Sunday, September 2, 2012

2012 Pikes Peak Ascent

Getting chased by Gerald Romero near the finish

Well, that was fun. A week away from the heat, humidity and bugs of New England was just what I needed. Summer is my least favorite season and the crash that I usually experience after Mt. Washington, good race or not, leaves me longing for the cooler air and changing foliage of fall. I wasn't planning on going anywhere for vacation this summer, but early in July Jess and I decided we might want to head out west somewhere for a week. We have both wanted to go back to Rocky Mountain National Park since our trip in 2008, so Colorado it was! No trip to the Rocky Mountain state in August would be complete without racing up Pikes Peak though, so Jess was gracious enough to give up a few days in RMNP to stay in Manitou Springs with our friends Peter Maksimow and Nora Duane.

It was good catching up with Peter and Nora after not having a chance to see them after Mt. Washington. Peter took me on a nice 7 mile run on the Intemann Trail on Friday morning. The legs felt good, but my lungs and head were definitely feeling the altitude a little. I knew I hadn't hydrated on the plane as well as I normally do, but I figured I would just try to catch up before the race. I also caught up on the awesome beer selection of Colorado in Peter and Nora's fridge!

Race day dawned a little warm and humid, but nowhere as near as humid as the weather we've dealt with in New England this summer. Peter, Rickey Gates and I warmed-up by heading to the start from Peter's place, about 1.5 miles away. There are a lot fewer butterflies for me at this race than Mt. Washington, despite the looming task of running uphill for two and a half hours. Lowered expectations will do wonders for your intestinal systems. I got a few last minute pointers from Pikes Peak legend Scott Elliot, then we were off.

Making my way to the finish

My goal anytime I race at altitude is to find my red line, but DO NOT GO OVER IT. Especially in a race that's two plus hours long. Some people may look at it as a wimpy way of racing, but you have to know your limits. Blowing up 4 miles in isn't going to do me any good running up a 14,000 ft. mountain. One thing I wasn't expecting 4 miles into the race was to get passed by Kim Dobson. Or maybe it was earlier, my brain was already a little fuzzy. The hard part about running by feel and ignoring mile splits is that you never really know how you're running time-wise. I knew Kim was either flying or I was really dogging it. I felt like I might be going a touch fast, which made me think Kim was REALLY moving. After she passed me in the W's I just tried to run smart knowing that I still had 2 hours of mountain running ahead of me.

I was pretty much in no-man's (or no-woman's) land until Barr Camp. Just before we reached the aid station I actually caught Kim and the guy from Arizona with the pink socks. At this point I still had a low grade headache, but I felt like I was getting into a good rhythm. I came through Barr Camp around 73 minutes, about two minutes slower than 2009. Scott Elliot reminded me at the start that Barr Canp is about half way time wise. Just after the aid station I passed Kim and the pink socks guy (Brian Folts). I was able to open a bit of a gap on them as the trail started to get more technical. I also spotted Peter up ahead a little ways and I made a move to catch him.

Peter has done a ton of running on this mountain and I knew I was in good company to be running with him at this stage in the race. We worked together to keep moving up the hill and hopefully catch some stragglers past the A-Frame. As we approached the A-Frame aid station Kim and Brian caught Peter and I and Peter went around me. I guess I was slowing us down and holding us up, but it was imperceptible as we climbed the rugged switchbacks. My fingers were starting to swell and my hands were tingling. The pressure in my skull was getting greater, but it was nothing to be alarmed about. I came through the A-Frame checkpoint in 1:43:26, about a minute and a half behind my PR from 2009 and 14 seconds behind Kim and Peter. I was a little worried that I was slower than PR pace, but I remembered that I did a lot of walking above treeline in 2009, and I was determined not to do that this year.

Running above treeline at Pikes Peak looks a lot like the terrain above treeline on Mt. Washington, but there is actually a trail on Pikes. There are a few rocks to hop over, but it's not constant scrambling like running up the summit cone on Big George. That being said, running above 11,000 ft. is pretty damn tough. At this point my quads were starting to feel the cumulative fatigue of 1:40 of running uphill, and I was getting twinges in my calves from dehydration. I just tried to keep my head on my shoulders and put one foot in front of the other.

At this point I wasn't thinking about racing, just getting to the top as fast as possible. I could see Peter and Kim ahead of me every once in a while, but the trail switchbacks so much you never really know how far anyone is ahead of you. You can also look up 1000 vertical feet and see people near the summit, but you're still a couple of miles away via trail.

Speaking of seeing people above you, I spotted mountain running god Killian Jornet coming down the mountain when I hit the 2 miles to go sign. He was bounding from rock to rock on his way down. He offered some encouragement as I trudged up the mountain. Not long after that he decided to turn around and pass me on the way up. I used him as a carrot and stayed with him until just before the 16 Golden Stairs. There was a search and rescue crew hanging out here and they were playing "America the Beautiful" on kazoos. I kid you not. I asked them if they knew "Another One Bites the Dust". They got a kick out of that.

I got a kick out of knowing that I was almost finished. The 16 Golden Stairs look a lot like New England mountain running terrain, and I take pride in running everything in front of me, but I put my hands to my knees and did the Euro-hike on most of this stretch. Lack of oxygen and fatigue weren't going to allow for any explosive movements from my body, unless they were coming from my bowels or esophagus.

Peter Maksimow, myself and Gerald after the finish

Despite being thoroughly exhausted and having a pounding headache, I was determined to finish strong and run as much as possible. I was even more determined when I spotted Gerald Romero behind me with less than half a mile to go. I was one spot ahead of Gerald in 2009. He was a lot closer this time and I knew I was close to a top 10 spot and didn't want to lose it. I managed to find another gear, the one past the red line, and kicked it in to stay ahead of Gerald and squeak under 2:30 in 2:29:48, a 2 minute PR. My lovely wife was there to catch me and make sure I wasn't drooling all over myself. I was definitely feeling the effort and the altitude after I finished, but I was able to choke down some water, Gatorade and some food before heading back down the mountain. I ended up wearing the new Inov8 TrailRoc 235s which worked great on the hardpacked Colorado trails.

A big thank you to Peter and Nora for allowing us to stay with them in there awesome cabin, and a big thank you to Peter for pulling me along in the race and reminding me how much fun it is hanging out with so many cool runners, even on the weekend of your biggest race of the year.  And a big thank you to the organizers of the Pikes Peak races for putting on a great race and event. Also, congrats to Kim Dobson on an amazing run. Each time she went by me she looked so strong. You could tell she trained hard for this race and was a woman on a mission. She had the 3rd fastest split from A-Frame to the summit! 

As painful as it sounds, I thoroughly enjoyed the race itself and the atmosphere around it. It was nice going into the race with not a lot of pressure to run a certain time or place. I still had goals, but they weren't all consuming. Running is funny. Sometimes the harder you try the further you'll find yourself from what you're trying to attain.

This one says it all


  1. That sounds like a beast of a race. Congrats on the top 10! Great report.

  2. GZ, I got your comment, but it didn't post for some reason. One thing I learned compared to 2009 was to keep my composure above tree line. Last time above tree line I started to get frustrated with the lack of oxygen and found myself stumbling a lot and going of course. This time I tried to keep a clear head and just put one foot in front of the other. I think that's why I was nearly 3 minutes faster above A-Frame. As far as the rest of the race, I think I ran similar to what I did in 2009, it was just a little slower. I think it was a little warmer this year. Happy Birthday!

  3. Thoroughly enjoyed the write up Kevin. Thanks for sharing. This is the kind of stuff that will get me to take time away from working on the house amd get at it.

  4. Great job Kevin! Nice to meet you and your wife, hopefully we can connect again in the future.

  5. I am looking to use this as a running goal. I live at sea level and have run flatland half marathons in about 2:16. Will I be well outclassed?

  6. David - expect to be in the 4:30 ish range. It depends on a lot. Particularly how you do at altitude. That is middle of the field.