© Pikes Peak Marathon
Just a Little Feller
Jim Carr, Pittsburgh, PA - Pikes Peak Marathon & Ascent 2016, The Double
"I won't suffer, be broken, get tired, or wasted
Surrender to nothing, or give up what I
Started and stopped it, from end to beginning
A new day is coming, and I am finally free
Run away, run away, I'll attack"
Three years ago, I started to scribe a Pikes Peak Marathon race report. About two paragraphs in, I stopped and deleted my work. Why? It was too emotional. The feelings for what was going on in my life at the time were still too raw. This time around, while there is still an emotional bent, the current sentiments take root 30 years in the rear view mirror. Time heals all wounds.
Here's the short form. This year, I became the same age that my father last reached.
Sometime before Christmas 2015, a certain friend, we'll call him Badger, started talk about a return to the scene of the crime. He wanted to go after running the Pikes Peak
Marathon (PPM) after a successful 2013 Pikes Peak Ascent (PPA). That same evening, another friend, HR, handed me a tin cup. Yada yada yada, I became intrigued/consumed by the notion of “The Double” (www.pikespeakmarathon.org) – that’s the PPA which is contested on Saturday followed by running PPM the very next day.
I completed the 2013 Pikes Peak Marathon wearing my mom's wedding ring around my neck. What if, this time around, I wore my dad's? But this time, what if I upped the
ante? And attempted the fabled, often imitated but never duplicated, Pikes Peak Double? What if?
This isn't a race report about a race, it's a tale about setting a wild-assed goal, the ensuing journey and, most importantly, about a solid group of comrades that were every bit as engaged about my success as I was. And above all, I would be remiss if I did not recognize my very supportive family. Despite my apparent insanity, they appreciate and back me up!
"Crap! I need to train for this thing!"
All of the enthusiasm of a goal set at a Run Club Happy Hour was muted a bit as there was a tiny race that required some of my attention. I was entered to run the 120th Boston Marathon.
As soon as my feet landed on the ground following Patriot’s Day 2016, I began to design a 15-week training program like none other. Picture a mad, maniacal scientist pouring through 30 years of his own running logs, others' race reports, and whatever else I could draw upon. Here’s the thing, I felt that we pushed the envelope in preparing for PPM 2013.
This time, I needed to be willing to not only push the envelope but put said envelope in the shredder and then tape it back together.
The main theme was to train aggressively on one day and then to come back the next day and push even harder. Sounds easy, right? By signing up for The Double, I felt I had a responsibility to take a thorough, serious, and measured approach to my preparations. And besides, someone once told me that if you work enough and are well-prepared, the race becomes your "dessert." And who doesn't like dessert?
Here's what I came up with:
Cell Tower Hill Repeats
I have a nickname for the "Cell Tower." It rhymes with "itch" and she resides not too far from our YMCA. For the uninitiated, the Cell Tower is a long, steep gravel access road that leads to FCC registered cell phone tower No. 1025937. Each repeat earns you about 4/10 of a mile and about 220 feet of elevation gain.
Trail running - especially at Moraine State Park. Lots of trail running.
Much of the summer in western PA was characterized by heat, humidity and if you were on the trails, BUGS! I consumed my fair share of them.
Swimming - hypoxic drills
I'm a terrible swimmer. It's probably that deficiency that gives me enjoyment. I generally flop around in the YMCA pool once or twice per week. I added the hypoxic sets and I'm glad I did. What's more fun than swimming laps and turning purple at the same time?
Why Dress Rehearsals? My daughters, Emerson and Kennedy, are fantastic ballerinas. With painstaking precision, they practice their craft. When it's recital time, they participate in countless dress rehearsals. They do dress rehearsals, I do dress rehearsals.
Dress Rehearsal #1
Friday, June 24 Cell Tower Hill Repeats X 8 (oneminute run off after each hill) - 1:35:41 / 8 miles
Saturday, June 25 Hell Hath No Hurry 50K Trail Race - 7:29:20 / 33 miles / 8th place of 28 finishers
Designating a race as a training run is a great idea when getting ready for an "A" race. There's something about putting on a race number that simulates situations and emotions that no other training run can.
Dress Rehearsal #2
Friday, July 15 Glacier Ridge 30K Trail Course (Moraine State Park) - 4:06:35 / 19 miles
Sometimes on the brink of disaster, you find your clarity and you find out what you're made of. This run put me on the precipice of utter failure. Nothing went right! From CamelBak leaks, to losing my car keys, to stumbling over just about every root and rock on the GRT. This is why you do a dress rehearsal to work out all the kinks. With the exception of finishing the run without injuring myself, the best part was miraculously finding my key in the middle of the trail on my return after the turnaround.
Saturday, July 16 Moraine Trails - 4:57:16 / 22 miles
By essentially running the same course as the day before, I was trying to simulate the grind of doing the Ascent portion of the marathon on day two.
In stark contrast to the prior day, things went right! Despite really tired legs, I found my rhythm, didn't stumble a lot, and did not lose my key! I set this run up as an out and back on the GRT, turning around at 11 miles.
The Scream - About 5 minutes from home, driving back from Moraine, I let out a huge scream (I was by myself). That's when it hit me. At that moment I knew deep down that I had done enough work to be successful.
By design, I had a fair amount of time to recover after Dress Rehearsal #2 and "go time." The next four weeks featured long trail runs on Saturday followed by Sunday Cell Tower hill repeats. I also sprinkled in a few interval sessions just to mix things up. Before long, all the work was done. It was pencils down time and all that was left was to finally go get 'em. On this quest to Manitou Springs, I was accompanied by Badger, HR, and JM.
Saturday, August 20, 2016 - Day One - Pikes Peak Ascent
A flatlander (that's anyone that doesn't live at altitude), is at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to competing at altitude. Sounds reasonable, right?
PPA/PPM race strategy means a striking a balance between giving an all-out effort and being in a position to enjoy the spectacular surroundings. Start out with too much enthusiasm and you'll regret it once your trek takes you above the tree line. Call to mind a goldfish that's found itself out of the bowl. Taking an over-conservative pace puts you far behind in the conga line. And you know what is said about not being the lead dog. A sensible strategy also calls for a militaristic hydration plan that
incorporates enhanced electrolyte consumption (in plain English; I scheduled to gulp a lot of Gatorade and take a lot of salt pills).
I awaited the final minutes before the start with a sense of relief. Finally! It was time to begin. To see really what I could do. To jump on the tightrope.
Every step (or shuffle or crawl) up the Barr Trail means an incremental decrease in the level of oxygen. Therefore, it's in relative terms that I use descriptors like strong and
confident. Be that as it may, I did feel strong and confident for most of the morning. The trail itself is very diverse. There are technical and steep sections. There are a few stretches that are quite runnable (with even a few downhills to mix things up).
I started to notice some heel irritation on the way up. That will become a day two problem. That notwithstanding, I got into a nice rhythm from Barr Camp (7.6 miles, 10,200
feet) to just after A Frame (10.2 miles, 11,950 feet). And while certainly not operating with blazing speed, I was able to pass a bunch of people consistently to the summit. In
contrast to 2013 PPM, I really enjoyed not having to yield to the runners that had already made their turnaround. Though there was a threat of snow, rain, hail, or a
combination, I knew I had nothing to worry about as I had Rick Colonello's (aka The Master) jacket rolled up in my pack. Fortunately, I didn’t need it as the weather could not
have been nicer!
I continued to make my way to the summit and it wasn't too long before I could hear (then later see) Badger, JM, and HR cheering me to the finish. A few days before heading to Colorado, my in-laws gave me a card and a crisp fifty dollar bill for my birthday. In the card was written, "Take This To The Mountain." How could I not follow through with
their instructions? Before catching a shuttle and leaving the summit with the guys, I was able to linger a few minutes to appreciate the spectacular views and natural beauty that only Pikes Peak can offer.
Sunday, August 21, 2016 - Day Two - Pikes Peak Marathon
To say I was a bit nervous for day 2 would be an understatement. Did I have what it took to reach the Peak a second time (and run back to Manitou Springs)? Would my heels hold up? Then came a much needed tension breaker. Just when we were about to head down to the start, I hear JM yelling from the kitchen. "What is that?? It's not a dog. It's a BEAR!!" Thankfully, we had the brave and venerable HR to document the oddity.
The ascent portion of the marathon was a grind and, quite frankly, not a ton of fun. Before I left the road to enter the Barr Trail, I could feel the tearing that could only mean that my heels were shot before I even got through the first mile! To add to the party, my lower back was screaming. Every single uphill step represented a painful challenge. Relief only seemed to briefly visit at those sections where running was a possibility.
So I guess it was at this stage where I had to make my stand. I knew there would be pain and discomfort. But that's what I signed up for. So as I came to terms with that reality, I welcomed it. Was thankful for it. And told it that it was coming along for the ride. I needed to own this suffering (at least until the summit) and attack!
I soldiered on and tried my hardest to enjoy the experience. Unlike the day prior, the constant starting and stopping to yield to runners on their return trip was frustrating to
say the least. And that's where I think the altitude played a major factor. The best antidote was to just get to the top. I summited in roughly the same amount of time
as I did at 2013 PPM. My generally lousy mood brightened considerably as I approached the turnaround. That's when those spect-athletes, JM and HR came into view. I cannot tell you what a difference seeing your friends at the summit combined with a bottle of Coca-Cola. JM handed me a soda (purchased by HR - I should have entered that into the expense spreadsheet) that handed the race back to me! I slugged down half of the bottle and told the guys that I'd see them at the finish (I may have also said something about drinking a lot a beer that night). My faith in humanity restored, I ventured down the mountain.
A "decent" descent
Training flashback. "If you do the necessary work, the race is your dessert." I've said that silly phrase so many times, I've lost count. Not even sure where I first heard it. With the loading off of my heels, the running downhill was really a treat. Sort of like my reward for all of the work - the 15 weeks of torture. After over 4 hours, trudging up to the summit and my legs feeling rather gummy, I could now run! And run I did. Each step brought more oxygen into my lungs. As technical as the Barr Trail is, I felt confident with the pacing I was keeping. I really found a groove and above all, was having fun!
Just after the aptly named Bob's Road aid station, I did a commendable Superman impression. My right foot struck a root hidden by shade and I went flying. I came down to earth with a crash loud enough to cause the runners ahead to turn around. But this spill was not to be my kryptonite. I popped up with scrapes on both hands and both knees,
laughed, said I was ok and sped past. I smiled and thought that up to that point I had logged just over 60 miles of racing (including 2013), without incident. I was certainly overdue for a spill.
Now for some introspection. As I approached the "W's", a very steep section of switchbacks, I became a just bit melancholy. All that's left on the PPM course after the W's is a little more trail, then about a 3/4 mile stretch of steep descent on Ruxton Avenue which leads to the finish line in Manitou Springs. This was to be my 29th marathon finish and the very first where the anticipation of the race's culmination did not render an overwhelming sense of relief. The preceding two hours after the summit had been among the most enjoyable of them all. Despite the pain and anguish, I wasn't totally ready for the experience to be over.
But (most) all good things come to an end and before long, I approached the finish and just like that, I had completed The Double. All that was left was two trips to the medical tent (tending to scrapes on my hands and to bandage up what remained of my heels) and to reunite with JM, HR, and Badger, who was on his way toward the finish. Oh yeah, and also to have some beer!
So what does all this mean? Darned if I know! Maybe that I can take a lot of punishment. Or maybe being able to return to Colorado Springs, where I attended high school cross country camp, was the draw. Or perhaps another opportunity to unwind and goof off with the guys was why I went after this.
Each time I tackle a marathon or something along those lines, I try to ask myself "what do I want to learn? This time around, I really think I wanted to attempt something audacious. I won't lie, the mere thought of The Double scared me. The shock value is probably what drew me in and motivated me. There are two decisions you can make when walking the tightrope; commit to falling or embrace the challenge and commit to making it across. For my money, it was a hell of a lot of fun to see what
awaited on the other side of this particular tightrope.
PPA results - 4:16:35 / 13.3 miles / 557 of 1,702 finishers
-Ascent portion of 2013 PPM was 4:45:52
-7,565 feet of elevation gain
PPM results - 7:18:31 / 323 of 702 finishers
-2013 PPM finishing time was 7:33:05
PPM was my 29th marathon.
Ranked 55th of 111 Doublers. Combined time 11:35:07.
I took 86,486 steps for both events.
Across 470 miles, climbed 61,695 feet / Trail runs totaled 253 miles
Cell Tower Hill Repeats - 72 in total - approximately 16,000 feet climbed
441 Manitou Ave, Suite 100
Manitou Springs, CO 80829
In 1972 Peter Strudwick did the Ascent in 4:20:29 and the Marathon in 7:02:28. What is so incredible about that you ask? Well, soon after his mother had caught rubella, commonly called German measles, Peter was born with legs that ended in stumps just past the ankles, a left arm that had only one thumb and a finger, and a right arm ending at the wrist.
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.
“Militant tobacco-hating physician” Dr. Arne Suominen from Delray Beach FL, became the founder of the modern day Pikes Peak races when he wrote a letter to the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce in 1956 and challenged cigarette smokers to race him up and down Pikes Peak. 1956 Results