Friday, July 24, 2009

Pikes Peak

Last weekend, I had a slight change of plans and decided to go for a training run/hike up Pikes to the summit. Previously, my plan was to wait until the race in order to make hitting the peak that much more memorable. The reasons for making a summit attempt before the race began piling up over the last few weeks.

* On my previous training run to Barr Camp, I chatted with a guy who had run several PPM's. He strongly recommended hiking the entire trail once so I would be familiar with it on race day.

* I needed at least one training run that involved me being on my feet for 5-6 hours. That would help me get used to how long I'll be on my feet on race day. Who am I kidding? It would be a miracle if I broke 6 hours during the PPM.

* I found out the marathon turnaround point is actually about 50 feet from the summit. There's no way I was going to run up this mountain and head back down without standing on the true top. I suppose I could have run past the turnaround and gone up the last 50 feet, but then I'd have issues detailed in my next point.

* On previous 14er climbs, one of my favorite parts is enjoying a nice, long rest on top. I love taking in the views from every direction and soaking in the reward of the climb. I know that wouldn't have happened during the race. I'd be too concerned with the ticking clock and be anxious to start the descent.

* And my last reason...there's a restaurant/gift shop on the summit for those that choose to drive up or take the Cog railway. I keep hearing about these "world famous" high altitude donuts they make up there. I wanted to have a chance to try one. See more on this below...

I started at 5:00 am and needed a headlamp for the first mile or so. I was not alone on the trail. I had to pass about 5 groups of hikers in that mile. I later bumped into a couple that had started hiking at 2:30 am! The ascent was fun and about as difficult as I had expected. I arrived at the summit around 8:30 am.

Let's get back to those donuts. I entered the Summit House restaurant and bought my two treats. What a tremendous disappointment! I could only choke down one and what a grease bomb it was. I tossed the second. I wish I had read this FAQ from some guy's website who regularly climbs the peak (before I ate):

Q. What's up with the donuts?
A. I wish I knew. People always told me that if I ever go to the top of Pikes Peak, I absolutely MUST eat the donuts. After eating (part of) one, I was convinced that these people were playing a cruel, practical joke. When I tried a Peak donut, I noticed a distinct trace of bratwurst flavor which, incidentally, they also sell at the Summit House. I couldn't get that experience out of my head for weeks afterwards.

With a slight stomach ache, I made my way outside for the descent. It was brutal. About a mile in, my legs were hurtin' and I was discouraged by how much further I had to go. I tried to jog as much as I could, but eventually that became impossible during that last couple miles. It also got very hot on the descent and of course I ran out of Gatorade in my pack with two miles to go. Two long miles! Despite being very dehydrated and having to walk down the final hill backwards (yes, my legs refused to walk the normal way), I was glad I made it all the way up and down experiencing every step of the Barr Trail.

The race is in 23 days. I'll need to be ready to go a few more miles than I went on Saturday. I think I'm as nervous & excited as I've ever been for a race. Pikes is an amazing mountain. I've been staring at it for almost 4 years...wondering what it must be like to stand on top. Now I know. What a treat it was to climb.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Leadville Heavy Half Marathon Recap

On Saturday morning, I ran in the Leadville Heavy Half Marathon as a part of my training for the PPM. What is a "heavy" half marathon you ask?? Here's how they describe it on their website, "13.1 (plus a couple more) miles of breathtaking, Leadville Rocky Mountain trails." In total it was about 15.5 miles. Most importantly, it was at high altitude. The race began at 10,200' and the turnaround was on top of Mosquito Pass at about 13,200'.

This was my first race on trails. Wow, what a difference from a road race. With trail running, there is no "locking into" a pace. No, your pace is constantly changing due to varying factors of trail conditions, elevation gain, not being able to pass on narrow sections, etc. This race was almost entirely on a 4WD only road. It was rugged and steep. Almost all of us were relegated to hiking the last two miles to the top of the pass.

Trail races are fairly bare bones when it comes to frills. Let me tell you where they don't skimp. The aid stations. Boy, what a sight it was to approach the first aid station after a grueling 3.5 mile climb. Cold watermelon slices, jelly beans, M&Ms, Coke, Sprite, Gatorade, PB&J sandwiches, pretzels, energy bars...I could go on. I had to remind myself I was in a race and not to linger too long! I went for the watermelon slices and slurped them down with delight!

Another first for me? Breaking the tape as I crossed the finish line. Sorry to get you excited, but I didn't win the race. Since most runners were spaced out, they had several young girls hold a tape for every finisher to break as they cross the line. Despite my 25th place finish, it was a nice touch that I'm sure I'll never experience again.

I finished the race with a time of 2:53. It's hard for me to think about going another 11 miles, 4000' of elevation gain, and 3 hours on my about a month. But I was also encouraged that I felt pretty good after this race.

Lastly, I want to give a shout out to James, who just completed his "26point2" video masterpiece. It's awesome! Check it out at the link below or on our Videos page.

26point2 - My First Marathon

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mt. Cardigan Run

I decided to go for a training run up Mt. Cardigan during our visit to New Hampshire. In training for Pikes, I need to find ways to get in long runs up and downhill. Mt. Cardigan fit the bill except I needed to start about five miles away from the trailhead in order to get in more time on my feet.

I began my early morning by parking in downtown Alexandria. The village square probably hasn't changed in 100 years. I proceeded on paved & dirt roads until I hit the AMC Cardigan Lodge. From there the 2.5 mile trail to the summit began.

The first half mile was uneventful. Then all the rain NH had received that week reared its ugly head. The trail was a mess. The rest of the way was pretty much what you see above in the sloppy trail photo.

As I got closer to the granite face summit, I entered the clouds. The temperature dropped & the wind picked up dramatically. They mark the trail on granite with small spray paint marks. If I didn't have those, I surely would have gotten disoriented and lost. It was a very weird feeling to be surrounded by thick fog on top of mountain. Visibility was about 50 feet. I contemplated turning around, but wanted to find the fire tower, which marked the summit. Slowly, it came into view. It was so spooky up there, that the fire tower took on a "haunted house" look and I no longer cared to hang around!

The run back was nice once I got out of the fog & wind. So in total, I got in about 15 miles and 3000 feet of elevation gain. It was a good run for conditioning my legs. I need to be up at higher altitudes in order to prepare for that piece of the Pikes equation.