|Doesn't that look like a funnel cloud over Pikes Peak?|
I had done this race just twice before. Once back in 2002 when I ran 2:04:01 (6th out of 32 in my age group) and then two years ago, with Sheri, when I ran 2:10:12 (5th out of 36 in my age group). Last year the race was called off due to massive wild fires in the area. This year Sheri and I were both entered again.
We drove down to Manitou Springs on Saturday and stayed at the Cliff House - a way nice, expensive hotel right in the heart of town and a mile from the starting line. The next morning, after a cup of coffee, we walked up to the start, used the bathroom, and I jogged around the start for 2-3 minutes before the gun. You'd think that wasn't much of a warm-up and you'd be right, but I didn't feel I needed much for this race. It starts by climbing 3800 vertical feet up to Barr Camp and my stride would be very short for almost this entire distance. By the time I'd get to really run, I'd be overly warm.
We had a few friends running this race as well. George Zack would finish 10th overall and win the Masters division with a time of 1:53:33. Kristi Anderson finished 4th overall, 2nd masters, 1st in her age group and set all the course records for each split. Her time was 2:06:47. Susan Nuzum, normally much faster than me, had an off day and finished as 9th woman, 3rd in her age group with a time of 2:17:45.
The race started in a very relaxed manner. "Okay, are you guys, ready?...Go." No count down, no gun, and off we went. I was wearing a HRM and tried to keep my heart rate between 160 and 165. Any higher and I'd blow. Any lower and I knew I was dogging it. I yo-yo-ed a bit with a woman named Shari Marshall before settling in a bit ahead of her. I ran every step of the race with the exception of the aid stations. I walked through each aid station to get some Gatorade and/or water down. I didn't carry any food or water with me. This was probably a mistake, as a couple of gels might have helped, but it is so nice to run unencumbered.
I knew my splits from the last two races and I topped the W's right in between them. I stayed 1-2 minutes ahead of my pace from two years ago and this encouraged me. I knew I had a shot at breaking 2:10. After 35 minutes, Kristi passed me and I let Shari go by as well, as I knew they were probably racing each other. They didn't get too far ahead though, and I'd pass Shari back for good about an hour into the race.
I got to Barr Camp in 1:20 and after downing two cups of liquid, charged down the descent. The first half-mile of descending is rocky and technical and I took it fast, probably too fast, as you'll see. I caught and passed a handful of people, including Kristi. She cheered me on as I went by, but our roles were reversed about a mile later. I had nothing. Well, nothing except a side stitch. I'd eventually get a right calf cramp, too. But energy-wise, I had nothing. I tried to flow and keep my speed up, but it was a struggle the whole way down. The flat sections and the two slight uphills were really tough. I started to imagine how hard the Pikes Peak Marathon would be. It just didn't seem possible to me at that point, despite the fact that I've finished it five times.
The thing that kept me going, though, was that I felt I could still break 2:10. Two years ago my buddy Brian Hunter was chasing me on the descent and that probably motivated me to run faster. So, I could only be two minutes slower this time or I wouldn't make it. I felt like I was five minutes slower, but at each checkpoint, I felt I still had a chance, despite not knowing my downhill splits. I guess I'm just an optimist.
I got passed by one more guy near the bottom of the trail and then we were on the steep, paved descent. This angle of pavement is painful to run but I tried to keep the wheels turning. The finish of this race is a bit of a heartbreaker. You make a 90-degree left turn and have to run up the steepest grade of the entire race. If this grade occurred anywhere else on the course there is no way I would run it, but right at the finish, with everyone lining the course, there is no way you can walk it, though I came awfully close with my pitiful pace.
I finished 35th overall, 30th male, 2nd in my age group with a time of 2:08:27. I crossed the line and almost immediately collapsed. I was past being done. I hobbled over to the shade of a tent and laid down on the ground near George. After a bit I saw Kristi and got up to go congratulate her on a great race. She looked fresh as a daisy, but modestly echoed my thoughts on the near impossibility of doing the Pikes Peak Marathon.
Sheri finished 101st overall, 25th female, and 6th in her age group. She ran 2:32:20 for about a 3-minute improvement over our 2011 race. She had some cramping issues with her calves again. This has been a problem that has plagued her for years. On this course, though, she gets to use her road running speed, as the descent is pretty smooth. She said she passed about twenty people on the descent.
There seems to be one advantage of getting older...I'm moving up in my age-group placing. It might be a small consolation to be older, weaker, and slower, but at least it is something to keep me coming back for more punishment.