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.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Almost Ready To Run Up Pikes Peak.

As I have been mentioning for awhile, I've been trying to get trained up for the 13.32 mile Pikes Peak Ascent which is now about 2 weeks away.  It seems I've always mentioned it more as an afterthought, as part of a post dedicated to other topics.  That means I've been storing up material on the subject, and it's time to let loose.

A week and a half ago, I did my long run on the treadmill.  Not because it was a pre-dawn 80º outside and humid, but because I needed some extended time going uphill as only a treadmill can provide in Kansas.  I got in a 14 miler in 3 hours, the last 10 miles of which was at an 11% incline.  Being the curious type that I am, I wondered just how much elevation I gained in those 10 miles.  Being the nerdy type also, I had a story problem to solve.  You remember those math story problems from high school that everyone complained about by saying, "When are we going to use this in real life"?  Well, here it goes:

Jack and Jill ran up a hill for 10 miles.  If the grade/slope of that hill was 11%, how much elevation did they gain before Jack fell down and broke his crown?

Answer #1 for the high school drop outs or mathmatically challenged: 
Jack and Jill ran for a long time, a long way, and are now having problems breathing.

Answer #2, break out your geometry and trigonometry textbooks:




There.  That was rather easy compared to some of the math I had to do to get my engineering degree, but I'll admit I did have to look up the formula.  Gaining almost 2 miles in elevation was a bit of a confidence booster since I've never raced up a mountain before.  I have a few pics from said run.  The first one is supposed to show me running the 11% incline, but it doesn't really look that hard or steep from the picture...  Judge for yourself:



Not that basements are known for high ceilings, but notice my head looks like it's about to 6" away from it.  Also I have a shelf right next to me.  When I installed it, I wasn't planning on being so high off the ground, so now I have to be careful with my shoulder or I'll bump it.

A friend who will also be running hiking Pikes Peak jokingly stated I should get ready for the oxygen deprivation by breathing from a straw.  I got to thinking about it, and decided, why not:



You may have noticed I'm wearing my Garmin, so before someone has to ask why; it's the only HR monitor I have, and I like to track my heartrate.
I ran a flat 20 miler last weekend.  It was 75º and humid starting pre-dawn.  By the half marathon mark, my shoes were so full of sweat, I could hear and feel the squish of each stride as they hit the ground.  I would probably not bother to mention this run if not for the fact that I managed to get a nipple bleed even though I applied Body Glide to it before I started the run.  And when stuff starts coming out of my nipples, I tend to find that titilating interesting.

Right Nipple Bleed.  I just had to wear a white shirt.
All the sweat helped the blood disperse, so it's
not real obvious in the picture.

Finally, I would like to give 2 Pikes Peak shoutouts:
  • First to Jill, who has made herself readily available to me to answer Pikes Peak questions, and who should be running up the mountain that day too, assuming her heel has healed.  I'm looking forward to meeting her in person for the first time.
  • Second to my fellow Wichitan Hannah, who is taking time from her ultra training to run Pikes Peak.  I just haven't figured out yet if she is retired from blogging or not.