria Shriver's hands around Arnold's neck after she
found out about his love child.

Turns out being up above the tree line wasn't that bad.  Granted I was slower, but I couldn't perceive that I was at the time.  Actually, I felt an adrenaline rush come on as I got the false impression I was getting close to the end, and because I was still feeling strong.  I started passing racers, and that trend lasted off and on the rest of the way to the summit.

It's hard to know exactly what awaits you the first time you do something.  In my case, I was surprised that some of the trail was lined with small pebbles which I would compare the traction with that of sand.  Also, above treeline, there was lots of rock; as in boulders.  Sometimes I couldn't tell what was trail and what was rock.  One of the rockiest sections was what's known as the 16 Golden Stairs.  I would say it's the closest thing to rock climbing I had to do that morning.
The 16 Golden Stairs from above.

Soon after the Golden Stairs, I was crossing the finish line with an official time of 4:07:50.  Despite this being my first run up the Peak, I was pretty disappointed I didn't break 4 hours like I thought I should.  After finishing, I felt like I still had more to give.  Although I was exerting myself, I kinda ended up settling in with the pace of those in front of me instead of setting my own pace.  All this leads me to wonder if I need to go back and try it again.  The competitive side says 'yes'.

On top of the world; or at least on top of Pikes Peak with Colorado Springs in the background.

Final Stats:

  • 13.32 miles in 4:07:50
  • 7,815' Elevation Gain
  • 14,115' Final Elevation
  • Average Grade = 11

  • Overall Place - 601/1704
  • Men's Division - 485/1175
  • Age Group - 74/172

I actually decided to purchase my professional photos from the Ascent.  Here are a few:

One of my less flattering photographs.  Some
parts were steep enough, it lessened the burden
by pushing on my thighs.
 After hanging out at the summit for a few minutes, I caught a shuttle bus back down to the starting area where they were handing out finisher shirts, food, and free beer.  I got to hang out with all my friends from Wichita and Colorado, and made a few new ones to boot.  I thought I came away from the race unscathed, but turns out my head of hair is as thin as the oxygen level on the summit, and my scalp got a sunburn.  At least my legs weren't sore the next morning.

I've got to disagree with my uncle on one account...  Since I made it to the top on my own accord within the time limit, the mountain did not win, I did.


A Prelude To... said...

Your legs weren't sore the next morning? Unreal!

Jose said...

Congrats on beating the mountain!

This looks like an awesome race. I really want to do this race. Hopefully next year!!

Christi said...

Congratulations on beating the mountain! I see the peak everyday but have yet to decide to take on this race!

Paul said...

Legs not sore. Wow. You are in very good shape!

I would be very happy with a 4:07. 8)

Congrats! Perhaps I'll see you next year....

Coy Martinez said...

NICE! NICE! NICE! So, my next question is - Did you enjoy this more than just a regular road race? See, for me, this is why I'm addicted to trail racing, it's more adventurous!!

Hannah said...

Don't cheat us out of 2,000 feet! The final was 14,115 - not 12,115!

I love the last picture of you. Gut it out! So glad we got to hang out a bit. Congrats on conquering Pikes Peak! Interestingly enough, I wasn't sore, either. I was anticipating still being sore this weekend for my run in KC. So weird!

You showed me I guess I have to show you mine.

Nelly said...

Awesome job! Great recap!

That is some serious elevation gain, that is nuts! I trust that point is the highest point you have ever been to?

Sounds like all the miles you put on the treadmill up those insane grades paid off!

The pic of you at the top with your medal is a great one.

Jill said...

Heck yeah, you kicked that mountain's butt!! Well, if a mountain had a butt. I couldn't have been more happy for you than I was/am - you trained hard for that beast and you showed it who was boss!! Haha, I am laughing at the picture in the car, thankfully I wasn't crying :).

I think the mountain is calling you and I hope to see you back again...perhaps we can do the full!! FUN!

I haven't received any race pics, I probably frightened the camera guy.

Awesome race, Jon - congratulations again - you're my hero for the day!

trailturtle said...

Nice report, Jon. And congratulations again for a fine performance (except for the fact that you were brave--or dumb ;)--enough to do this race in the blazing sun at elevations between 12-14,000 ft WITHOUT A HAT!!!) Hope your scalp has recovered. Not surprizing that your legs weren't sore going mostly UPhill avoinding the eccentric muscle contractions that are the main cause of soreness. Had it been the other direction, you would still be hobbling around! My biggest gripe is that we didn't get a picture together at the expo and missed each other at the finish :(. It WAS nice to meet you, though. If you decide to do this again, let me know. If I lived closer and at elevation, I'd definitely come back....I'm still tempted........Run well, Ann

Jim ... 50after40 said...

That's FREAKING AWESOME JON! That looks like a lot of fun ... FOR YOU! Probably nothing I would ever do, I'd break my leg. Looks like you killed it - and it was really cool that you got hang out with hannah and jill! Great job!

The Slow One said...

Awesome view! Good for you trying a trail race! I love race recaps. It looks really tough, and it sucks that the Garmin crapped out. Good job!

ajh said...

Awesome job. I really enjoyed reading this and seeing all the pics. I probably told you I HIKED this last summer. I can't imagine racing it! Great job and what fun to see Jill.

Anonymous said...

Awesome race report - and great job!!! Looks lie a blast - way to beat the mountain!

JP said...

Congratulations! This race has been on my bucket list for 3 years now. Excellent report. It makes me want to start pushing hard again!

Nelly said...

I was cracking up reading your comment on Coy's blog, I've said before on her blog that what she's writing could substitute for my posts! We are like the injury twins! haha

Questionably Texan said...

Congrats on the Ascent! That is one race I have no desire to run!

Kamran Yaqoob said...

I am Ryan "Energizer" Ehmann, owner of Altitude Fitness and I’ve been out of shape several times in my life, so beat down – tens of thousands of dollars in debt, depressed and my self-esteem so crushed that I was afraid to go out in public. I turned to the fitness industry as the vehicle to heal my mind and body, and that’s when my dreams began to become a reality. The power of a proven fitness program is life changing so just imagine how much more you could give to your family, career and friends if you were on top of your game?

There is a champion in everyone…including YOU!

If you’ve ever wanted to lose that extra 12, 18, 24, 36 (or MORE!) inches of Body Fat off your frame and experience the benefits of a healthier lifestyle, then this message will cut to the chase and give you the answers you’re looking for. My fat loss training system have taken me 28,882 hours and 10 years of personal training to Master it so years ago I quit working at Gold's Gym as the Fitness Manager and opened a small, private workout facility to educate people about foods, fitness and lifestyle. Altitude fitness is a fun family atmosphere that people come as they are in grey sweets, white T-shirts, no make-up and they are accepted as a team member who want to learn and get in shape. No one is judged, it's not a fashion show and no matter your health or fitness shape you are a part of the Fat Loss Team working together.

I promise my "Fat Burning Zone" training program will get you to LOSE 12 inches in 12 workouts, Energize your mind, shrink body fat, sky rocket your confidence, increase your self image of yourself, improve the quality of your life and people will be saying, "WOW, you look AMAZING and have a GLOW of happiness! This will be the last fitness program you ever do...............Wooo Hoooo

Nelly said...

A Cowboys fan? Nooooo! From what I remember, didn't the Cowboys beat the 49ers in a lot of those playoff games back then? I remember that the 49ers and Cowboys played 3 straight times in the NFC title game (1992 to 1994 I think), with the Cowboys winning the first 2 times, then the 49ers the last time. That 1994 49ers team is still my favorite ever, I miss those days!

And then the 49ers lost the next year to the Packers, who I believe the Cowboys beat to then go on to win another super bowl in 1996.

I might have more runners knee questions for you as I go along, my next main area of questions is whether I should be wearing the patella strap while I'm on the elliptical. And what event or time I should graduate from elliptical to running- I don't think I'm there yet, but getting closer.

Unknown said...

Your web site is frequently Wonderful. Great article as a substitute. Truly challenging. Although I end up being envious
of the critical Particulars any person furnished in your article. Great releasing fantastic article.
LOSE 12 inches with ANY 12 workouts