Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pikes Peak Ascent

So here it is, my "race" report for the Ascent.  This one has been pretty tough to type out as I am still disappointed in the end result:  not finishing.   I know, I know, I had no control over the decision to close the course.  But it meant that I didn't reach my goal of finishing at the top of Pikes Peak, and I have had a hard time processing that. 

Mother Nature did not cooperate the weekend of the race.  It started raining Friday morning, was a complete downpour on the way to the Springs Friday afternoon, and continued raining the remainder of the night.  On the bright side, Andrea, Sarah and I stayed in the most spectacular hotel, The Cliff House, 3 blocks from the starting line.  We ordered room service and watched the Olympics, what a great night!  The hotel had HEATED toilet seats.  Yes, HEATED toilet seats!!!!  I woke up a couple of times in the night to hear the sound of rain coming down on the sky lights.  It reminded me of the marathon last October.....raining, cold, and miserable.  And I survived that day (actually had a GREAT marathon) so I felt fine going into the Ascent. But my equation was off:  cold, rainy marathon in Denver does not equal cold, rainy half marathon up Pikes Peak.  

As we walked down to the start of the race, it was raining (surprise), and we saw all sorts of runners trying to stay dry in all sorts of ways.  Lots of trash bags, ponchos, rain gear, bags on the feet.  And then there were those with no jackets at all....Wave 1 went off right at 7:00 with the prediction of 1 to 3 inches of snow at the top.  No worries, I had my Yak Trax in my camelback.  We checked our dry clothes bag into the van that went to the summit, visited the porta potty (yes kids, only one trip today!), and lined up for Wave 2 start at 7:30.  We were off!!!

My main goal was to take it out very slow to give my body a chance to warm up and give my calves a chance to settle before the big hills came in just a mile.  What I didn't realize is that I was at the back of the pack and probably should have been mid to front pack.  As soon as we hit that first BIG hill (probably 15% grade) everyone was walking.  So I walked too....great decision for the calves as they were already tightening up.  As it flattened out (only a 5% grade), I started to run again.  As we reached the point where we connected with Barr Trail, it was a complete cattle call MOO trying to funnel all the runners onto the trail.  Once again, I was walking, and it was OK because I knew that I'd be able to pick it up soon.  After about 15 minutes of this hiking, I decided I needed to get more aggressive in passing since I wanted to run and challenge myself more.  "On your left" became something I said often at that point.  Finally, after the W's section, the runners thinned out a bit and I was really able to start moving.  I felt great, my pace was good and when it was really steep, I would aggressively hike that section and run again when it "flattened" out.  All of a sudden I hit some downhills and felt like I was flying.  Uphill, uphill, little downhill, I just kept on keeping on.  I drank gatorade at each aid station and tried to eat too but that wasn't going as well as I would have liked.  I forced down a gel and a couple of pretzels because I knew I had to eat.  The next aid station I would hit was Barr Camp, at 7.8 miles, it was considered the 50% of effort mark!

Although it was a light rain/drizzle at this time, it was beautiful.  Everything was green and lush and smelled so fresh.  I hit a big uphill and decided to agro hike this one, and was still passing people on the way up.  It was steep but my body felt fine - my calves were loose, my glutes and hips didn't hurt.  I had the start of a headache (exertion and altitude, not surprising) and my back was achy probably because of carrying the camelback which I have never used running.  Now it started to rain a bit harder and since I was at about 10,200 feet in elevation, it was getting colder.  I had drops of water falling off the bill of my hat!  And then I heard a voice from above.  No really, he was standing on a rock above me saying "Welcome to Barr Camp!"  I actually had tears in my eyes and a big smile because I still felt fine and I knew I would get to the top.  I looked at my watch and I was on a 4 hour finish pace.  SWEET -  my goal was 4:30!  This aid station had the best food: pretzels, pb&j roll ups, m&m's, nilla wafers.  I grabbed a pb&j roll and decided I would hit the m&m's at the A Frame (next aid station, 2.8 miles away).  I put on my gloves and continued on.

I was still hiking aggressively, pushing the pace and passing people on the left.  But the strangest thing was seeing people coming at me on their way down.  Wha?  What are you people doing?  Wrong way to the summit!  Or did they summit and decide to come down?  No, no, marathon is tomorrow.  I was very confused by this.  And then I heard thunder.  It seemed distant and I just hoped it would pass quickly.  A couple of minutes later, I heard it again except this time it seemed much closer and louder.  Uh oh.  But I kept going.  And I heard the thunder again.  This is NOT good especially as I was approaching timberline.  Oh yeah, it was raining very hard at this point, closer to hail, a bit windy, pretty nasty conditions.  And now I looked up and saw a stream of people COMING DOWN.  Wha?  And then a voice saying, "Course is closed at the A Frame, turn around and go down."  No......what do you mean closed?  I only have 3.5 miles to go.....come on, surely they are just kidding, maybe too wimpy to get to the top??  "Course closed turn around."   And I stopped.  I had planned on getting to the A Frame, putting on my rain jacket, warm hat and dry gloves, and taking advil.   But I was stopped now.  I started shivering and it occurred to me that I was soaked to the bone.  I put on my jacket and considered just getting to the A Frame because I was so close but it thundered again and I was now shivering almost uncontrollably and realized that would be an incredibly stupid thing to do.  So I turned around and joined the line of people going down.  But it was a complete clusterf**k.  People were still tying to go up and there was a mass of people going down and we just weren't moving.  I was cold and trying not to panic because I know how fast things can go bad at the elevation I was at.  Just Always Move wasn't working now, in fact, it took me over 40 minutes to go 1 mile downhill.

I was just trying to warm up and not to drown in my own disappointment.  It was only at this point that I realized that I had gone 9.33 miles up, and would have to cover another 9.33 miles to be off this mountain.  There were no mid-mountain shuttles, no easy way down.  I thought about the post I wrote a couple of weeks ago and knew that I had jinxed myself.  Never ever say Never!  I reached Barr Camp and I guess I was hoping they would say, it's cleared up and you can go to the top if you want!  But instead the rangers took our numbers and told us to continue down the mountain.  Race Over. And to make matters worse, all the m&m's were gone.  That's right peeps, NEVER pass up m&m's at an aid station!

Later, I spoke with some runners who made it to the top and said it was miserable.  Everyone who reached the top was hypothermic.  It was snowing, hailing, lightening etc.  Just plain dangerous.  They all looked a bit stunned at what they had experienced.  I'm pretty sure that the majority of Wave 1 runners made it to the top and the majority of Wave 2 did not.  I know lots of people questioning if the race organizers should even have started the race that day but the way I see it, if they are crazy enough to organize this type of event, they are crazy enough to start it on a less than perfect day.  

So yes, I am disappointed.  And yes, I want to try it again next year if the race schedule allows.  I realize the only reason I did not make the top was not my fault.  Mother Nature please raise your hand and take a bow!  By the way, the race organizers decided to give us non-finishers the way SEXY red hot finisher shirts.  I even wore it for a few hours on Sunday!

Best part:  Getting off the mountain safely

Second best part:  Heated toilet seats!

Thank you to everyone for your warm wishes and thoughts and encouragement!!

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