Sunday, August 17, 2008
Pikes Peak Ascent 2008-08-17
I found myself leaning my shoulder and head into the electric hand dryer in the Pikes Peak summit house, rubbing my hands together and grimacing in pain as the blood and feeling returned to my purple fingers. To the tourists walking into the restroom, I must have looked like some idiot as I continually restarted the air cycle of the dryer by pushing the side of my forehead into the big silver button.
I had just finished running my first-ever Pikes Peak Ascent in what many are calling the worst conditions ever for the race. When the race started in Manitou Springs at 7:00am, it was drizzling and the temperature was around 50 degrees. When I arrived on the summit of Pikes Peak after 13.32 miles, 7,815’ vertical feet of climbing and 3 hours, 12 minutes of running, it was snowing, the temperature was 32 degrees, the wind was blowing between 20 and 30mph and there was an occasional flash of lightning accompanied by some thunder.
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That morning, just before the start gun fired, I took off my wind shell jacket and tied it around my waist knowing I would appreciate it later above treeline. The forecast for the summit of Pikes Peak called for snow and winds up to 20mph. In the jacket pocket, I stashed a light beanie. On my body I wore a long sleeve synthetic shirt over a short sleeve synthetic shirt, shorts, smart wool socks and some lightweight trail running shoes. I had a pair of very light gloves in the pocket of my shorts. I also decided to carry a pair of cycling arm warmers in my other pocket. For fuel I carried a single 20oz hand bottle and a small gel bottle filled with about four gel packets-worth of Carb-Boom strawberry-kiwi energy gel.
The race started off well and I watched the fast runners shoot on ahead as I tried to stay towards the back of the front-runners pack. JV (Jeff Valliere) was gone and out of sight in no time on his way to his 2:53:34 finish so I locked onto friend Jeff Kunkle and made my best effort to keep him in sight for as long as I could. Not having run this race before, I was sure what kind of pace to hold down low and Kunkle had completed this race many times so my strategy was to just keep an eye on him to help pace me.
As we funneled into a single line of runner from the pavement onto the trail to reach Barr Trail, I watched Kunkle about 8 people ahead of me and tried to keep it that way. I expected it to be more hectic and tough to pass people on the trail up the Ws but it wasn’t very difficult. Everyone was very considerate and moved over if they felt someone else coming up behind them.
I set off on this race hoping to run it in 3 hours, 10 minutes. Using the online PPA pace calculator, I memorized three major split times along the course so I would know how I was doing on my way up. At the top of the Ws, I should be at 38:13. I ended up at 37:00. At Barr Camp I should be at 1:36:34. I ended up at 1:32:06. And at the A Frame, I should be at 2:15:21. I ended up there at 2:12:31. For my part, I did a pretty good job of pacing myself. I owe a lot of that to Kunkle too. I managed to keep him in sight, and even talk with him a bit, up until the Barr Camp. After that, though, he charged off to his 3:02:33 finish and I didn’t see him again until the summit.
Personally, I was feeling pretty good and on schedule for my 3:10 finish. The light rain was off and on but never very hard and the wind hadn’t kicked up. But that all changed when I came to the A Frame with about three miles to go. From here, we were out of the trees and into the full winds and snow. The trail began to get slushy from the wet snow and the winds got stronger as I got higher. When I was headed southerly it was a full-on headwind so I would tuck one hand into the pocket on my shorts and with the hand that was holding the water bottle, I’d stick it behind my back so it wasn’t exposed to the wind. When I’d hit a switchback towards the north I’d keep both hands in front of my body to keep my hands out of the wind. I had gloves on my hands but they were so light and damp they weren’t helping a great deal. I did end up using one of my arm warmers as a “mitten” on my right hand for a while which I think helped. The trail in the final few miles is trail constructed through talus so the footing got a bit slick but never too treacherous. As I got higher I could begin to hear the announcer at the finish line up above but because of the dense fog and snow, I couldn’t see up to the summit. Then, just after a volunteer standing next to the trail shouted, “less than a quarter-mile to go!” there was a bright flash of light followed quickly by a clap of thunder. This motivated me to push things a bit more and I cranked out what I could to the finish.
I was feeling good but the cold kept me from pushing it hard to the finish and I ended up two minutes behind my goal time with a finish time of 3:12:00 exactly. As I crossed the finish line I was immediately given a finisher’s medal by a volunteer (the volunteers that endured the conditions for hours on Saturday ought to be given huge stipends!) and pointed to the building where I could change and get some hot beverages. Allison was there at the finish to greet me (she had been standing out in the cold and snow for a quite a bit—what a trooper!) and give me my bag of warm, dry clothes.
En route to the summit shop, I stopped by the moving truck to pick up my finisher’s shirt. At this point, the wind was howling and the snow was blowing sideways. I quickly ran over to the summit shop where a guy yelled at me, “This building is for tourists and customers only, not for runners. There’s a building back that way where you can change.” Well, I knew that Allison was in the building and that there were restrooms with electric dryers in there so I told the guy, “I’m just going in to find my girlfriend.” With that, he gave a skeptical look and let me pass by. I found JV, Kunkle and Allison all waiting in the foyer of the building. I grabbed my dry clothing and ran into the men’s restroom inside to change. My body’s core temperature was still reasonable and I didn’t feel hypothermic but my fingers were completely numb. I had a very difficult time using the zipper on my jacket and untying my shoes. I went straight for the electric hand dryer and got to business undressing. Forgetting that I was among tourists and not fellow runners, I stripped down and threw all my wet clothes into the sink as I rubbed my fingers and hands under the welcoming warmth of the hand dryer. As the feeling and blood returned to my fingers, I grimaced in pain as another guy in the restroom stared at me probably wondering just what the hell I was doing. Runners. Yeah, we're different.
After getting into my dry clothes I headed out and found Allison again. We had heard they were considering closing the road down so we hustled out to the parking lot to find a shuttle. Allison had parked a few miles down the road at the Devil’s Playground so we hopped into a waiting shuttle van and endured a slow, tedious ride down the road to the parking area.
We got into Allison’s car and had an uneventful drive down the mountain and back to Manitou Springs where we met up with JV, Jeff, Jean, Wayne and Mark for some food and giant margaritas at The Loop.
I ended up 84th out of 762 runners in the ascent. Full results can be viewed here. Some good stories from the Colorado Springs Gazette... Peak Throws All its Tricks at Ascent Runners and Storm Pushes Many Ascent Runners Back Down.
And how about some more photos?