Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Pike's Peak Marathon...

Race Report from LPTRunner, Mary Gorski...

The Pikes Peak Marathon started in 1956 as a contest between some smokers and non-smokers.

I thought of this little tidbit as I was closing in on 14,000 feet, nearing the summit of Pikes Peak and the turn-around point in the race. “How did those smokers do?” I wondered to myself. “Did they stop for a puff on the top?”

About this time last year my friend Barb Fagan said that she wanted to do the Pikes Peak Marathon. She encouraged several of us to join her. What the heck, I was curious about it so I jumped on the bandwagon. Cathy Diamond, Cobbie Behrend, and Teri Lux did as well. The Li’l Mister came along as our personal support person, constantly shuttling us from point A to point B, even up the mountain – though not in the race. Curious to see what we would feel like in the thin air, we visited the top by car several days before the event.

How did we feel? A bit wobbly. A bit light-headed. But in the midst of any long race I often feel that way. Would this really be different?

Race day arrived and our trusty chauffeur shuttled us to the start. Although I didn’t consider myself overly prepared for the event, I wasn’t too nervous about it until race morning when I began evesdropping on other people’s horror stories of races past.

“I couldn’t feel my hands, it was so cold at the top.”

“I was gasping for air and didn’t think that I would make it.”

“You’d think that going down would be so much better but after a few miles it is agonizing.”

I was getting a bit wigged out until I stopped and thought, “These same people are back to do the race again; it couldn’t have been THAT bad.”

And so off we went to the starting line. “America the Beautiful” was sung in place of the usual national anthem since the poem that led to the song was inspired by the view from Pikes Peak.

Our herd of runners took off through Manitou Springs for some of the easiest running of the day. After about a mile-and-a-half the course connected with the Barr Trail, which has a sign that states that it takes “eight hours to summit at a BRISK pace.”

Gosh darn it, my goal was to try to get up AND down in about that amount of time.

I read Matt Carpenter’s detailed description of the course so I had a very loose idea of what to expect. But no matter how much you read about a place you never really have a sense of it until you experience it in person.

My guess was that I was somewhere in the middle of the racers heading up the mountain. We were tightly packed for much of the ascent, though one could pass other runners without too much problem. But should I?
I was surprised that most of the ascent – at least for mid-packers – is walked. Walking uphill is something that I can do. But should I pass others? Would I exhaust myself too early by walking faster? Watching my pace running was one thing but I had never before worried about going out too fast walking. I agonized about my walking pace until tree line.

And then the thin air dictated everyone’s pace.

Just after nine miles we saw the first runners coming back. Uphill racers always step aside for the downhill runners. The higher I went the more I appreciated the on-coming runners because it meant that I could stop and catch my breath for a moment.

There was an incredible camaraderie in the event. We were all in this craziness together. “Mary, great pace!” “Mary, you are looking good!” “Mary, you are almost to the top!!!”

Our names were printed on our race bibs and everyone acted like we knew each other. Moving as slowly as we were we had plenty of time to take a look at the name and use it.

As you get to the top runners are hit with a double whammy. The air becomes progressively thinner and the trail progressively more challenging. Footing was tough in a few spots, and several portions seemed (to a flatlander like me) precariously easy to fall from. While the views were breathtaking, most of the time I couldn’t look away from the trail to enjoy them. It was simply too disorienting.

But then, FINALLY, the top.

What a sense of euphoria. “I did it, I did it!” I yelled. And then a volunteer reminded me that I only did half of “it.” I still had to get down.

Yeah, yeah, but I got to the top. No more climbing. The euphoria stayed with me as I made my initial descent. The trail was scary in parts but I didn’t much care anymore. I could breathe again. Every step took me closer to an oxygen content that was more to my liking.

Soon, I figured, I’d be able to remember my name without looking at my race bib.

The euphoria remained until about three miles down. Then I looked at my watch. Wow, I felt good but it was taking much longer to cover those miles than I expected.

Compared to the uphill climb it felt like I was flying down but the watch told me otherwise. It wasn’t until the last five to six miles that I really ran steady. Though this came as a surprise as well. From about mile three to five there is a long line of switchbacks. Going up I thought that they would be agonizing to run down atop exhausted legs. Curiously, it wasn’t that bad.

The horse was getting closer to the barn.

With about a mile-and-a-half to go the trail meets the street. It felt odd to be on pavement. But my pace kept increasing the closer I got to the finish. Cheers from spectators buoyed my spirits even more.

“Want an adult beverage to celebrate?” yelled a fellow with a bunch of friends filling small cups.

“What the hell,” I thought. “I’d love an adult beverage!” And so I chugged a cup of beer as I closed in on the finish.

Around the corner, through the chute and I was done. Dave (the Li’l Mister) was there to snap my photo and Barb, who finished about 35 minutes before me, came over as well. Hugs and high-fives.

“We did it!”

Gosh darn it, yes we did. And so did the rest of our group from Milwaukee. One by one we cheered Cathy, Teri and Cobbie as they came across the line.

So as a flatlander, what do I think about a marathon that runs up to the top of a 14,114 foot mountain?

Fantastic. Very exhausting but very do-able. An incredible experience. Wonderful people. And a darn nice finishers’ shirt.

Nice idea Barb!

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