Posted on 24 August 2012.
PIKES PEAK MARATHON – August 19, 2012
Many of my past running journals were painfully long, going into every intricate detail of my subject experience. With this entry, I want to hit the high points and hopefully preserve a great memory without writing a book.
My friend Karl Studtmann convinced me to register for The Pikes Peak Marathon. He actually registered for me while Angie and the kids and I were on a spring break cruise. Unfortunately, Karl suffered a knee injury and was unable to run the race. As always, Karl was a great friend and support throughout the entire experience. I know he was disappointed that he wasn’t returning to Pikes Peak in 2012, but he only expressed excitement for me and my chance to run this race. He followed every detail of my training and advised me along the way. He checked in with me right up til the night before the race and made the experience even more special
As with every such event there is lots of planning and discussion that went into it, not to mention a whole bunch of training. For this event I trained differently in that in addition to trail work, I also did weekly treadmill steep incline workouts that were much tougher than I anticipated. Once a week, I would put the treadmill on an 18% grade and then put in over an hour as fast as I could manage to go. That workout is tougher than any speed work that I have ever done. On the trails, I logged countless hours, and ran the marathon distance or farther 5 times between May and August.
Another friend, Josh Holmes was also registered for the race and with Karl out Josh split the hotel in Manitou Springs Co with me. It was really nice to get to visit with Josh because we had never spent any one on one time together. We both arrived the day before the race (I flew in late because August 18, was my son Weston’s 13th birthday!!). Nothing like 12 hours of altitude acclimation! On my flight from Nashville to Denver, I spilled the drink of the guy sitting next to me and so I bought him a replacement. He was so grateful that he started telling me that he was a digital artist and he gave me one of his signed art pieces. Pretty cool!
I drove from Denver to Colorado Springs and then on to Manitou Springs. When I drove into Manitou I could see Pikes Peak looming, glaring, intimidating. I remember sending Karl a text and saying “OMG, What have you gotten me in to?” What an incredible mountain. Manitou Springs is an interesting little town. It’s like you stirred Gatlinburg and an adobe village together in a bowl.
Josh and I met up and went over to the registration and then ate at the pre race pasta dinner. We listened to the guest speaker, Bart Yasso give his talk. Afterward we got to meet Bart and had our pictures made with him. Bart is called the Mayor of Running and the Yasso 800s are named for him.
Josh and I made the ritualistic night before prep for the race and then I went to bed. I slept surprisingly well considering that it was the first night at altitude and the fact that I had a race the next day.
On the morning of the race, we awoke at 5:00, ate a bit, and got ready and planned to walked mile to the starting line. Interestingly when we made it to the street a race volunteer pulled over and offered us a ride. Just as we got in the car, we saw two huge mule deer bucks, with giant racks still in velvet, just hanging out on the edge of the main drag through Maintou Springs.
We took pictures at the starting line and then waited anxiously for the start. We had the first female marathon finisher to give the official start. The first mile is on the roads but it is a pretty steep incline through the storybook little town. Thereafter, you hit the trail and go up and UP AND UP!! To say that I could feel the altitude from the start is an understatement. Nevertheless I was proud of my time during the ascent. The race is historic and it has numerous well know points: No Name Creek, John Barr Trail, Barr Camp, The A Frame, Cirqure, and of course a little spot called the summit which is over 14,000 feet up.
The scenery is breathtaking. Another one of those places where you get a overwhelming sense of how our Creator made our world in a way that is far beyond what can imagine, describe or capture with a photo.
The vegetation changes as you climb and I wish I knew more about the flora and fauna to describe what I saw. Initially, there is heavier vegetation and mainly fir trees. Around 8000 feet or so, it seems to become more Alpine, and the evergreens are blended with Aspen trees. After so many years of snow skiing, I kept having the urge to cut off the trails and start carving my way down the mountain through the trees.
I really surprised myself over the first dozen miles. I was able to run pretty much whenever the traffic would allow me to do so and I was getting really excited about the time that I was making. I felt good considering (considering that there is no oxygen).
I am not sure the altitude above which the trees can no longer grow, but the moment you breakout above the tree line, it is like being on another planet. The Rocky Mountains have that name for a reason. With no tree cover, the wind feels like its howling. The temperature from 12,000 to above 14,000 feet stays in the 30s or below pretty much year round. The view is indescribable so I won’t try. I had to fight the temptation to look at the mountains and take my eyes off the trail. I learned a month or so before the race that “God Bless America” was written from Pikes Peak, and now I know why.
The last two miles before the summit became a little frustrating because of the runner created bottle neck. The elite runners, including the winner Killian Jornet, had reached the summit and were making their descent. Uphill runners must yield to downhill runners, so despite the fact that I had the physical strength to run at miles 11-13, I was forced to hike or climb at a 20+ minute pace. Thus, instead of reaching the summit in under 3:30 as I was thinking, I reached at about 3:50.
The summit was awesome, but candidly I regret that I didn’t stop and savor it a little more. I looked around very briefly and then made the turn to start the descent. Karl told me that I would immediately feel relief as soon as I started back down and he was right. The mile below the summit is really a rock quarry and there is as much climbing as there is running. Thereafter, the rocks and boulders are a little more spread out and running becomes easier. At some point before I made it to the tree line, I met up with Josh. He took a picture of me running down the trail above the tree line. It will be one of my all time favorite running pictures.
Just after I reentered the tree line, a Texas A&M fan spoke to me. I was wearing an official University of TN running team singlet, and I had people comment on it throughout the day. This particular runner and I started talking about A&M joining the SEC and about the upcoming season. I became so focused on our conversation that I didn’t focus enough on the trail. I took a step onto a big flat boulder and my foot flew out from under me. I went down hard and hit my head. I was really shaken up and it took me a long period of limping, then hiking, before I could try to run again. Even after I was able to run, I felt unsteady on my feet for most of the rest of the race. I actually fell three more times. Rocky mountain rocks are sharp, jagged, and generally unpleasant. I looked a little like I had been through a meat grinder. At every aid station from that point on, the EMTs and volunteers offered to treat my wounds. I declined, the blood running down my legs were badges of honor.
As I came back down to 8000 feet or so, it became really hot. I don’t know what the high for the day in Manitou was, but I was cooking for the last hour of the race. When I came off the trail, there were tons of spectators cheering along the mile and a half to the finish line. At one point I looked down and realized I was running about a 7 minute pace. Nothing like fan support and a finish line to make you push.
After the race I had only a few minutes to savor the finish line festivities. I had a flight from Denver to Orlando to make so I hitch hiked the three miles back to the hotel, jumped in the shower to scrub the rocky mountain gravel out of my wounds with a wash cloth, tied them up with bandanas because I had no bandages, and hauled it from Manitou back to Denver International. I was communicating with Angie, and Karl and all sort of friends and family on the way back. I remember Karl sending me a message, saying “good luck getting out of the car!” He was right, and that proved to be one of the biggest challenges of the day.
All the falling, and unsteadiness probably cost me a half hour of race time, but I have no regrets. PPM is a unique and special race. It requires unique prep and planning, but certainly one of the most prized items on my running resume.
THANKS BE TO GOD!!
– Brad Box (2012)