When Zebulon Pike tried to ascend the mountain that would later be named after him he was turned back by the harsh weather. Many claim he said that no one would ever reach its summit. However, it is generally accepted that he meant on that day, under those conditions. The snow was waist deep and his men were not dressed for it and were out of food.
If you are fortunate enough to be able to train on Pikes Peak please do not park in COG Railway spots! They need the space for those riding the train and we don’t want to blow our relationship with them. The COG provides race support by transporting food, other race supplies and aid station workers for Barr Camp as well as emergency transport for injured runners.
If you often drive to the summit (or Elk Park) for training you can save a lot of money by purchasing an annual pass. For more information call the Pikes Peak Highway at 719-684-9383.
If you read the course description, it should be obvious that the course is not uniform in grade. And, even in some of the sections described, the grade will vary markedly. But putting aside the exceptions, overall the ascent portion of the race is a relentless uphill grind! Combine that with the continued drop in oxygen as the elevation increases and the physiological demands placed on every runner are exceptional.
So what does one do to train for course that begins at 6,295 feet above sea level and gains one and half miles vertically (and then loses that in the Marathon)? What it all comes down to is this: If you are planning on running the Ascent only, treat it like you would a tough “flatland” marathon. Run trails—preferably trails with grade. If you don’t happen to have a mountain nearby that comes close to Pikes Peak in elevation gain then include in your training schedule a treadmill routine with the treadmill set at around 12-15%. To help prepare for the 16 Golden Stairs roughly 1/3 mile from the summit, do step-ups on benches or vehicle bumpers at the end of some of your longer training runs.
As for the descent portion of the Marathon—don’t overstride! The mechanical stresses applied to the lower joints and muscles when overstriding are considerable. Train on some rather steep downhills and force yourself to stay smooth. In the long run it will be to your advantage as you will not fry your quads. That, in turn, will prevent muscle fatigue and will help prevent falls and tripping.
How can someone who lives at a lower elevation prepare for the reduced level of oxygen? The effect of altitude that accompanies these races will affect each person differently. However, there is no denying that those who live and train at higher elevations will have, in most cases, an advantage. Exercise physiologists have determined that, for the general population, it takes 10 - 14 days for the body to begin adapting to lower levels of oxygen in the air. However, don’t let that deter you from participating in these races. Every year more than half of the race participants reside outside the Mountain States region and will arrive only a day or two prior to the race and do well. This even includes some top finishers. Conversely, participants who live in the Pikes Peak region and train on Barr Trail sometimes are unable to complete the race. Bottom line, if you train rigorously, are well hydrated prior to the start, take in fluids during the race, and do not over-extend early in the race there is no reason that you should not do well in these races!
In conclusion... do NOT underestimate the overall physical (and physiological) demands imposed by either the Ascent or the Marathon!!! If you think you can take on Pikes Peak without extensive training you will be rudely awakened. For a more information on training for the Ascent and Marathon head to skyrunner.com.
Accept the challenge, train hard and then take on Pikes Peak!!