This race report for the 2015 Pikes Peak Ascent is late. The race was August 15…of 2015. Since then we’ve driven back from Denver, fixed a leak in the ceiling and recovered. Almost a year has passed, and the race is coming up again. I’ve had a hard time writing about this race, or survival encounter, or run in with my own mortality…whatever flowery words we could wrap it in. But with the 2016 version of the race happening in a few days, I have hope that these notes will help others prepare.
It was the most beautiful and challenging race I’ve ever run. I heard from racers who have run the Ascent multiple times that we were extremely luck with the weather. I have no doubt it would be even more challenging in bad weather.
TL,DR: I finished in about 4:30. My goal was 4 hours, with a stretch goal of 3:30 – those goals vanished quickly. The last mile took forever as I could not catch my breath. My lovely wife was waiting for me at the top, and her yelling my name was the only thing that got me across the line. I could call it the slowest half-marathon I’ve ever run…or the fastest I’ve ever run up a 14-er.
I finished it. And yes, I’d do it again. The picture below (taken by my wife), even as I was gasping like a fish for air, says it all. It was an amazing beautiful course, on a fantastic day. I doubt my stopping occasionally and playing awed tourist with my phone camera affected my time much. But the trail and the weather offered a unique perspective on the scenery, whether it was looking up a Pikes Peak, looking down on the trail just traveled, or spotting a lake off in the distance.
Description: The Pikes Peak Ascent is a half-marathon (13.32 miles) from Manitou Springs up to the top of Pikes Peak. Except for the first part on roads through the city of Manitou Springs, the race is on Barr Trail.
Elevation gain (start to summit) is at 7,815′ (2,382m); the start is at 6,300′ (1,920m) and the summit is 14,115′ (4,302m). The average grade is 11%.
It has been described as the toughest half-marathon in the world. After running it, I do not disagree.
Training: I’ve been following Hanson’s Half-Marathon training program, and as time allows jumping the mileage up to those described in the Hanson Full-Marathon training program. I used the Hanson Half-Marathon training program before, most recently to achieve a PR in the December 2014 San Antonio half marathon. It appears that the only differences in the training program are longer Sunday easy runs and longer Thursday tempo runs.
For those readers that I do not know, to level set: at race time I was 53 years old. My half marathon PR is 1:47. I am a “flatlander”, so much of my training (the first 12 weeks of the 18 week Hanson program) was done in Houston in very high humidity, very high temps and almost no altitude. I temporarily relocated to Denver around the 4th of July, to get a bit more used to the altitude. I’ve had ACL replacement in the right knee and have a bit of arthritis in my left knee (or so my ortho keeps trying to tell me) but have mitigated that by changing to Newtons and changing my gait to a short, choppy one with much more mid-foot than the heel-toe I was doing in my mis-spent youth. I sometimes run with a knee brace; sometimes this is to help the arthritis, sometimes it is to help with my imagination.
With the Hanson program as a my guide, my training was 153 miles in May, 165 miles in June. Though pace didn’t really matter in this race, my target pace for training was the same as my half-marathon PR (an 8:15 pace).
Upon arriving at higher altitudes, as instructed by several more experiences runners, I reduced the mileage for the first week to let me body adjust to the higher altitude. I did feel out of breath at the first, but dehydration was more of a problem. After the first week it was not an issue. But I did apparently aggravate my left knee, either from running speed runs the 2nd week in Denver or trying to keep up with my wife in yoga (pigeon pose? really?). After that, the knee brace was a constant companion. I backed it off a bit, and did only 136 miles in July, and wound down to 50 miles in the 14 days before the race.
Pre-Race: We indulged in the night-before-pasta dinner while picking up the packet, and heard a large portion of the Peak Busters program. The Peak Busters is a female race organization which includes the first lady to run a marathon, Arlene Pieper (it was the Pikes Peak Marathon) and Sister
We were a bit concerned about parking, as we doubted we could use the street side parking that we did for the Barr Trail Race. We opted for the “middle and senior high school” parking, which was a bit of a cluster to get into (a single lane in and out). But we were one of the last ones in, and it was easy for my wife to find for the drive up to the summit to rescue me.
Race: Unlike the Barr Trail Mountain race, the Ascent (this year, anyway) had a wave start, with about 100 runners starting every minute. My wave started promptly at 7:09am, on a nice sunny day with slightly warmer than expected temps. There was rain in the forecast for the afternoon, but no worries about weather at the top, other than the usual “weather can change on the Peak in a minute” warnings.
Also unlike the Barr Trail race, the Ascent (and the Marathon the following day) starts on the streets in downtown Manitou Springs, running along Manitou Avenue and Ruxton Avenue, joining Barr Trail about 1.6 miles in.
For a very detailed description of the course, see this article on the SkyRunner website.
Manitou Springs to Barr Camp - Barr Trail Mountain Race redux: The run through Manitou Springs was a nice warm-up, with lots of supporters (including my lovely wife) and everyone was in high spirits. In spite of the time I spent in Denver, the higher altitude had me breathing pretty heavily right away. But that happened during the Barr Trail race as well, so I wasn’t worried.
The road steepens quite a bit at the Cog Railway station and as I did on the Barr Trail race, I made sure not to tire by controlling the adrenaline. There were several who sprinted up the hill; these were the folks who knew what was coming and did not want to get to far behind in the single file track line going up the steps. See the photo at right to see what I mean.
Just like with the Barr Trail Mountain race, we did a “fast hike” pace rather than a run, due to the crowd of people. I found out very quickly that this was the norm for this race; there were several spots, especially on the switchbacks where you cannot pass and it is a steep climb. Therefore you either save you strength and just follow in line, or try to pass. I did a bit of both as we went through the “W”s, the 13 or so switchbacks as you climb up the trail. My tracker told me I was doing this about a minute per mile slower than the last race (doing 17-19 minutes, as opposed to a 16-18 minute pace before).
I won’t repeat a lot of the description I did from the Barr Trail Mountain Race (link). The flat part before Barr Camp was again very much welcomed, and the fast hike turned into a jog again. Then we carefully passed the wet rocks part at entered the aid station at Barr Camp.
I cannot emphasize enough how much running the Barr Trail Mountain run several weeks before this race helped. Folks local to Colorado Springs get to run the Incline or the Barr Trail frequently, but I never had. The Barr Trail Mountain race prepared me, at least for the first half. It was on the same trail, so it was familiar the second time around.
Not that it was any easier…in the Barr Trail Mountain Race, I reached Barr Camp in 1:42:47. This time I hit Barr Camp at 2:05:45. Granted the Ascent does start 1.6 miles earlier in Manitou Spring; but 23 minutes difference tells me I was taking it slow, as I meant to. There was a lot of race left.
To say this was “tough” would be putting it mildly. The elevation gain is about 2,150 feet to No-Name Creek, for a grade of about 13%. There were definitely parts where the voices in my head said I would not make it. But the mantra on this race is “Keep on Moving” so we did.
Barr Camp to the summit – Everything after Barr Camp was new to me. I’d never been on that trail. And, in spite of the “workout”, it was spectacular. Near the top, as you can see from some of the pictures below, it would be hard to describe the rocky masses above the tree line as beautiful. Yet it was.
Running from Barr Camp toward the point of interest called the Bottomless Pit, the trail goes through forest, similar to the flat part before Barr Camp but steeper. I had spied a young lady at the starting line that had some of the most muscular legs I have seen on any human being. At about this point in the race, she “road-killed” me, going by at a steady pace while offering piggy back rides to some of her friends who were encouraging her. I *almost* took her up on it.
There are a lot more exposed tree roots and step-up rocks on this part of the trail. I didn’t take a tumble as I did on the way down in the Barr Mountain Trail race. But I did stub my toes a time or two.
As one would expect, there are more switchbacks here, before you get above the tree line. The photo to the right shows one of the cooler turns, right underneath some huge boulders.
During one of these switchbacks, we could hear the folks at the top cheering. I turned to the runners next to me and said “That must be the winner finishing. We might as well break out the beer and just rest for a while, since we have no chance to win.” That started an entire conversation speculating who won…which is somewhat difficult to do while you are gasping for air (we were probably around 11,000 feet at that point). Like many, I was assuming local favorite Andy Wacker had won (as I mention in my Barr Trail post, he did some amazing running while starting late on the Barr Trail race). As it turns out, a gent from the Japanese army who was apparently still jet lagged won in a time of 2:15:42, beating Andy by about 3 minutes. It is humbling to know that these two ran up this mountain in half the time it took me.
According to the splits, I was doing about about an hour between each of the major milestones (start to No-Name, No-Name to Barr, Barr to A-Frame). Then, it got a bit more difficult.
Emerging from the tree line is an other-worldly experience. The trail had gone around a couple of turns where you could glimpse the summit…or at least think that you could as it was off in the distance. But now, with no foliage in the way, you could see that snaking trail of runners stretching out ahead and behind…if you dared to look up from the trail long enough. And the perspective is off – or maybe it was delirium – because it seemed like everything looked closer.
There’s only three miles to go at this point, and the trail is about 12,000 feet elevation. And, at least for me (and it seemed like several others around me) the race turned into a slog. JAM – Just Always Move – was what the voices in my head were telling me. And so, for a certain part of this length of trail, was a fellow runner. He was verbally egging himself on, telling himself to keep going, reminding himself of his training. It could have all been in my head, but at this point, I just wanted to be alone with my own voices. So I pressed on past him.
I did get a bit dizzy. Whether it was from the altitude or from improper eating on the way up, I may never know. I did hit every aid station, and I had gels with me which I ate at regular intervals. My brother and I have speculated that I may have had some low blood sugar – I tried to eat the sugary stuff they had at the aid stations (I think they were Skittles) but they just didn’t go down well. Next long run, it is definitely time to look into Tailwind Nutrition or something like that.
But I have no doubt that, even with spending as much time before the race in the Denver area as I did, the altitude was absolutely affecting me. A couple of the runners I talked to on the way up were always amazed when they heard where I was from, living right near sea level. I assumed, as I had read, that acclimation would happen in 2-3 weeks. But running at 6,000 feet doesn’t acclimate you for slogging at 12,000 feet.
My wife and I determined why the racer bibs are different in this race. The runner’s first name is displayed prominently. At this point on the trail, there were a lot more volunteers, many of them medical staff monitoring the runners. I must have had a more dazed than usual look in my eye, as I had several look at my bib and say “Larry, you okay?” I can’t say enough about these volunteers, and their genuine concern for the runners safety. I thanked as many of them as I could on the way up.
I feel I should describe this part of the race more, but it really is just an amazing number of switchbacks. Most of the trail is the kind of crushed gravel that you see in the pictures above, until it gets to the rocks.
Just when you are thoroughly exhausted…you get to the 16 Golden Stairs. I’m not sure who applied that label, or who put them in the way of a nice trail. But they are certainly not stairs, unless you are Hakeem Olajuwon. These are large rocks that runners (or, at this point, sloggers) have to crawl over. Supposedly some of the earlier finishers were running over these; more power to them. I ran a bit on the flat places, just because I could hear the crowds and assumed somewhere around the next switchback I would be done. There were a lot of switchbacks remaining.
I passed a signed that was cheering on “Uncle Larry.” I knew my nieces and nephews hadn’t put it there, but I was going to take any motivation that I could at this point. I heard my wife’s voice, and knew I was either close to the finish line or hallucinating again. I didn’t want to look up to find her, for fear of falling on my face (not the way I’d want to make the local news). The announcer called out my name as I passed over the timing mat, and someone on the medical staff asked me, again, if I was okay…then moved me out of the way when they saw that I was still able to walk.
My wife told me that she’d forgotten my bib number, and was worried about me, since I had forecasted a much earlier finishing time. She said they were calling off the bib numbers of people who had pulled out of the race or who had been hurt…but not saying their names.
There was no way I wan’t going to finish.
My line for the race: 4:34:31 was my time. 766th out of 1697 finishers. 69th out of 147 in my age group finishers. I could call it the slowest half-marathon I’ve ever run…or the fastest I’ve ever run up a 14-er. My elevation and pace chart is included below for your viewing pleasure.
Nutrition: I alternated water and gatorade in the bottle I carried with me. I had four Gu gels with me, and went through them at scheduled intervals. The aid stations were well stocked, and I ate grapes and salty snacks. And, as I said above, I tried to eat the sugary crap, but it just wasn’t happening. Next time I do a run this long, I’m trying Tailwind.
Afterwards: I lived. And then, my wife the race car driver sped down the Pikes Peak road, trying to kill me. We had some well-deserved beer at the after-party, got the incredibly nice warm up jacket (with thumb holes no less) that finishers get…then made the long drive back to Denver.
As a side note: I was content to crash, my wife wanted to go down and get her nails done. She called me and said I should come on down and let them fix the nails that I shredded today and from the last race. I told her that was a bad idea, but the ladies there insisted. While the warm foot bath was quite nice, the girl who was doing my nails almost fainted when she saw my feet…and then she valiantly soldiered on, even getting a bandaid when one of my blisters burst. The day ended with lots of Indian food, and thoughts on whether I could do it again…or maybe try the entire marathon!
This race report is a week late, been a busy week (both business and pleasure) since last Sunday’s race (July 19, 2015).
Description: I am using this race as a tune-up and track education (it runs the same trail) for next month’s Pikes Peak Ascent. The description of the Barr Trail Mountain Race from their website:
Training: I’ve been following Hanson’s Half-Marathon training program, and as time allows jumping the mileage up to those described in the Hanson Full-Marathon training program. I used the Hanson Half-Marathon training program before, most recently to achieve a PR in last December’s San Antonio half marathon. It appears that the only differences in the training program are longer Sunday easy runs and longer Thursday tempo runs.
For those readers that I do not know, to level set: I’m 53 years old. My half marathon PR is 1:47. I am a “flatlander”, so much of my training (the first 12 weeks of the 18 week Hanson program) was done in Houston in very high humidity, very high temps and almost no altitude. I temporarily relocated to Denver around the 4th of July, to get a bit more used to the altitude. I’ve had ACL replacement in the right knee and have a bit of arthritis in my left knee (or so my ortho keeps trying to tell me) but have mitigated that by changing to Newtons and changing my gait to a short, choppy one with much more mid-foot than the heel-toe I was doing in my mis-spent youth. I sometimes run with a knee brace; sometimes this is to help the arthritis, sometimes it is to help with my imagination.
With the Hanson program as a my guide, my training was 153 miles in May, 165 miles in June. Though pace didn’t really matter in this race, my target pace for training was the same as my half-marathon PR (an 8:15 pace).
Upon arriving at higher altitudes, as instructed by several more experiences runners, I reduced the mileage for the first week to let me body adjust to the higher altitude. I did feel out of breath at the first, but dehydration was more of a problem. After the first week it was not an issue. But I did apparently aggravate my left knee, either from running speed runs the 2nd week in Denver or trying to keep up with my wife in yoga (pigeon pose? really?). After that, the knee brace was a constant companion.
Race: Except for brief parts of the start and finish, the course follows the Barr Trail up and back. As mentioned, this is the same trail as the Pikes Peak Ascent and Pikes Peak Marathon…with the notable exception that runners only go up to Barr Camp instead of the top.
For a very detailed description of the course, see this article on the SkyRunner website.
And, yes, I did take a tumble and earn some road rash on the way down.
We were concerned about parking, as they asked racers not to park on Ruxton Rd (where the start is). But we found very in-expensive street parking right across from the park where the post-race beer would be served. The walk up Ruxton served as a decent warm-up (as some of the runners ran up it for a warm-up).
Going up: The race started at the Cog Railway station and immediately headed up on a road. Adrenalin had everyone running; tried really hard to keep a slower pace. As Matt Carpenter says in the afore-linked-to description of the course:
“The hill that starts at Hydro Street is the steepest on the course and it is silly to take the chance of blowing your race on such a short section. Indeed, this one section has probably been the cause of more poor performances than any other on the course. If people pass you here ignore them because you’ll most certainly see these runners further up the trail when they pay for their indiscretion.”
At times, this hill turned into a “fast hike” pace rather than a run, due to the crowd of people. I found out very quickly that this was the norm for this race; there were several spots, especially on the switchbacks where you cannot pass and it is a steep climb. Therefore you either save you strength and just follow in line, or try to pass. I did a bit of both as we went through the “W”s, the 13 or so switchbacks as you climb up the trail. My tracker told me I was doing between a 16-18 minute pace at this point.
Great video by a local reporter going up the “Ws” below. I’m about 4:08 in the video, greenish-yellow shirt with grey cap (and yes, my wife buys my clothes so they match)
To say this was “tough” would be putting it mildly. The elevation gain is about 2,150 feet to No-Name Creek, for a grade of about 13%. There were definitely parts where the voices in my head said I would not make it. But the mantra on this race and the Pikes Peak Ascent to come is “Keep on Moving” so we did.
In between we hit two aid stations, one manned by kids dressed in Christmas attire (including one in a wrapped box, but he wasn’t Justin Timberlake) and one where one kid was holding back another wearing a Triceratops hat. I actually had enough oxygen to laugh.
The next part was the flattest part of the course, approximately two miles (the grade here was 8% but there was a lot of flat and downhill parts mixed in). The trail here was wide enough to pass safely, for the first time. It was here that I starting running slightly behind Phil, who had a yellow “Marmot” runners shirt on, and had obviously done this run many times. We chatted a bit, and I fell into his rhythm, which was a steady pace, same effort uphill as on flat and downhill.
There was a stretch of wet rocks on the trail, then an ascent into Barr Camp, and the turnaround. Barr Camp is at 10,200 feet elevation, a bit over halfway to the top of Pikes Peak.
Going down: After carefully stepping over some of the wet rocks, I said farewell to my new running buddy Phil and let gravity assist me. I had been practicing downhill running in a parking garage, keeping the short, choppy gait but leaning in a bit so as to keep perpendicular to the ground. And I kept my hands out and down for balance instead of swinging them.
After the hard slog up, the feeling of going down, at times greater than an 8:00 pace, was euphoric. I tried to keep the level of effort the same (my strategy for the entire race), and gravity did indeed help. There was a group of four ladies in front of me who obviously knew each other, and they were having a good time. They talked like they knew the trail well, so I followed them down.
The race spread out quite a bit. One of the gents about five in front of me took a tumble, and we helped him up and continued down. The group of ladies slowly peeled off until there was just one of them and me. For a long time, there was no one around us. Her name was Sheryl, and she’d done this course many times. I followed her lead, and stayed on the sides of the trail that she did.
I came around a bend, probably a bit too fast. There was a couple hiking up the trail in front of me, and I looked at them instead of the trail. My right foot caught a root, and at that speed, I was down. Scraped my right hand, and (though I didn’t know it at the time) splatted my last GU pack all over the pocket of my shorts. A small pine tree kept me from rolling off the trail, and I was up and heading down again quickly. Another hiked who saw me fall said “warrior wounds”, and I told him the last thing my wife said to me before the race was “please don’t fall”….I think she meant “off the mountain” so I’m still good there. A lot of blood on my hand and arm, but they were only scrapes.
I had lost contact with Sheryl, but tried to keep the same pace. Close to the end my right hamstring (same leg that caught the root; same hamstring that gave up part of its tendon for my rebuilt ACL) decided to remind me that it didn’t sign up for this race. I slowed a bit, though I was still passing some folks on the way down.
As I got off Barr Trail (and was told there was another half mile) my hamstring basically told me to piss off, it was done. I stopped for a bit to stretch and massage it, and was passed by one lady. Unbeknownst to me, she would end up being the first Texan to cross the finish line, and I would be the second. After running 6-plus miles downhill, the finish line was up a very steep road…I assume to get us out of the way of the Cog Railway traffic. I hate hills at the end….
Nutrition: There was water and gatorade at several stops on the way, manned by local schools cross country teams. The race had us vote at the end of the race for which of support stations was our favorite. The Jurassic Park dinosaur team got my vote.
I did one GU or Stinger pack on the way up (around the one hour mark) and one on the way down. I was thirsty some, but never got hungry.
Afterwards: The first finishers had a bit of confusion, as apparently a volunteer had set the sign up wrong, sending them the wrong way. To further complicate matters, eventual winner Andy Wacker started seven minutes behind everyone after an alarm clock SNAFU…but still managed to be one of the co-winners. Nice interview with Andy below:
I have a twice-broken pinkie on my right hand, which is where all of the scrapes from my fall were. When the little first aid girl washed off all the blood and saw my finger, she kinda freaked out. “Oh my god, I’m not sure I’m equipped to fix that!” My wife was cracking up, and I told the girl that it would indeed be miraculous if she could fix that.
The after race party and awards ceremony was well done, featuring local beer and BBQ. All race organizers, please pay attention – Michelob Ultra sucks as a post-race bevvie. This race had a Pinneap-Ale Wheat from local Manitou Brewing Company. Both of the pints I had were excellent. There was also BBQ.
I was told the downhill would be a “quad-killer”…and those who told me so were spot on. It didn’t hit me Monday, but I was hobbling around a lot Tuesday. But now, a week later, I’m back to the training program, aiming for the August 15th Pikes Peak Ascent.
Week 4 has the same schedule as week 3 – five easy runs and two off days. After this, we get into the different tempo and speed work sessions.
The first part of this week was in Tampa/Clearwater, Thursday and Friday in San Antonio, then the weekend back home.
When I’m in Clearwater, I run the Ream Wilson trail (see map at the bottom of this post), but on this trip it looked like they had finished the hike and bike trail across Highway 60, also called Gulf-to-Bay Blvd. It is probably 6-7 miles across for a 12-14 mile round trip…which is quite a bit longer run than desired 4 weeks into the program. But the part I ran on was a great trail (even though they were still putting some of the barriers and rails up) so I will definitely run it again for a longer run next time I’m back in town for business.
I must comment on the Podcast I’ve started listening to during running. I’ve always listened to TodayInIOS podcast to keep up with iOS related topics, but Rob from that podcast listed his favorite podcasts, and Hardcore History has become my go-to running audio. Currently I’m listening to his description of WWII, a long four-part series called “Blueprint for Armageddon.” If you like history, I cannot recommend it more highly.
Plan total (5+3+3+5+6) = 22 miles
Actual total (4.5+5.35+6.56+4.13+5.32+6.7) = 32.6 miles, quite a bit more than called for, but I’m feeling good on the long easy runs.
Next week, week five, starts something other than “easy runs” with a Tempo Run on Thursday. It is also the last week with Monday off, and since it falls on the Labor Day holiday, I’m good with that.
Week 3 has the same schedule as week 2 (previous week’s post here) – five easy runs and two off days. And both of the Hanson’s strategies (half and full) have the same distances (4 miles four days and 5 miles on one day).
This week moved from April into May, and in April I racked up 110 total miles. I feel like the longer distances are easier, and assume it is because I’m going through the program a second time. But when I look back at the numbers, I did run quite a bit in the months before the first Hanson program.
The first time through the program, leading up to the December 7 SA Half Marathon, monthly totals were:
May 2014: 52 miles; June: 88; July: 100; August (first month of the program): 97; Sept:: 152; Oct: 187; Nov: 191: Dec: 76
January 2015: 32 miles; Feb: 44; March: 68; April (first month of the program): 110
I did a lot more “warming up” before the program last time, trying to make sure my knees could handle the six days out of seven running. And I did crash a bit after the first time through the program, reflected in the low January and February numbers.
I’ll update this periodically.
The previous week’s post (week 2) is here.
Total recommended: 21 mi (4+4+4+4+5 easy)
Actual: 28.7 mi (all easy), a bit less that last week. Last Hanson training week 3 was 21.9 miles
The week 1 post is here.
Week 2 is five EASY RUNs with Monday and Wednesday off on both the Hanson Half and Full/Beginner training plans. This is the same basic schedule through Week 4 on both plans. Week 5 adds a tempo run on Thursdays. Week 6 starts the “run 6 days out of seven” putting a easy run on Monday and speed work on Tuesday.
My previous Hanson’s training started in August and ended in December, all in Houston…i.e., it went from too hot to run to good weather.
This time, I’m starting in April, running in Houston through the end of June, then running in Denver in July and August.
That previous week 2 post had some charts on running in the heat, which I won’t need this time (unless we get one of those Houston June heat waves) but you can review them at the link.
Total recommended: 15 mi (2+3+3+3+4 easy)
Actual: 29.4 mi (4.34+5+3.5+4.52+4.01+8.01 easy) (last time through – 22.5 miles in week two)
Next week’s schedule (week 3) is a total of 21 miles (5 easy runs, two off days) on both plans.
For those interested, the introductory strategy post (A Hopefully Logical Approach to the Insanity of Running up a Mountain) is at the link.
As I described in that post, I’m going to follow the Hanson’s Half plan, but lengthen some of the runs where I have time. Since the Hanson beginner Marathon plan is very similar to this idea, I’m going to track that plan (found on Hanson’s website) as well.
Total recommended: 10 mi (3+3+4 easy) but the scheduled didn’t start until Wednesday
Actual: 26.5 mi (3.5+3.59+4.51+4.16+4.01+6.75 easy). Last time through the plan, 20.5 miles in Week 1.
Next week’s schedule (week two) is a total of 15 miles (5 easy runs, two off days) in both the half and the full/beginner schedules. I plan on keeping to my 20+ miles per week, and will match up with the Wednesday off days.
The one word email response I received from my brother, he of the many marathons include Boston and others, states the reaction of most when I inform them I have signed up for the Pikes Peak Ascent (PPA).
He is, as usual, probably right.
For background, I just set a PR in the San Antonio Half, which I used for my qualification run for the PPA. At 53 years old, setting PRs is not difficult, since I didn’t start distance running until basketball and rugby killed my knees.
And I truly love hiking in the mountains (see the Grand Canyon app for perilous adventures).
So this is just combining the two, right? A half-marathon with an uphill hike.
After the PR I was looking for the next mountain to climb (poor pun intended).
We shall see.
Any other runners who read this and have run the PPA, and have further suggestions or comments, I would certainly appreciate the advice.
This is certainly not a race that one can just “go out and run” (well, a much younger and faster person might). A familiarity with the course will certainly help. There is a nice description on the web site and several folks who have run it have posts. This is the most relevant description:
From the Manitou Springs City Hall, the races proceed west on Manitou Avenue for 0.42 miles to Ruxton Avenue. At Ruxton, the course turns west for 0.8 mile to (and past) the Cog Railway Depot to Hydro Street. At this point there has been an elevation gain of approximately 300′ for an average grade of 4.5%. At .23 of a mile past Hydro Street, or 1.45 miles total, the asphalt ends, and the course continues on a dirt/gravel road which parallels Ruxton Creek. At the end of the dirt/gravel road, there is a fenced area, and the course stays to the north side of the fence before meeting up with a small trail on the right. This trail, commonly referred to as the “spur trail,” connects to Barr Trail in .1 of a mile. From this point to the summit at 14,115,’ the course follows Barr Trail. The width of the trail will vary as will the grade (steepness) and surface (footing).
From Hydro Street to No Name Creek is 3 miles with an elevation gain of 2,150′ for an average grade of 13.4%. From No Name Creek to Barr Camp is about 3.3 miles with an elevation gain of 1,450′ for an average grade of 8.3%. This is the fastest section of the course and even includes several slight downhill sections roughly 1.25 miles above No Name Creek. Barr Camp to the A-frame shelter at treeline is another 2.6 miles and 1,800′ in elevation gain for an average grade of 13.1%. From the A-frame to finish/turnaround (~14,050′) is about 3.1 miles with an elevation gain of 2,050′ for an average grade of 12.4%
Altitude – I am, by definition, a “flatlander.” There’s air down here near the Gulf of Mexico. The elevation here in Tomball is 187 feet above sea level. The ascent starts in Manitou Springs at an altitude of 6,300′ (1,920m) and the summit is 14,115′ (4,302m). My new math tells me there is a big difference between where I am normally training and where the race is.
There is a great albeit technical article by Tony Eckels written specifically about this challenge and for this race. In it, he uses the graph here to show the amount of oxygen your body is used to (100%) and what it will experience at the start and finish of the Ascent. Basically, since I am near sea level, at the start of the race I will be sucking in 80% of the oxygen my body is normally accustomed to, and at the Peak a whopping 61%.
This could suck (or suck wind).
So I have a couple of choices to face this challenge:
This third selection is actually easier for me. My work requires an airport and wifi (and an occasional change of clothes) and my wife’s BFF lives just south of Denver. Several of the articles I’ve read state a couple of common rules for training at a higher altitude: (a) don’t run hard once you get there, as it takes your body a few days to produce more red blood cells to carry the oxygen; and (b) it still takes a while to adjust. So we’ll head to the area a few weeks before the race, curtail the hard part of the training for the first few days there, and hope that helps.
Elevation and grade change - The other part about being a flatlander is…well…it’s flat. And I am normally the runner who curses any hill put on the track (are they just trying to slow us down?). The normal course that I run is along a bayou, with an elevation change of maybe 20 feet when I cross the bayou.
The relocation piece toward the end of the training will help. But I’ll also add in a bunch of quad work, as suggested in several of the articles, like step-ups (one guys say find a car bumper to step-up on to prepare for the “Golden Stairs” at the end; sounds up-lifting) and knee lifts with leg weights after my flatlander running. Just gotta be sure and protect those knees.
Time duration – Though this is a half-marathon in distance, the time it will take makes it more like a marathon. The suggestions for predicting your finish time are to double your half-marathon time…and, if you are a flat-lander, add 30 minutes. My recent half time (which is my PR) is 1:47:44, so doubling is about 3:30ish. Add a half hour and that’s four hours…so I put in 3:50 as my projection.
I really enjoyed the Hanson Half Marathon training program I used for the SA Half (blog posts for the entire 18 weeks start here). Not only did I PR, but I avoided injury, and did not feel completely wiped out after the race.
The question for the PPA is: train for a half (which is the distance) or train for the full (which is the time)?
Unfortunately I have to work for a living. The Hanson Half program was a pretty large time commitment, and the Hanson full program is even more so. Therefore my current plan is to use the same Hanson Half program…though I may either (a)crank up the mileage on the easy runs or (b)use the “Advanced” plan (vs. the Basic plan I used before).
The 18 week program will begin April 12.
Trail surface – this is a trail run that changes surface types many times. Because of past knee problems, I’ve changed my gait and my shoes, and now run in Newtons. Newton makes a trail shoe called the BOCO, which I plan on adding to my rotation. I may wait until I get to Colorado to add it in, as that will still give about six weeks of break-in period for the shoes.
Dehydration – I’ve been to Denver for work, and always need to drink more water. Humidity down here in SE Texas is almost always high, quite the opposite of the location of this race. I have a bad habit of not drinking enough water, and need to get in the habit of over-hydrating during training here in Texas, and carrying that habit over to Colorado. The first part of the training (mid-April through June) I’ll do here in Houston where it will be quite humid. I’ll carry more water and work on a habit of over-hydration.
Weight – I like beer….a lot. But, if I have to make a choice between carrying five extra pounds up Pikes Peak or cutting back on the beer….well, it will be a tough decision. My previous PR at the New Orleans Half, I weighed 169. My current PR at the San Antonio Half in December of last year, I was about 175. And most of the poundage is beer weight, many of them blamable on Packers games and the Untappd app (and me drinking the beer…but let’s not get personal). The PPA is before Packers season starts, and I just hit my 1,000th unique beer on Untappd. So I’m out of excuses.
Lack of tunes – the PPA is a “no earphones” run, for obvious safety reasons. This should not be a major issue, though I do run while listening to music or podcasts. I’ll have to get used to listening to the sounds of my own panting for breath.
Yoga, Chi and other esoteric add-ins – when I did Karate, I was much more flexible. And I believe that flexibility helped avoid injuries and to recover sooner after workouts and runs. My beautiful wife has me going to yoga class with her. Not only does it seem to be helping with my flexibility, but also helps with core strength. Hey, if it works for Aaron Rodgers and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, it can’t hurt.
I’ve also been experimenting with using the Small Circulation of chi while running. Mostly this involves keeping my tongue pressed up against the roof of my mouth and being mindful of the chi passage. This is hard, as it gives me one more thing to think about (gait, breathing pace, etc.) while running. I’m not certain if this will be helpful, as the usage of the chi while running is mostly in the legs, and the Small Circulation is all upper body. But the chi circulation path that goes through the top of the mouth and through the tongue is key. I will at least concentrate on that part.
I’ll continue updating as the training goes, and would, as always, appreciate any comments, advice and support. The first week’s training post can be viewed here.
Race day. After 18 weeks following the Hanson’s Half Marathon training program (and two months of running before that to determine if my knees could handle running six days out of seven), it was time to put the wheels to the test. I’d targeted this race for several reasons: it was familiar territory, as I went to high school and college in San Antonio; and this course kicked my butt in the heat three years ago…granted, it beat down several runners in that heat wave. But it was good motivation.
My target was a new PR, a sub 1:50 half. My previous fastest (1:52) was in the New Orleans half in early 2012, when I was a spring chicken of 50 years old.
After running this race twice (my first half marathon ever with Bert in 2009 and with my brother in the heat in 2011), we knew not to try the “commute” route, as neither the congestion of being dropped off nor the park-n-ride from the AT&T Center options were enjoyable, relaxing or in any way conducive to a good pre-race routine. So I traded one of my free night coupons for a night at the Mansion del Rio hotel on the river, within easy walking distance of the starting corrals.
A not-so-quick (everyone had the same idea) pasta dinner at Paesano’s across the river, and in bed by ten led to a decent night’s sleep.
Whether it was because of the fact that I signed up for this race very early on (since I was planning an 18 week running program around some race) or because my target time was sub 1:50, i was assigned to corral 2. We walked down Commerce street from the hotel, a nice warm-up walk in the 50 degree weather. Rain had been in the forecast, but a front that came through not only made the temps perfect, but cleared out any chance of rain. We started out under a few clouds. There was a train at the St. Paul’s Square outside the Alamodome that was decorated for the season…and yes, in spite of the pre-race anxiety, I did stop for the photo op.
Now we all know that the corrals are more like “guidelines”, and all that really matters is the time when the chip on your shoe crosses the starting mats. But the setup for the race was “skinny” to say the least…when we came up from Commerce Street, we hit corral 8 or 9, so we had to wade north through tons or runners and watchers. This took a while, longer than it should have – there was limited walking space on the side of the corrals, and a lot of that was taken over by poorly placed trash cans.
We were close to my spot when the starting gun went off. No matter….but my wife (who did outstanding work as gear pack sherpa and cheerleader) didn’t know the “guidelines” rule, and got anxious. I freaked her out by taking a side detour into a porta potty (light on the feet!), popped back out…and we were off.
Some gent at the start, not a runner, was running beside me holding a large video camera and “interviewing” me….I have no idea who he was…could have just been a guy who like to jog holding a large camera.
In an earlier post, I discussed (and over thought) my race strategy. In the end, I listened to my big brother (there’s a first time for everything), and “trusted my training.” During the tempo runs, I’d trained to maintain a cadence of 180 steps per minute. Before changing my stride to accommodate a bit of knee arthritis, I ran with long strides, with much fewer steps per minute. I’d used a metronome program for my iPhone to help me keep pace during the tempo runs. Though I thought it might drive me slightly more bonkers, I had the metronome pinging in the background through the entire race…and, in the last few miles, it certainly was a big reminder to keep on pace.
Except for the one hill (did I mention the hill? Trust me, I will), the course ran through many familiar places and old haunts. Of course , after heading north from the congested confines around the under-utilized Alamodome, we headed east towards downtown and ran it by the Alamo (see the sure-to-be Oscar worth Alamo running video below). The course zig zagged roughly north out of town, past new condo and townhouse developments, and went through the site of the old Pearl Brewery, now home to shops and cool book stores. It then turned up N. St. Marys, home to many of the bars and pubs that, as a college student at Trinity University, I heavily invested my hard earned dollars. After crossing under 281, I laughed out loud, much the the confusion of the runners next to me: we were passing by Bombay Bicycle Club, the bar where after final exams my friends and I held our near infamous “bar exams”…and now I was running by it.
Then we got to the one hill on the course. To a flatlander like myself, who training in Southeast Texas has to run the gullies to get any hill training, this was a large elevation change (in reality, it was a little over 100 feet). I’d driven this hill almost everyday commuting to Trinity for several years, and my old car could barely get up it. But the Trinity faithful lines the course, many of them wearing oversized Trinity Tiger paws which made for a nice fuzzy high five…about a hundred high fives…thanks for the support and motivation.
After winding through the Trinity neighborhoods, there was a nice straight shot down Main Street back toward downtown – about a three mile shot that at mile 10 dumped us out somewhere in the King William district, amongst all the old buildings. I’d set myself up on the runner tracking so I could see the official times (my lovely wife was texting them to me as well). At mile 10, I needed to be under 84 minutes to hit my goal; I was at 82:28, so I had a minute and a half to spare….not a lot of slack.
My brother had suggested I check myself at 10 miles to see if I could push the last 5K. It was a great idea, but I contented myself with keeping to the 180 beats per minute pace…and I’m glad I did, as maintaining that pace (which was around 8:13) the entire way was a lot by the time we got to the Finish.
The Finish area was straight, for a change. The last layout of this run had you turning a corner and seeing the Finish right in front of you. With this layout, there was about 3/4 of a mile straightaway to the Finish banner. I pushed with what little I had left to be certain I was under the 1:50 banner, and was done.
Below is the oscar-worthy Alamo-while-running video.
I did indeed meet my race goal, as per the stats below. The fact that there were 48 other old farts in my division that were faster is a source of amazement and motivation. My wife looked at the clock time, and was ecstatic that I’d beaten my goal…then we got the text with the chip time, and the party was on.
After 18 weeks of training, using the Hanson Half Marathon program, the targeted half marathon (the San Antonio RnR Half) is tomorrow. During training, my targeted race pace has been to finish in under 1:50 (my previous best is a 1:52). At a steady pace, this would be about an 8:23 pace.
Steady paces are not negative splits, though. All the folks I’ve spoken with, all the material I’ve read, talk about negative splits as the strategy for setting PRs. The theory behind it is to do the first half so that you have gas in the tank for the last half. The Hanson’s program talks a lot about training you to “run tired” which would tend to lend itself to negative splits.
With this in mind, several strategies are possible:
This last one is from my brother, and it makes sense: if you’ve been training your body for 18 weeks (longer for me) to run at a certain pace, just get into that rhythm, check at halfway and at ten miles, then push it for the last 5k/3miles.
As long as I am near 55 minutes halfway and just under 84 minutes at ten miles, this strategy will work.
As far as other race day planning, unlike the last two SA Halfs I’ve run, we will not be experience the thrill of driving to the event from my mom’s house north of town. Not only is this a royal pain, but it is too hectic and taxing; when I’ve had my best times, I’ve gotten a hotel room close to the start line and walked over. It’s quite a bit more calming. I used one of my free nights to get us a hotel within a mile.
Weather is shaping up to be near perfect – low 50s, low humidity, small chance of rain. It may not be cool enough for me to wear my special PACKERS running outfit (the receivers gloves make it sharp), but we will see.
The race has one hill, a hill I am quite familiar with as it goes up to my alma mater, Trinity University. I drove up that hill many times, and it is a steep sucker. But the downhill slope on the other side will be nice. Short stride up, longer stride down.
I’ve been getting into the habit of eating the same meal before runs to get my stomach used to it: a scoop of peanut butter and a yogurt (plus coffee, of course). We’ll match that pre-race tomorrow.
Thanks to all who have sent in support through this blog or various other social media. All that’s left is the race…and the next one…and the next one…
With all these miles, I’ve been really wearing down my shoes, even though I’ve been alternating them. I got a new pair on Newton’s (Sir Isaacs) on Wednesday, which should give me enough days to break them in before race day.
This week the strength run is a 4 x 1 mile on Tuesday, tempo run on Thursday is 5 miles. As we go into the taper, there is no Long Run on Sunday. Total target mileage 40 miles.
Plan total: EASY (5+3+3+5+6+8) = 30 miles + TEMPO 5 + 4 x 1 miles = 40 miles
Actual total: EASY (5+3+3+5+68) = 30 miles and TEMPO 5 miles + 4 x 1 mile (5.5 miles) = 51.25 miles
Next week, week number 18, is the TAPER and RACE DAY!!!!