Spencer is a 2021 Pikes Peak Ascent finisher (3:21:39) and writes for OutThere Colorado
From Pikes Peak Marathon, Inc. - New for 2022 are the gear requirements for the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon, one of which requires runners to carry a refillable water container. While many runners may have their hydration dialed in, there are many that may still have questions on what gear is best to carry. In this post, by Spencer McKee, you'll find tips for fuel and hydration along with ideas for the different types of gear . Don't forget to watch the video at the end from our partners at HydraPak!
8 Tips for Staying Fueled During the Pikes Peak Ascent or Marathon
The Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon races are fast approaching, sure to bring some of the best athletes from around Colorado and beyond to the Colorado Springs region.
When it comes to properly fueling and hydrating on race day, here are a few things to remember:
Note from the author: I'm not a nutritionist, I'm just a runner writing from my own limited experience on the trail. None of this advice is coming from a medical expert and consulting a medical expert is always recommended prior to taking any new supplement or vitamin.
1. Space is limited, pack accordingly.
In a mountain race scenario, limiting weight and ensuring the proper pack balance can be crucial for an efficient and comfortable run. Bring too much in the pack and excess weight might feel like it's holding you back. Have awkward items in your pack and it can throw off your natural stride.
Pack your race kit as you plan to do so on race day and take it on a few practice runs in weeks leading up to the big day. This way, you'll know how it feels prior to stepping foot on Barr Trail and can make adjustments if needed, including switching up your approach to fuel and fluids.
2. Pick the right pack for you.
As with any type of outdoor recreation gear, there are countless options and everyone will have their own opinion in regard to what the right call is. The most important part of selecting a pack is that you're picking one that fits your specific needs.
When it comes to the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon, many people tend to go with a backpack-style pack that will have easy-to-access hydration. Two companies I love for this type of pack are USWE (known for packs that reduce a lot of the annoying bounce) and Salomon (known for their cinching system on running packs that allows for the perfect fit).
Looking to cut weight and go with something smaller?
Something like the Nathan Marathon Pak won't hold hydration, but it will hold some fuel comfortably around your waist. Couple this with a handheld hydration option (like those from HydraPak), and make sure to refill at hydration stations along the way.
3. Don't skip the electrolytes.
Did you know that hydrating with only water can result in something called hyponatremia? In other words, low blood sodium that can mimic some symptoms of altitude sickness.
As you're sweating a lot, your body is losing a lot more than just water. Adding an electrolyte drink into the mix will help keep your body balanced.
At the same time, only consuming electrolyte drinks can leave the body feeling funky. Many runners prefer to mix it up and drink both water and a special drink mixture throughout the race.
A few great brands to turn to when it comes to finding an electrolyte drink option include Tailwind Nutrition (made in Durango), Liquid I.V., and nuun nutrition. Each of these companies offer a range of products. Pick what seems to work best for you.
4. Don't forget to consume some calories.
Whether you're running the Pikes Peak Ascent or the Marathon, you'll be burning a ton of calories that you'll need to replenish some of those calories to prevent 'bonking' or hitting a wall in terms of exertion. Caloric drinks can help, but that's probably not enough. Most runners turn to gels, gummies, and other sources of nutrition that are packed with carbohydrates (and a bunch of other great stuff, like sodium) to keep their energy levels high.
A few options I've used successfully in the past include CLIF BLOKS Energy Chews, GU Energy Gels, Science in Sport Energy Gels, and Honey Stinger Waffles.
When it comes to eating during a race, there always seems to be a chance it will throw your digestive system out of whack mid-run. To prevent this, test your fuel on another long run before race day to see what best fits your own stomach. Some people prefer something that's chewy, others prefer a paste, while others like something that's more fluid. A lot of it comes down to the individual runner.
In general, I prefer to simply have some sort of supplement I can actually look forward to eating, especially when facing off with a higher elevation that can seem to limit appetite. It's also got to be something that's easy to consume while moving. Try a few options and find the best fit for you.
5. Caffeine can be your best friend or worst enemy
Many athletes rely on caffeine on race day for a quick and effective energy boost, but too much caffeine can result in nausea and dehydration.
It can be tempting to keep putting more caffeine into the body to get more energy, but that's a fuse that burns quickly.
As with any type of nutrition or gear, it's important to test a variety of techniques and methods to determine what's best for you. I try to make sure I never exceed 300 milligrams of caffeine during race day by switching between some supplements that have caffeine and others that don't.
6. Don't skip the aid stations
During race day excitement, it can be easy to blow by aid stations found along a course. Obviously, there's no need to stop at every single aid station if you don't need to, but it's also important not to skip aid stations when you need them, thinking it will help your finish line time. Take breaks for fuel and hydration along the way when you need them and you'll end up feeling better and performing better overall despite falling a few seconds back here or there.
7. A salt pill might prove helpful, too.
A number of companies sell salt pills branded toward runners to help prevent the negative side effects of low sodium levels. It might not be a bad idea to toss one or two in your pack. However, when it comes to sodium, make sure you don't overdo it. Stick to recommendations on the package.
8. Consult a nutritionist
I'm no nutritionist, I'm just a runner that's tried a variety of options throughout my own personal running experience. If you want expert advice that will deliver the best results for your own body, consult a nutritionist. It's also important to consult a doctor prior to trying new supplements and vitamins.
HydraPak Hydration Video
Introduction by PPM Staff, Training Tips by Brandon Stapanowich
In July 2021, we posted "Training Tips by Brandon Stapanowich," a blog post focused on tips for physical and mental preparedness for the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon. If you read that post, you may recall that Brandon Stapanowich has quite the mountain trail running resume. In fact, here are the Stap Stats we posted last year:
4:36 Pikes Peak Marathoner
Competed in the Barkley Marathons
Completed Nolan's 14 in under 60 hours
Fastest self-supported time on Colorado Trail westbound
3rd place at Hurt 100
3rd place at Whistler Alpine Meadows 100
5th place at Run Rabbit Run 100
6th place at Hard Rock 100
12th place at Western States
Invented 24 hours of the Incline: 22 ascents and descents for 44,000 feet gain/loss
If that isn't enough, Brandon has been at it again, building his resume and creating more impressive stats. On June 7, 2022, Brandon set out to run the 1,175-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail in North Carolina, which meanders across the entire state. Not only did Brandon take on this huge challenge, he set a goal of completing it in the fastest known time (FKT). And 23 days, 13 hours, and 28 minutes after he began this adventure, Brandon set the official FKT of the Mountains- to-Sea Trail. This epic journey was supported by his wife, Melissa, one year old son, Felix, and his family and friends. You can read more about the MST and Brandon's background in his blog post. You can also hear more about Brandon's journey on August 25 at The Colorado Running Company.
Here in Colorado, Brandon is quite a local legend. With the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon getting closer by the day, we'd like to revisit Brandon's evergreen training tips - we're sure you can find something here to help you prep for the Peak!
Training Tips from Brandon -
With the passing of the longest day of the year, we are now officially in the summer season. This means that the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon are now less than 2 months away! I’m betting many of you are ramping up for the burliest parts of your training and, while I hold no running coach certifications, living and adventuring around Manitou Springs has taught me a thing or two about how to have a fulfilling experience on America’s Mountain. Below are some tips that come to mind:
What’s in your legs:
-In training, you want to simulate race conditions as closely as you can, particularly as you get closer to the event. Ideally you’ll be able to incorporate uphill running on your long runs, but don’t forget about shorter hill repeats (3-5 minutes).
-If you don’t have hills nearby, you may consider trying to find stadium stairs or a treadmill. If none of those are an option, get creative by including speed work which will help you recruit additional muscle fibers, an outcome that is similar to that produced by uphill running. Doing a higher intensity workout for say 5 repetitions of 3-5 minutes will make that grind up the W’s a little less tiresome.
-Don’t underestimate the power of a power hike. The vast majority of runners will be hiking at some point in the race, most likely above treeline. If you’ve practiced “walking with a purpose” in training, you’ll feel confident with doing it on race day. You can structure your power hike intervals just like running intervals and experiment with arm swing or placing your hands on your thighs to find a technique that suits you best.
What’s in your pack:
-Aid stations will have fluids and calories available, but if you’re interested in shaving some minutes off your time, use aid station resources as a supplement to what you can carry.
-I typically aim for consuming 200 calories and 20 ounces of fluid an hour. Gels and chews can be easily consumed on the go, but for some, real food like bits of a granola bar work better. Either way, you want to be periodically sipping and snacking throughout the race rather than guzzling and gorging.
-Running packs, handheld bottles, and waist packs come in a number of different varieties, each with their own pros and cons. Try different systems to see what works best for you, but whatever you choose, be sure it practice with it in training. That way, when you reach in that front left pocket, you’ll know with 100% certainty that you’ll be pulling out a gel and won’t spend any extra mental resources thinking about where it is.
What’s in your head:
-Limit the impact of the unknowns by studying the available information regarding the course, aid stations, and weather forecast.
-Rehearse in your head how you’ll respond when things are going as planned or even better than planned. Then rehearse how you’ll respond when things don’t go as planned and how you’ll recover.
-On race day, don’t over-think. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, but if you stay present and aware of your surroundings, and how you’re feeling, you’ll be more likely to make productive decisions when needed.
One training workout will neither “make” or “break” the race. So as you continue to prepare, focus most on building consistent running throughout the weeks and months leading up to the race. In my eyes, the ultimate goal of racing is to have the most fun. Sometimes that means achieving a specific time or place goal, and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s up to you to define!
Spencer is a 2021 Pikes Peak Ascent finisher (3:21:39) and writes for OutThere Colorado
Pictured at Right - Richard Denny West, 58, from Oklahoma, pushes up near the finish during the Pikes Peak Ascent on Saturday, August 21, 2021.
If you're lining up to run the Pikes Peak Ascent half marathon for the first time this year or have ran it before, but are still looking to feel more comfortable on uphill mountain trails, here are a few basic training tips to help you excel under some of the circumstances that make the Pikes Peak Ascent so unique.
1. Don't skip the hills
Finishing the Ascent means 7,800 feet of climbing up the Barr Trail to the Pikes Peak summit – 7,800 feet! Short of running similar mountain trails, it can be difficult to simulate this sort of race scenario in training.
If don't have access to mountain trails or are still working your way up to being able to tackle that type of terrain, hit whatever graded trails you can find, aiming to train for both the steeper sections of Barr Trail and a prolonged uphill grind. While trail training is probably the best way to really build up the foot and leg muscles needed to complete the route, an inclined treadmill could also be useful when trails aren't accessible – especially when training for the lengthy nature of the Ascent run.
While a vertical gain of 7,800 feet during any run is intimidating, it's even worse when that gain comes with very few significant relief points. Don't expect much of a break throughout the entire race, which makes managing speed and effort so that energy lasts a crucial skill to hone.
2. Don't skip the nutrition
A run that's as strenuous as the Ascent requires quite a bit of muscle, which will take time and patience to grow. One way of maximizing every training session is to make sure you're getting proper nutrition around that session to help expedite muscle development and recovery.
I'm no nutritionist, but I can tell you about two simple things that seem to work for me – protein and calories. If I'm looking to get faster and stronger on the trail, I'm making sure I get some sort of protein supplement after each run and that I'm also eating plenty of calories via larger meals in between training days. I prefer a plant-based protein post-run, as this seems to be easier on my stomach, but again, that's just what works for me.
If finding the best advice about nutrition as it relates to running is important to you, it's recommended that you work with a personal nutritionist who can optimize a plan that fits your specific needs.
3. Anticipate loose rocks, roots, and other hazards
Most mountain trails in Colorado mean uneven, rocky terrain and the Barr Trail is no exception. Loose rocks will be present, along with other trail hazards, making it important that you're comfortable adapting to less-than-great footing at a moment's notice.
I've found that the best way to prepare for running on loose terrain is to simply seek out trails of that nature in training – practice makes perfect, right?
Once I've found these trails, I've found that it's important to limit my speed and focus on footwork, instead. As my footwork has gotten better, my speed has naturally increased over time, but not before additional muscle had time to build in my knees and ankles, as well.
It's hard to prepare for stepping on a rock that starts rolling while mid-stride, but the more familiar you are with that feeling, the more likely it is that your reflexes will kick in to help you safely keep your balance.
4. Beware the elevation
One unique aspect of the Pikes Peak Ascent is that the air gets thinner as the race progresses. As the terrain gets steeper and as runners stack up more milage, they're also likely to find that they're lacking in oxygen, as well.
It's hard to train for the increase in elevation in a place where high elevation trails don't exist. Because of this, some out-of-state runners will opt to come to Colorado several days early to help start the acclimatization process, while locals may focus their training on higher mountain trails.
The body's reaction to elevation is another trait that tends to vary greatly by person.
The general advice for the Pikes Peak Ascent would be to make sure you know how your body reacts to such a great elevation gain prior to race day, knowing that the strenuous nature of the run could trigger or amplify negative effects. Medical staff is on-site, but altitude sickness is dangerous and it's definitely not very fun. It's on you to know your own body and its limits.
Personally, I've also found that overdoing it on caffeine coupled with not getting enough water or rest tends to be what exacerbates issues with elevation for me.
A lot of people will report that elevation gain can cause loss of thirst and appetite, despite the body still needing more sustenance. On race day, it's important to have a plan in place that will keep you fueled and hydrated and to actually stick to that plan despite the urge to push through pain and ignore water stations.
5. Work on your mental toughness
The Pikes Peak Ascent is one of the most strenuous and difficult running races in the country, if not the world. Not only does it take physical toughness to complete, but mental toughness, too.
Don't skip the cold days when it comes to training, bundle up instead. Don't skip out on the hills during a healthy run, the mountain won't be backing down on race day.
The Pikes Peak Ascent is a half marathon... up a mountain... on rugged trail... in one of the highest elevation parts of the country. It's tough and you'll need to be tough, too, if you want to cross the finish line.
Colorado Institute of Massage Therapy
Pikes Peak Marathon & Ascent partner, CIMT, provides runner massages at the Garden 10 Mile and PPMA Races
This is your journey!
Run, Renew, Race, Renew.
Did you know that massage therapy can help you breathe better?
There are numerous muscles involved in respiration and when these muscles are
in disfunction they can affect our athletic performance. Muscles such as the
Diaphragm, Intercostals (muscles between the ribs) and Abdominals are only a
few of the muscles that assist in our breathing. Just like the Quads and
Hamstrings in our legs, our muscles of respiration also need attention!
Did you know that the Colorado Institute of Massage Therapy has been serving
Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak Region since 1985?
Not only are we a massage school but we are also dedicated to helping keep you
moving! The Clinic at CIMT hosts Professional Therapists, Intern Therapists and
Student Massage Therapists.
Every other Monday night our Student Sports Clinic is available for those needing a quick 30-minute tune-up. This clinic is designed specifically for those who are lifelong athletes or training for an event.
Did you know that massage therapy can help renew your muscles?
When massage therapy is administered to skeletal muscle that has been acutely damaged through exercise, massage therapy appears to be clinically beneficial by
reducing inflammation and promoting mitochondrial biogenesis. * Massagetherapy attenuates inflammatory signaling after exercise-induced muscle damage
- PubMed (nih.gov)
Did you know that a sports massage is different than a deep tissue massage?
Sports massage is designed to be tailored to your choice of sport with techniques used specifically for that activity. Deep tissue is more general for pain relief in
your everyday life. Some of the techniques may seem similar but overall sports massage will typically be less painful than a deep tissue. Sports massage is meant
to help prevent injuries and help give your muscles the ability to properly repair themselves before your next event or training. Sports massage is also more often
performed just wearing athletic attire while a deep tissue massage is in a normal massage setting where you will undress and be draped with sheets etc.
Did you know that the Colorado Institute of Massage Therapy has sports massages available at many major races in the Pikes Peak Region?
Come find us at the Garden of the Gods 10M/10K and the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon expo and races!
For Pikes Peak Marathon & Ascent runners who are fortunate enough to train on Barr Trail, Barr Camp is a common stop on a long run training day. Perhaps as a quick stop to hydrate and refuel, a rest stop after descending the grueling rocky trail below A-Frame, or for a much needed bathroom break, runners find Barr Camp to be a welcome sight on a long day of training for Pikes Peak. Now with the newest resident caretakers, take a few minutes to enjoy a little conversation!
Seth Boster - [email protected]
May 5, 2022 - Originally posted in OutThere Colorado
Pikes Peak has some new residents.
Karla Lowery and Robert Tegtman are Barr Camp's latest caretakers, having moved to the mountain's historic waystation more than a month ago. They are the third young couple in two years to make home in the cabin above 10,000 feet, filling a fulltime position that had been vacant for much of this past winter.
Volunteers tag-teamed to tend to the remote camp while overnight reservations were put on hold — said to be a first for staffing reasons in the life of the camp's managing nonprofit. Reservations are being booked again now with Lowery and Tegtman on hand.
Teresa Taylor, one of those volunteers who lived on the mountain from 2005 to 2013 and has since acted as liaison between caretakers and the nonprofit board, called the new hires "a relief." She hoped they would lend stability that has eluded the camp since 2020.
The pandemic marked the start of unprecedented financial woes for Barr Camp; reservations were put on hold, cutting off revenue the nonprofit depends on to pay caretakers and maintain infrastructure. The pandemic also marked the start of turnover, one caretaking couple in their 20s gone after another in the span of months.
Lowery and Tegtman have stood out for "their maturity level and their ability to think through constructive criticism and respond in a really positive way," Taylor said. "We've had two sets of caretakers where that wasn't always the deal."
Lowery and Tegtman, high school sweethearts from Ohio, had been living in Colorado Springs prior to moving up the
mountain. In emailed responses to questions sent to their post, they said the Barr Camp job was one they "pursued pretty
Tegtman called it a "dream job." He'd been working in a mortgage office after a lifetime of hiking around Colorado and
beyond. "Always wanted to work in a remote wilderness setting," he wrote. "Spent a lot of time staring longingly at Pikes Peak through
my window at work." Tegtman's wife, meanwhile, was walking dogs for a living. Barr Camp was "a very unique opportunity," Lowery wrote, "and
we were eager to connect with people after a few years of COVID."
Connecting with people is indeed part of the job at Barr Camp — greeting and tending to the hiking and camping masses of
The time-honored tasks are many, far more than just managing reservations and inventory: prepping spaghetti dinners and
pancake breakfasts; chopping wood for the burner; breaking ice for water; scooping the compost toilet; serving as a critical
line of communication with search and rescue. Depending on the elements, the solar panel and sewer lines pose other
"It's really hard to explain the job to people, everything it entails," Taylor said. "And it's really easy to romanticize."
The hope is for caretakers to stay at least a year, she said.
As for Tegtman and Lowery, "no timeline," they wrote in an email. "Living in the moment and loving it, cheesy as it sounds."
The Pikes Peak Region is loaded with miles of mountain trail running opportunities. Not only is there the 13 miles of Barr Trail, Pikes Peak's beautiful, winding, technical and oftentimes grueling course of the Pikes Peak Marathon & Ascent, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of miles of amazing trails in the surrounding area. Locals and visitors alike hike, run, and bike these trails year round. With the support of local non-profits and volunteers, trails are built, maintained and preserved for the thousands of people who enjoy them each day. Along with these trail organizations, there are also the folks that are dedicated to the search and rescue efforts when things don't go as planned for trail users. Pikes Peak Marathon is honored to spotlight our non-profit partners that support the many trail systems and the people who use them. We are also proud to give back to these organizations. Between runner donations and organization profits, Pikes Peak Marathon can give back thousands of dollars each year to support these great organizations. To learn more about these non-profits and how you can donate, we've provided summaries and links for each of our partners below:
El Paso County Search and Rescue - A mountain search and rescue unit dedicated to saving lives through search, rescue, and mountain safety education.
We are non-paid professionals. There is never a charge for us to find or rescue people in need.
The team is composed entirely of volunteers and is available upon request to help mountain search and rescue problems anywhere in Colorado under the authority of the local county sheriff or in other states and countries under local authority.
The team is also available to provide information and lectures on mountain safety to interested individuals and groups. Our team prides itself on its many years of humanitarian service and reputation for capability and safety.
In addition to training extensively in mountaineering skills and search and rescue techniques, members work diligently to improve their emergency medical capability. Most members are certified as Emergency Medical Responders, many are Emergency Medical Technicians, and a few are working paramedics or physicians.
Rocky Mountain Field Institute - An organization of stewards and guardians, passionate about caring for the public land we all love and engaging our community to protect it.
The Rocky Mountain Field Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit environmental organization based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, dedicated to the conservation and stewardship of public lands in Southern Colorado. RMFI is committed to protecting and enhancing the ecological health of our land and water resources by completing projects focused on watershed restoration, forest health, and creating sustainable outdoor recreation opportunities. By prioritizing the involvement of community volunteers and youth, RMFI envisions a world where our work fosters vibrant and healthy natural systems that are respected and cared for by the public.
Trails and Open Space Coalition - Committed to preserving open spaces and parks, as well as creating a network of trails, bikeways, and greenways for the Pikes Peak Region. We have a small staff and are governed by a board of directors. As a 501c3 nonprofit organization, the Trails and Open Space Coalition (TOSC) receives NO government funds of any kind. Most of our support comes from individual contributions and people who care about our parks and trails. A smaller part of our revenue comes from grants and fundraising events.
We work cooperatively with local and regional governments, community organizations, businesses, families and individuals who share the vision of an interconnected network of trails, greenways and open space. We advocate, educate, build connections with other groups, fund projects, and create and support volunteer projects.
Barr Camp - The highest hiking cabin in the United States at 10,200 feet.
Barr Camp hosts day-hikers year round. Overnight guests still stay in cabins, shelters and tents, with the summer months busy with visitors from all around the world. An average of 18,000 trail users visit the camp annually and each year about 2,400 guests spend the night.
Palmer Land Conservancy - Protecting where we live and play.
We believe southern Colorado's lands are essential to our identity, economy and quality of life. Since 1977, Palmer Land Conservancy has worked with individuals, private and public partners, and various communities to protect land forever including 20 of your favorite public parks and open spaces, important working farms and ranches, and iconic scenic views. We passionately promote the conservation and enjoyment of our region’s most important natural assets that define why we love Colorado: its natural beauty, locally grown food, and outdoor recreation.
Tayte Pollman, American Trail Running Association
Tayte is a 2x Pikes Peak Marathon runner, placing 4th OA in 2020. He had an impressive overall time of 3:52 with a 2:22:55 ascent and 1:29:05 descent!
This is an excerpt from the "Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon Training Guide" written by Tayte Pollmann for the American Trail Running Association and is reprinted here with permission. To read the entire article visit: https://trailrunner.com/trail-news/pikes-peak-ascent-and-marathon-training-guide/
The Pikes Peak Training Guide
The Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon is one of the most unique trail running events to prepare for. In the training guide below, I outline some of the main challenges to train and prepare for in this race, weather considerations, essential gear and tips for spectators.
Altitude: Few trail races reach an altitude of above 14,000 feet (or 4,000 meters), making altitude training one of the most important aspects of this race. Endurance running performance is negatively impacted by high altitudes. In high altitude environments, there is less oxygen in the air and the body is not able to provide the same quantity of oxygen-rich blood to fuel muscles. At the summit of Pikes Peak, there is approximately 43% less oxygen in the air than at sea level, and running at such an extreme elevation will significantly slow your pace. You may find yourself with dizziness, brain-fog, decreased motor skills and shortness of breath.
Although running at 14,000 feet will never be easy, there are ways to prepare yourself for the altitude. Spending time sleeping or training consistently at high altitude allows your body to adapt to the lack of oxygen in the air. In response to living and training at high altitude, your body will increase red blood cell and hemoglobin production to more efficiently deliver oxygen to your muscles. Such adaptations typically take at least three to four weeks of living at this higher altitude to have full effect, though some athletes will claim to notice adaptations in shorter one to two week altitude training camps.
If you don’t live at altitude or aren’t able to partake in an altitude training camp, many sports scientists suggest that the closest training technique to mimic altitude training is heat training. The added difficulty of running in extreme heat will help prepare you for altitude running and will give you a better idea of what pace you can expect to run on Pikes Peak. Lastly, if you have never been at 14,000 feet, I highly suggest experiencing it at least once before the race. The Pikes Peak Highway and Cog Railway offer visitors of the mountain a quick and easy way to reach the summit by car or train (the Cog Railway requires a reservation). I’d highly recommend showing up to the race a few days early to spend time noticing how your body feels at 14,000 feet. Even just standing or walking around at this altitude may affect your body in interesting ways and it’s good to know these effects before race day.
Vertical Gain: There are few races where the course gains as much elevation in a single push with relatively few downhills. In spite of a few minor dips, the course steadily climbs over 7,800 feet in 13.1 miles from downtown Manitou Springs to the summit of Pikes Peak. Even in Colorado where there are fifty eight peaks over 14,000 feet, there are few trails as long or that climb nearly as much as Barr Trail on Pikes Peak.
For that reason, there is no better way to prepare yourself for the elevation gain of Pikes Peak than by running up it. If you live in the Pikes Peak region, I’d highly recommend running the entire route from bottom to top at least once in your pre-race preparations. Run lower sections of Barr Trail as soon as the snow melts. For the majority of runners in the race without easy access to Pikes Peak, you should prioritize a combination of long, steady paced runs and elevation gain. Treadmills are a great tool for this. For example, plan a two hour treadmill run set to an incline of 5% to 10% grade to give you a good sense for the kind of monotonous uphill grind you will experience on Pikes Peak. For marathon racers in particular, there is also the consideration of training your legs for the downhill. After having completed the marathon course in 2020, I can attest that the most difficult part of the race for me was the later sections of downhill when I felt as if my legs had been beaten to JELL-O by the repetitive downhill pounding. Marathoners should make sure to accumulate plenty of race-paced efforts (not just easy running!) on downhills and/or supplement with gym work that targets quadricep strength and balance. Overall, you should be prepared to run what is likely to be the longest continuous downhill and/or uphill of your life.
Pacing: This is one of the easiest races to have a “blow up” or complete energy bonk, typically due to pacing mistakes. In a typical race, you might push too quickly at the beginning of a race but there are often points in the course on downhills or flater sections where you can recover and settle into your pace. Make sure you concentrate on your pace and don’t get caught up in trying to keep up with another runner and don’t expend energy trying to pass the person in front of you only to slow down once you have overtaken the person. The altitude and relentless nature of the uphill in the Pikes Peak Marathon make it difficult to get out of an energy deficit once you’re in it. For this reason, it’s essential that you begin the race at an easy pace and don’t find yourself struggling too much on the climb to Barr Camp aid station.
Remember that as the altitude increases, so too will the demands on your body. You should attempt to arrive as fresh as possible to the final three miles below the summit. For those who have run a road marathon (26.2 miles), one helpful pacing tip is that you can expect to reach the summit (mile 13.1) in about your expected road marathon finish time. For example, if you run a 3 hour and 30 minute road marathon, you can expect to reach the summit of Pikes Peak in a similar time. If you are an experienced trail runner who excels at high altitude running, you may reach the summit slightly faster than your marathon time. In contrast, if you are newer to trail running it may take slightly longer than your marathon time to reach the summit. In general, don’t let yourself get in a “hole” early on and expect to run slow or hike!
A-Frame: At approximately three miles to the summit, runners reach treeline (11,950 feet) at a section of the course known as “A-Frame.” This section is named after an A-frame shelter located near the course at this point. From A-Frame to the summit is described by many racers as the most challenging part of the entire race. In this section, runners face over 2,000 feet of elevation gain and average grade of 12.4%, all at the highest altitudes of the race. Race leaders have lost their leads in this section or transitioned from smooth running to dizzy hiking in a matter of minutes.
In order to prepare for this section, I suggest two things: save your energy and fuel frequently. Firstly, take your time on your way up to Barr Camp aid station (mile 7.6) and consider taking a short break at Barr Camp to let your heart rate drop before making the climb up to A-Frame. This can help you avoid crashing at A-Frame and give you the extra boost you need for the higher altitudes to come. Secondly, proper fueling is essential above A-Frame. Higher altitudes require your body to burn higher amounts of carbohydrates for fuel and it’s also easier to become dehydrated without feeling thirsty. Both a lack of carbs and fluids can be detrimental to race performance and lead to fatigue. In order to properly fuel at altitude, make sure to take frequent sips (not huge gulps) of water/electrolyte mix and small bites of carbohydrate rich foods at least every 15 minutes.
16 Golden Stairs: The final challenge below the summit is known as the “16 Golden Stairs.” A stair refers to a set of switchbacks in the trail. This section refers to the final 32 switchbacks below the summit of Pikes Peak (you will see a sign “16 Golden Stairs” on the trail, though I’d advise not trying to count all of the switchbacks!). In contrast to the dirt and loose gravel encountered on the majority of the course, the 16 Golden Stairs is largely rocky terrain with frequent rock step-ups of 10 to 15 inches. By this point in the race, your legs are likely to be tired and it can be difficult to manage the more technical terrain. 1995 Pikes Peak Ascent Runner-Up, Dan Vega, gives his advice on managing the Golden Stairs, “All the pain goes away once you cross the finish line, so hold nothing back!”.
In order to prepare for this challenge, I would practice spending time on technical terrain and performing stair climber or “box step up” workouts. Firstly, spending time on technical terrain will help prepare your mind to pick the right lines to take on the trail. Instinctively learning when to step on or around a rock can add up to large energy savings throughout the race. It will also help your muscles become accustomed to the additional balance challenges associated with rocky terrain. Secondly, gym workouts involving stair climbing or box jumping can help you become more efficient at climbing over technical terrain. These workouts aid in recruiting leg muscles needed to manage difficult terrain and will increase your overall leg strength, leading to less fatigue and more graceful running/hiking over rocks.
Weather Considerations: High alpine environments are known for unpredictable and volatile weather conditions. In previous editions of the race, runners have been turned around due to severe lightning storms and the 2018 Pikes Peak Ascent was shortened to a race to Barr Camp (see below) because of potential for a life-threatening hailstorm. Last year in 2021, The Pikes Peak Ascent experienced a snowstorm on the summit while conditions below in Manitou Springs were relatively mild. Many runners were unprepared for the cold when they reached the summit. Even though you are in a race, remember that you are in a potentially dangerous mountain environment where weather can change from beautiful to stormy in a matter of minutes.
In contrast to constant threats of snow, hail, and cold temperatures, the race can also be very hot. Traditionally held in August (though the 2022 edition will be held in September), temperatures can reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Manitou Springs during the afternoon. Marathoners should be especially concerned with the weather as they will be on the mountain for the longest and encounter the most extreme temperature changes. Prepare for both the hot and cold!
Lightweight Rainproof Jacket: Due to the threat of storms above tree-line (even on sunny days), it’s a good idea to have a lightweight rainproof jacket with sealed seams. This can protect you from the sting of harsh winds and keep you dry in case of precipitation. Such jackets store easily in a running vest or belt and are light enough not to be a nuisance even if you are aiming for a competitive overall or age-group placement.
Gloves: Many people don’t appreciate the importance of this tip until they fall! Pikes Peak Marathoners should wear gloves on the descent to save their hands from cuts, and scrapes should they fall. It’s extremely common for runners to fall in this race due to the combination of technical terrain on the 16 Golden Stairs, fast descending on loose gravel and scree, and high altitude “brain-fog.” You may fall, but at least you can save yourself from bloody hands! Carry a lightweight pair for the descent, or wear gloves the entire way to retain heat. If your feet, hands, and head are warm you will be much more comfortable.
Fluids and Calories: Running in high-altitude environments requires more calories (carbohydrates in particular) and can more easily cause dehydration. Although the course has eight aid stations, it’s still a good idea to have calories and fluids with you. I’d suggest bringing a bottle, hydration pack, or soft collapsible flask for fluids. For calories, you can either ingest them in your drink mix or bring easily portable items such as gels or chews that store easily in a vest or pockets in your shorts or tights.
PRO TIP: Two-time Pikes Peak Marathon Champion and four-time Pikes Peak Ascent champion, Anita Ortiz, shares her nutrition and hydration tips for the Pikes Peak Marathon: “Nutrition and hydration are extremely important when running the Pikes Peak Marathon. You need to have your ‘wits about you’ at such a high elevation and navigating rocky terrain. I always start eating and drinking early and often, taking little sips and nibbles every five to ten minutes. As I climb higher, it becomes harder to take in the calories, but if I’ve started early and kept at it, I feel okay in the final two miles up to the summit. As I descend, my tummy gets happier again, and I start sipping and nibbling to the finish.”
Trail Running Shoes: Trail running shoes will help you run faster on this course. Trail shoes will provide you with grip on loose dirt and help you better manage roots and switchbacks in the beginning and middle of the trail, as well as the more technical rocky sections towards the summit. If you are running the Ascent, I suggest wearing an extremely lightweight, minimal (low-stack height) trail shoe designed for racing or uphill running in particular. For marathoners, choose a trail shoe that is lightweight but also has a good mix of agility and cushion. The downhill will beat up your feet and you should wear shoes that save you from this repetitive pounding.
Sunglasses and Sunscreen: Sunglasses and sunscreen are important accessories for high-altitude race environments. UV radiation from the sun is significantly more intense at higher altitudes and can cause permanent eye damage, even on cloudy days. Choose sunglasses with higher levels of UV protection such as those with Category Two and Three rated lenses. Likewise, choose a sunscreen product that provides optimum protection and one that allows your skin to breathe and doesn’t come off when you sweat.
Passing: In the Pikes Peak Marathon, you should expect two-way traffic from runners going uphill and downhill. Elite runners reach the summit in at least half of the time that it takes the average runner. If you expect to be in the mid to back of the pack, keep your eyes peeled for the top runners descending at fast speeds even before you reach Barr Camp. The trail can be narrow in many spots, so make sure to use extra caution in these sections. Also, should you choose to pass other runners, make sure to provide the runner you’re passing with a cue such as “On your left!” or wait to pass until you reach wider sections of trail.
PRO TIP: Did you know the entire Pikes Peak Marathon course is on Google Maps street-view? In 2017, the American Trail Running Association partnered with Google Maps to capture 360 degree panoramic images of every foot of the 13.1 mile route. Learn more about the project and see the trail on our Pikes Peak Trekker page - https://trailrunner.com/explore/pikes-peak-trekker/
2020 Pikes Peak Marathon Winner Brittany Charboneau sets runDisney 'Dopey Challenge' record!
Winter Training Tips
Manitou Springs resident and 4:36 Pikes Peak Marathoner
Manitou Springs, Colorado just celebrated its first appreciable snow of the season. The later than usual arrival has meant unseasonably warm weather and dry trails to this point. But the next months will hopefully bring more of Mother Nature’s winter confetti.
I’ve found that this time of year can present a motivational dichotomy when it comes to training. On one hand, the turning of the year brings along the excitement of planning and signing up for new races or athletic feats to accomplish. The allure of an idea or potential adventure for the year ahead is excitingly overwhelming. At the same time, as you wake from your day dreaming and glance out the window, the shorter days and single digit temperatures are objectively and concretely confronting you, calling you back down from that idealist realm. Sure those big “A” races are undoubtedly going to be one of the highlights of the year, but they’re months away and the temptation to skip a workout and to fall out of routine can be enticing. A missed run here or there this far out surely can’t jeopardize any race fitness, we reason. And while it is true that taking a few extra rest days isn’t a bad thing, especially if you’re experiencing additional stress and your body needs to allocate more resources to recovery, I’ve found that maintaining some level of consistency to be a worthwhile practice in mitigating injury and optimizing my sense of wellbeing.
Fortunately, there are some simple solutions that I’ve found help me counteract the urge of dormancy. One of which is to identify smaller objectives. If that big race you have in mind for the year is so far out, you can’t even see it on the horizon, consider bringing the horizon closer. This could be in the form of smaller local races to keep you engaged in your training and to help prepare you for a later main-focus event. Alternatively, establishing a monthly challenge can serve in place of a smaller race and still keep you honest with staying active. In 2012, I committed to once a month trips up and down Pikes Peak which gave me at least one long day effort a month to look forward to. This motivated me to not get too removed from the hard earned fitness that I’d acquired over the previous fall. Additionally, while carrying extra layers and gear made the miles pass by slower, working harder with each step meant that I was slowly building strength for the leaner racing months ahead.
Another advantage that comes with winter training for summer races so far into the future is the greater degree of flexibility. There should be less emphasis specificity and more opportunity for freedom with what one considers training. From my perspective, the “WHAT” I’m doing in winter training isn’t as important as simply that I’m “DOING.” I say this not to advocate for copious amounts of ill planned running volume but more as an argument for being active while doing the things that fill your motivational bucket. Winter can be a great time to explore other supplemental pursuits like hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing while still challenging your muscular endurance and aerobic fitness. Even sledding can be a sneaky way to incorporate some uphill interval work as you lug your toboggan up a snowy slope, scream down the hill, and repeat.
Finally, the longer shadows and muffled sounds of winter can offer a unique perspective on the trails you may know by their summer personalities. It’s an ideal opportunity to either slow down or to take moments to pause mid-run and observe things as they are, not necessarily as you remember them. For this reason, a camera is often one of my favorite pieces of running gear because it encourages me to be more aware of my surroundings. Concern with mileage or pace can yield, or at the very least share its importance with witnessing the beauty around you. Maybe you still chase CR’s, but instead of “Course Records,” it’s “Creative Ruminations" that you’re pursuing when you’re out on the trails. If not a camera, perhaps you choose to journal or write a poem about the run after returning home. Whatever your chosen modality, I find winter to be an ideal time to embrace introspection and see what role gratitude and creativity can have in your training.
Seasonal changes are a predictable part of the natural world and should be reflected in our training. While high intensity efforts year round can lead to stagnation, burnout, or injury, too far of a departure from an athlete’s routine can have similarly negative effects in the form of deconditioning and lethargy. I encourage you to take winter as an opportunity to shift rather than stop. To do what you need to make the winter training entertaining.
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