Pikes Peak. What can I say....it was the most humbling and exhilarating experience I have ever had.
I have been training for this race for a year and a half. I was supposed to run the 1996 version, after the first half-year of training when a roll-over accident two weeks before race day put my head and my back on the injured reserve list and put race plans on hold. The last 12 months have been an exercise in proving to myself that I can still be/return to being the runner I want to be.
Prerace preparation was *very* careful. Gallons of water, lots of rest, and a leisurely Friday. I did NOT want a repeat of Mount Evans. Got to Colorado Springs early enough to pick up my packet in town. GREAT shirt. Poked around Manitou Springs, checking out the first 1/2 mile of the course and shops downtown. Husband got a hat with "shadow of a trout" on the front; I got an icey to cool off. Grins all around. Found our way to the spaghetti dinner....paced the aisles flaunting my drs shirt and eventually rendezvoused with Charlie (and spouse), Todd (and daughter...great playmate for my boys) (Todd comes equipped with portable drs sign and signpost...very handy fellow!) and Abby. Between us we had enough nerves for a string orchestra. Let's get this show on the road!
A few little oddities in the hours before the race:
- period starts during the night. Harumph.
- bites of early a.m. bagel hit my stomach like a rock. Stop at three bites....can't worry about it.
- head to the lobby to rendezvous with my training partner for the\ trip to Manitou and the start. See her husband. Training partner was sick all night and won't be running. PJV turns many shades of pale and is totally incredulous. But....can't worry about it.
Manitou Springs and the start:
- wander around looking for mustard colored shirt and blue hat (Nancy) and actually find her! Wish eachother well. What a race she had. CONGRATS! Look unsuccessfully for 52" bodybuilder with long blonde hair. I dont feel like I'll have really had the full Pikes Peak experience without seeing Tam but....can't worry about it. Do see Charlie again....more well wishes....
- See the first wave go off. Excitement builds. Macarena music blares and my hips start swiveling. I AM READY!
- Stand in the middle of the street behind the start banner. And look up. And up. And up. Perfectly framed is Pikes Peak. I stare at it. I say "you're mine". It continues to loom above us all.
- Take it easy take it easy take it easy. I had told myself this a million times and I did it. Hit the first two splits (per Matt Carpenter's web page) right on target so I knew my pacing had gotten off on the right foot...very important in this climb.
- Once we get on the trail, I have many walking breaks because of the crowd....which consisted of many walkers. Running felt *much* more comfortable than walking as I had run all my training climbs. If I were to do this again, I would have to throw in a lot of mountain hikes as part of the training. (Tam's training regimen becomes perfectly clear!)
- I found the trail to be very navigatable....you just couldn't really take your eyes off it much to enjoy the views. And what views there were. WAAAAYYYYYYY out across the plains, and as we moved up, The Peak, mountain lakes, stone arch, remains of old forests....
- Wonderful support along the trail....folks who had hiked up to cheer, aid stations staffed by Arkansas runners, hashers beer stop, water, gatoraid (too scared to drink any as that'd been part of the Mount Evans experience). And GRAPES!!!!! Nectar from the Gods.
- All through the wooded portion of the trail (first 10-ish miles) I stayed on pace, and managed quite a lot of running. Legs felt good...still happy to be running hills (well, A BIG Hill) and breathing was well within the conversational range.
- Then.... right around the 3-miles to go point my body informed me that water is just not enough to get a human up a great big king of a mountain and feel real good about it. The last 3 miles were a struggle. A really big struggle. How big a struggle? At one point, I heard a woman behind me say that this still was not as hard as child birth....and I still don't know if I agree with her (as a point of reference - I was in labor for 50 hours with my first son...it ended in a c-section).
Memories of the last 3 miles
- Looking up at three miles to go. Oh lordy the top of this mountain is a far FAR ways away - and it's all rocks between here and there. (And it really is a far ways away - about 2,600 feet in elevation)
- Thinking about the ice cold, sugar filled Vernors GingerAle my family has waiting for me at the top. I want it so bad.
- My back is hurting. A lot. Leaning back against a really big rock feels mighty fine in the right circumstances.
- The shirt is *incredible*. I've got to earn the right to wear the shirt.
- Trying to decide whether it is safe to pass a person by looking at how far they are leaning when they sway back and forth as they try to put one foot in front of another. Made me feel like maybe I wasn't in quite so bad shape afterall.
- Dizzy. Depleted. Deadass tired. I will NEVER do this again.
- Hearing the search & rescue folks tell someone that he has to go back, *down* hill....no matter how bad I felt, I would NOT consider that option. Gotta get the Vernors. Gotta wear the shirt.
- Going past some hikers, the person in front of me asks what time it is. When I go past, I ask what day it is...
- Two miles to go...the trail actually levels a bit. Tried to pick up the pace (sort of kind of). Who dangled these limp spaghetti noodles from my shoulders?
- Person behind me says "I've never seen such a bunch of sorry draggin' butts in my life". Perked those sorry draggin' butts right up!
- More big rocks for my back. More visions of Vernors and steps for the shirt.
- One mile to go. (They actually have those signs...3 to go, 2 to go... almost got encouraging by 1-to-go!) The 16 golden stairs start...kind of a combination of switchbacks and really big rocks you have to get over. I actually welcomed the rocks as they added variety to the shuffle. (Earlier in the run someone had complemented me on my "chugging" on by...where did that little engine that could go???)
- Look up again...not so far away...look at all those other people making their way to the top...a steady stream of sorry butts who have conquered the exercise of putting one foot in front of the other, up and up and up. I CAN DO THIS.
- A herd of Arkansas razorbacks moves up behind me. Lots of SOOOIES! to push me on up the mountain.
- 1/2 mile to go. The medical crew there says, very authoritatively, only 15 minutes to the summit if you keep moving. With that, and the switchback, I turned the corner. I AM going to finish. I AM going to wear the shirt. I AM going to get my vernors. And I AM going to do it in style. The pace picks up. I hear my family and I RUN across the finish on the summit of a most magnificent, most humbling mountain.
No, I was not thrilled with my performance over the last three miles. ...not initially...not for the first few minutes. Then it sank in. One year later and I am running again. I am so much running again that I ran 13.4 miles with a 7,830 foot climb to the top of a 14,110 foot mountain. And to top it off, even my husband, who lets me run all I want but doesnt go particularly gaga over it, was impressed....saying things like, you just ran over a mile in elevation gain...theres no other 14-er in Colorado where you climb that much...it took us almost an hour to DRIVE **DOWN** this mountain. And now? Now...I don't care how long it took me to get to the top. I MADE IT! And I'm proud. That others can do it quickly or run the round trip is absolutely mindbogglingly phenomenal! And, I will never again be so cocky as to stand at the start and stare at the mountain and tell it "It's mine". Pikes rules....but it shares its strength with those who journey to its summit. ...and I am blessed to have made this journey....
...and I got the Vernors and I'm wearing the shirt:-)