Sunday, August 26, 2012

Pikes Peak Marathon 2012

Where to begin?  My trip to Colorado was one hell of a time.  Sunshine, family, friends, outdoors, running, hiking, baseball, red rocks, mountains and a marathon at the end to cap it off.

I flew out of the Akron airport on Saturday and drove to my friend Tasha's place in Westminster, just outside of Denver.  She ran on my team at Clarion and has lived out there for three years now.  My other college running buddy, Adam, from Pittsburgh flew out on Friday and was leaving Tuesday.

The day I got there, we went on the Coors Brewery tour in Golden, CO.  It was cool seeing the world's largest single-site brewery in the world in action!  At the end of the tour, they gave three pretty big samples of their beer on tap from which you could choose from about 8-10 different ones.

Later that day, we went to Boulder for a hike on the Flatiron trail.  It ended up only being a 3 or 4 mile hike, but it was quite a climb to the top of the overlook!  On our way down about a mile from our car, we got off the trail we came on originally.  We were out in the open and dark clouds in the distance soon were overhead.  Rumbling thunder and occasional bolts of lightening in the sky were not a good sign.  We started hiking faster, but within 5 minutes a sprinkle turned into a heavy downpour which turned into quarter-sized hail and strong swirling winds.  At this point, we were in a dead sprint and made it to tree cover.  I was stupid and had worn sandals on this hike, so running across the flooded rocky trail was interesting.  We finally made it back to our car and were all relieved.  Tasha and I both thought a tornado was coming at us and we were both looking for a place to hide or hang on to as we were sprinting.  Adam, on the other hand, thought there was a wildfire haha..

We drove down to Colorado Springs on Sunday and had planned on driving up the Pikes Peak Highway.  However when we got there, we had to turn around since the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb was going on that day.  I later heard that one of the drivers drove off the mountain around a turn and flipped about 12 times!

So instead of going there, we went to the Garden of the Gods and the U.S. Olympic Training Center to look around.  Afterward, we had a late lunch and met up with my friend Sean who is from Austintown and yet another running teammate at Clarion who moved out to Colorado.

On Monday, we drove up to Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, CO and went for a drive around the mountains.  We hadn't planned on going for too long of a drive since we were going to the Rockies' game that night, but ended up driving all the way up to 12,000 feet on Highway 34 with great views overlooking the valley.  We even saw an elk on the side of the road with a bunch of stupid tourists seeing how close they could get to it.

Adam was leaving on Tuesday, so I planned on driving over to Leadville to stay a couple of nights before picking my parents up at Denver Airport on Thursday morning at 7:15.  It was a cool drive through the mountains to get to Leadville.  I bought a couple of nights at the Leadville Hostel.  Since I wasn't sure what kind of place it was going to be, I got a room to myself.  However, it ended up being a great place!  The owners were really nice and the atmosphere was awesome.  The place was filled almost entirely with runners taking part in the Leadville 100 Miler that weekend.  I met a lot of great ultra runners from all over including Arkansas, Canada and Maine.  Some were veterans and others were here for their first hundred.

Living room in the hostel

On Wednesday morning, I woke up around 5 AM to go hike up Mount Elbert, the tallest of the Rockies.  I planned on doing this by myself, but was pleasantly surprised by a guy and two girls in the kitchen.  I said hi and found out they were doing the same as me.  He asked if I wanted to come along with them, so I got my Camelback and we were off!

They're names were Fiona, Silvia and Fergus and were all very friendly.  All of them were from Victoria in British Columbia.  Fiona and Fergus both had Canadian accents, while Silvia had a Swiss accent as she was originally from there.

We made our way to the parking lot just before dawn with a few stars overhead.  At the lot, there was a guy and a girl getting ready for the hike also.  The guy was literally smoking and drinking a beer!  Not to mention he had jeans on for the 10 mile trek.  We ended up seeing both of them still headed up, almost out of water and tired, as we were headed down with about 3 or 4 miles to go. 

The view from the top was beautiful.  Even though the valley was a little hazy from wildfires west of Colorado, you could still see pretty far in the distance.  We took a few pictures and then headed down.  It took us 6 hours to hike the full 10 miles.  No world record by any means, but still a tough hike!  Afterward, we went to a cool and delicious pizza place in Leadville called Mountain High Pies.  We were all starving and each got a full pizza.  The one lady that worked there had purple hair and was really carefree and easy going.

Back at the hostel, more runners started trickling in.  I took a stroll down the main street in Leadville to look at the shops and restaurants.  For being a rundown town with some questionable residents, the downtown was pretty interesting.  I ended up getting a drink at the Silver Dollar Saloon with this girl from Colorado running her first Leadville.

I woke up bright and early the next morning to pick up my parents at the airport.  We drove from there to surprise some friends of ours (Kathy and Gary) who lived close by in Thorton and then on to our cabin in Divide, 40 minutes west of Manitou Springs.

The cabin was a rental by owner.  The owners were missionaries who traveled and played music.  They were currently in China.  Their home was awesome and a lot better than staying in a hotel.  It was a log cabin with three floors, a vaulted ceiling with a huge glass window overlooking Pikes Peak and a hot tub on the deck.  There was plenty of room with the three of us since the place could hold 6 people.

During the time before my race on Sunday, we hiked 3 or 4 miles at Mueller State Park which was very close to our cabin, drove up the Pikes Peak Highway, walked around Garden of the Gods, went horseback riding and looked around Manitou Springs downtown area.

Hiking at Mueller State Park
Having been out there a week before my race definitely helped adjusting to the altitude.  The climb up Elbert and hikes at Mueller and the Flatirons were tough, but my legs felt good and my breathing all-around felt better and easier.

On Friday, I picked up my race bib in Manitou and we listened in on the elite athlete press conference.  There were many great runners there, including people from the Salomon racing team.  Kilian Jornet, a 24 year-old Spaniard, was expected to win the marathon and especially since, as we later found out, Matt Carpenter would not be competing.  Kilian was really friendly and stayed to talk after the press conference.  Following his 3:40 victory at the marathon on Sunday, he actually gave his winner's trophy away to a lady he met from the race!

Kilian and me
 Now for my race report, if you've made it this far....

The race started at 7 AM in downtown Manitou Springs.  It follows Ruxton Ave. up near the Cog Railway and onto the Barr Trail.  The first part of the race is a little intimidating since the incline is steep and comes up on you fast.  It wasn't long before mostly everyone was walking.  I ran whenever I could on the flats, but for the most part it was a steady hike.  The trail wasn't too technical until we got higher up.

For aid, I had my Camelback filled with water, a Nathan handheld water bottle filled with Gatorade, Cliff bars, gel packs and 6 or 7 salt tablets.  I tried to keep ahead of any cramps and took the salt tablets every few miles.  I also refilled my handheld at every aid station along the way.

When we finally got above treeline at the A-frame shelter, I was starting to really notice the altitude and lack of oxygen.  I had to really concentrate on my breathing, taking quick deep breaths.  As I got closer to the top, I started wheezing like I had asthma.  I wasn't sure if I could keep going and thought I might actually pass out.  I was able to somewhat get my breathing under control and made it to the top.  My parents and Kathy and Gary, had driven up the highway together and were just as excited as me to be at the top.  I got a few quick pictures and then started downhill for 13.1 miles.

 The break at the top and the fact that I was going downhill now gaining more and more oxygen with each step was a huge boost of morale.  I love running downhill and was able to dance around the rocks.  I ended up going 35 minutes faster from the Summit to the A-frame than from the A-frame to the Summit.  Things felt great, but I knew I had to keep up with hydration and not get too confident because my legs were taking a beating and one wrong step could mean my day was over.

I passed a lot of people on the way down.  I ran for quite awhile with this lady from Boulder.  Our conversation made the time go by faster and made me forget about my legs getting weaker from the downhill.  She ended up going ahead of me with about 6 miles to go.

As I got within 3 or 4 miles, I caught back up with the lady from Boulder.  This one guy from Texas named Rick, who I had been yo-yo-ing back and forth with, ran past me.  He said, "You're not gonna let a 45 year-old flatlander from Texas beat ya, are you?".  I told him I was from Ohio and he shouldn't have said that :)  I ended up beating him by about a minute.

When we hit the pavement of Ruxton Ave again for the last mile or so, I felt like I was flying after running trails for the past 6 hours.  I was passing people with each step.  When I finally turned the corner to the finish, I saw my Dad sprinting to get a photo.  I finished in 6:25:15!

I had a great time running this marathon.  Even though racing up a mountain shouldn't sound easy, before I actually started this race I didn't think it would be too bad for some reason.  After actually running it and dealing with the altitude, however, I sure have a lot of respect for it!

The only thing I was a little disappointed with about this trip was the fact that Matt Carpenter didn't run the race.  I looked for him at the pre-race meeting and pasta dinner, but he was nowhere to be seen.  After talking to a few people, I found out he wouldn't decide if he was going to run until the morning of the race.  Turns out, only his wife ended up running as he took a break from it this year.

So it was our last day in Colorado and we decided to look around the shops in Manitou Springs.  We got some breakfast at this one restaurant.  Our waitress asked how I did at the race.  She then told us Matt owned a gelato and ice cream shop down the street.  After eating, we walked down there and sure enough Matt was opening up shop for the day!   

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