No head injury here! Just an attempt to cool down!
The night before the PPM, the fam went out for a huge feast at Maggiano's courtesy of a sweet gift card I got from work. It was a perfect carb load where I felt full, but not bulging at the seams.
I woke up at 4:00am and was on the road with coffee in hand by 4:30. I drove through Castle Pines in order to get to I-25 and proceeded to run over a raccoon. He/she scurried across the road and I didn't see it until it was too late. Not a great start to the day! Don't worry, I didn't stop to administer CPR. It's just that I don't like killing animals that aren't in the category of mice, spiders or mosquitoes.
I got down to Manitou in the typical hour. It was dark, but the registration tent was lit up and staffed. The lady I checked in with started to put my wristband on my right arm. I stopped her and said "that's the arm I wear my watch on, so could you put it on my left?" I got back to the car and realized I didn't have my watch! Who goes to a marathon and forgets to bring their watch?!? I was frazzled thinking about how I was going to know my pace and keep on track for taking gels on a schedule. With no other option, I simply embraced the added challenge of running by feel.
Once the race started, I made it my goal on the Manitou and Ruxton Ave stretches to work my way up so I was towards the front (first 100 or so runners) when we hit the dirt. I didn't want to get stuck behind many of the runners that started hiking the W's. This was a somewhat risky proposition since this is how many people blow their race early on. The risk paid off as I got locked into a group that kept a decent, sustainable pace.
The sun was already beating down on the W's and I was sweating profusely. I took some comfort in knowing it would be much cooler as we climbed up the peak. Twice on the ascent I asked aid station volunteers for the time. Their responses let me know I was on pace for about a 3:10 ascent. I felt good, but also could sense my effort to get in more running above treeline was going to leave my legs in a rough spot when I began the descent. The wind above treeline was strong. I'm guessing the gusts were in the 30-40 mph range. That felt great when you rounded a switchback and had the wind at your back. But when the next turn was into the wind, it felt like someone had their hands on your shoulders and was pushing hard to stop your forward progress.
I made it to the summit in 3:12 (good for a 10 minute ascent PR). Given I didn't have my watch to make pacing adjustments along the way, I was quite satisfied and was excited about the prospects off starting down.
Last year, I really struggled with the downhill. My hope was that I could cruise down and run most of it. I did run most of it, but there just wasn't any speed there. Maybe it's my size/weight, but I just can't seem to let loose and fly when on technical or semi-technical trails. I was scuffing some of the rocks/roots and that served as a warning sign that a fall was not that far off if I wasn't careful.
So down the hill I went. I got passed by several people, but it wasn't nearly as demoralizing as last years flood of runners that went by. I got into a groove and while the ache in my legs increased with each mile, my fueling along the way kept my mind sharp and in the game. No bonk this year!
With about 4 miles to go, I came upon a spunky 50 year old guy that had just fallen...for the 4th time! He was scraped up everywhere but his face. I stopped and gave him some water, helped him up and made sure he was okay. He seemed more concerned about the time than his injuries. Yes, he didn't have a watch either! I simply told him to take it easy as it was more important to finish the race in one piece. I ran ahead, but guess who came flying past me in about 3-4 minutes! It was crazy and I thought for sure he was going to succumb to fall #5 at the rate he was going.
The heat buildup on the descent was quite unpleasant. I heard the forecasters say this weekend was going to be the second hottest of the summer. Well, from Barr Camp to the finish, there were several sections of the course that felt like I had just entered a sauna. Running with my handheld was huge. On the ascent, I only drank about half between aid stations. But during those last 6-8 miles, I probably drained it completely twice...and still drank a cup at the aid station.
When I hit the W's, I was right behind a guy that was running at a safe pace. I was tempted to pass, but the ache in my legs told me to just hang with him until Ruxton. He told me we were on pace for about a 5:30 finish. We chatted for about 5 minutes and with about 1.5 miles to go, he said his watch read about 5:15. That was all I needed to say farewell and crank up the speed. I blew through the final aid station and flew down the last stretch of trail before popping out on Ruxton. From that point, I just left everything I had on that road. The spectators increased and their cheering kept a smile on my face.
High fives with screaming spectators were a plenty heading into the finish!
I crossed the finish line in 5:24:04 and collapsed into a chair. One of the volunteers asked if I wanted a bag of ice on the back of my neck! YES...and my head too!! My head was so hot it felt like it was going to pop. They also setup a carwash style sprinkler and between the ice, the spray of water, and sitting with my legs in the refreshing creek, I cooled back down quickly.
I could have stood under this spray for an hour. So refreshing.
The creek running through Soda Springs Park is an awesome place to "ice down" your legs.
Final thoughts? Man, this is a tough, tough race. Straight up & straight down 7800' is no joke. It's easy for me to get down on myself for nit-picky things like not running certain parts of the course better, but Tanya has done an excellent job at searing into my brain just how fortunate I am to have the ability to even compete in something as challenging as Pikes. Last night, she kept saying..."you finished the Pikes Peak Marathon in 54th place! You're an elite runner!" Haha! While the "elite runner" part is not true, her point is well taken.