Pikes Peak Marathon
Report by Karen Riddle
Now, this may actually be the craziest thing I have ever done. The last time I tried it, two years ago, I missed the 6:30 (6 hrs. 30 minutes) cutoff at summit by 20 minutes, the altitude really getting to me, nausea, headache and all that. This time, I will have spent a solid week above 9,000 ft. with hiking and running and felt confident that I could handle the altitude.
So, I got into Manitou Springs after being at High Peak Camp (Fiddle Camp), checked into my cabin and hurried to check in. There were no pre-race t-shirts, but a wonderful Pikes Peak bag and they showed off the Finishers Jackets to tease or encourage those to complete the race the next day. I was eavesdropping on the Ascent people (the Ascent being held the day prior to the marathon, with several runners accomplishing both!!!) and heard the horror stories about the hail, snow, and generally wet, cold conditions at the top. I did not bring the right clothes, oh no! But, at the Marathons and Beyond booth, I was looking at Richard Benyo's Death Valley book, intending to buy it, as having just been there for Ben Jones Badwater Ultra Solo, I was given an offer to buy an $18 wind/almost rain resistant jacket for $10!!! I took the offer. There was a great pre-race pasta dinner, all you could eat and it was fantastic. I headed back to the room for taping of the feet and a good night's rest.
I could walk to the start from my room, which was heavenly and left a bit early when the excitement mounted as I saw runner's heading that way. It was cool, but not too cool and I knew the day would get warm so I opted for shorts and short sleeves, with the rest of my gear, electrolytes, snacks, water bottles, camera and such in my Go-lite pack. I started mid back of the pack and headed out easy to Ruxton Rd. and then to the start of the Barr trail. It was very exciting and very difficult, with, what initially appeared to be not very many good runnable parts. Mind you, this is up up up to over 14,000 ft.! The trail varied from clear soft dirt to gravel to lots of rocks and roots to almost total rock climbing. Gaiters come in handy to keep the dirt and gravel out of your shoes, which you really don't want there and you don't want to stop any more than you have to. The scenery varied from tree covered, wooded views to extreme mountain overlook views of the seemingly entire surrounding area.
There are two on-course cutoffs: one at Barr Camp at 10:15 in the a.m. at the 7.6-mile pt., which translates into 3 hrs. and 15 minutes. Laugh at the pace if you want to-? just try it!!! I got there with 45 minutes to spare and was thrilled as the last time I had gotten there with 30 minutes to spare. Now the real race begins, as the altitude has its detrimental effect. On to A-Frame, which is the next cut-off at, I believe 4.5 hrs.. A-Frame is the other spot where the REAL race begins. I made it to A-Frame with 30 minutes to spare (last time - 15 min.) and I was hearing many runners opt to turn around at the point, foregoing the race to head back down. The altitude was taking its toll and self-preservation was at hand!! I felt great and moved on, but knew that I had to make it to the top in 6 hrs. to make the 10 hr. cut-off. I am a terrible downhill runner and knew it would take me 4 hrs. to get down.
Looking up, it was cloudy and dreary looking, the top was hidden and it was getting colder. On with the $10 windbreaker!! It worked wonders!!! About two miles from the top a man was down and the rescue crew was working hard ? I hoped he made it, but later learned the 59 yr. old gentleman from Norman, OK had had a massive heart attack. The crew did a most impressive job and a rescue helicopter came to assist.
The terrain changed to mostly rocks and it was wet and slippery in spots. Top runners were making their way down and I have to say it was a bit disheartening to keep stopping on the very narrow slippery trail to let them by. Pressing forward we yelled to the runners ahead of us - KEEP GOING!!! We had a time limit to make and the downhill runners had already made it. It was now snowing, wet, cold, slippery and we just pressed on and on. Looking up it was so hard to tell how far the end was - switchback after switchback on the 16 Golden Rocks (er - Stairs, as they call them). We helped each other, extending hands or allowing runners to use shoulders for support, runners holding you up, it was a great team effort to get to the top. And I made it!! With 40 minutes to spare - an entire hour quicker than two years ago.
The race crew hurried us through the turn around to get us back down and now we were the downhill runners, well made sliders, easing our way over the rocks, through the slush, trying not to fall. Now it was our turn to go first, but we let the uphill runners go by so that they could make cutoff. Some of these people did not look good at all. Remember, the altitude at the top is 14,115 ft. and that can affect people in different ways. I stopped to take some pictures as the view below the clouds and snow was magnificent! I also stopped and gave a lone cold runner an extra poncho I had in my pack. She had no covering at all and was freezing.
OK, now when I left the top I had plenty of time to get to the bottom, like I could do 20-minute miles, but as I goofed off, I was making it harder and harder on myself, as it went to 16, then 15-minute miles!!! I had to press on and some of the rocky areas made that next to impossible! I had to run and run hard! And it's now downhill, quad killing, knee slamming downhill! But, that didn't bother me a bit, it was tripping and falling that bothered me! I slipped down two rocks, ouch! Now, people who were on the way up when I was going down were passing me ? I had to hurry, back to A-frame, the volunteers were still cheering and helping ? what a great bunch! On and on and on, back to Barr Camp - still a great crew and also the rescue crew was still out. Well, more fast down hillers were passing me and I had to push, push push, down I went, OUCH! I stayed down a while to evaluate the damage, two knee skins, gravel imbedded and my right elbow! I brushed off as much as I could, stood up slowly, knees really hurting and off I hobbled, falling into it and the pain completely went away. I let the blood drip ? no time to fix anything, get to the bottom.
We were helping each other by telling each other we have to get the jacket!! Remember the jacket!! I ran as fast as I could on and on and on. Even downhill it seemed so far. Music was playing over a bridge and I knew the end was close, but even two miles and even one mile still seemed a ways to go. I still grabbed water at the aid stations, still took electrolytes and pressed on; now back on the road to the end. Spectators were still cheering this far into the run, hours and hours after the top runners finished. It was so incredibly emotional to know that I will finish this difficult event!!! Cheers and cheers and cheers to the end and a 9:41 finish!!! I was ushered into the medical tent to get my scrapes washed off and sterilized. I overheard that the OK gentleman didn't make it. People were hooked up to IV's, oxygen, others had been stitched up and still others sent to the hospital with broken bones. I was lucky ? only minor scrapes!!! Off I went to pick up the coveted finishers jacket and my buff - get to the truck and THEY ARE OUT OF JACKETS AND BUFFS!!!!! No, no, no - can't be!!! They will send them, they say. Still, I am proud, flaunting my finishing medal, but slightly disheartened, walking back to my room, with just medal around the neck, no jacket . . . . But, I have to say, it was the most difficult and exhilarating and proud moment to have finished this most difficult run!!!