Pikes Peak: Still Running Up Things

The last four-ish weeks have been largely comprised of adventures on Pikes Peak, prepping for the WMRA Long Distance Challenge, which this year will coincide with the Pikes Peak Ascent, so it’ll be cool to have an international race in there too, I’m guessing this will be a pretty deep year.

In previous years, the Long Distance Challenge has been featured in other way cool places like Switzerland and Italy, so it’s pretty rad that it’s in our backyard this go-around. There are five people on both the men’s and women’s side to represent Team USA. The winners of the Mt. Evans Ascent, the Vail Half Marathon and Mt. Washington all got automatic qualifiers, and two additional runners were taken by resume’ (three in the case of the men, since Joe Gray captured the Vail Half and Mt. Washington titles, oh yeah and the USA Mountain Running Champs. Dude’s on fire.). So for the men, it ended up being Joe, Sage Canaday, Eric Blake, Zach Miller and Andy Wacker. For the women it will be Morgan Arritola, Allie McGlaughlin, Nuta Olaru, Stevie Kraemer and myself.

Anyway, that’s some background for folks that are nearly as clueless as myself as to how the mountain running scene operates.

As a result, I’ve been running around on Pikes a lot lately to make sure that I know what I’m getting myself into, it’s been quite fun although some things about it have taken some getting used to. Like actually having to plan–like really plan–workouts up there, and factor in things that you don’t usually have to. For instance, if you’re going to be running around up there for like 3 hours and it’s 90 degrees outside and you’re going to be between 9,000 and 13,000 feet, it would be wise to bring more than say, 20 ounces of water. The good news though is that you can always hit up Anthony, the Keeper of Barr Camp (not sure what his actual job title is) for some form of hydration, in desperate times. Barr Camp, which is about 6 miles up the mountain, has kind of got a monopoly on the beverage industry up there and let’s just say one day I dropped about $20 on Gatorade. Ah, rookie mistakes.

Then there is the fact that you can only go up or down. This seems quite obvious given that you are on a mountain after all, but say for example you are catastrophically clumsy and tentative running downhill and just the very thought of pounding out 3 or 4–let alone 13–miles downhill makes your quads simultaneously explode, then you’ll have to work out a way to avoid that. Unless you’re training for the Pikes Peak Marathon and it’s necessary to get in loads of downhill, in which case I feel sorry for you. But in the case that you want to avoid those unsavory downhills, you have the option of going all the way to the summit, but if you do, then you have to make sure you’ve already considered how you’re getting back down (be it hitch hiking or taking the Cog), or you can take the Cog down from Mountain View, which is a super secret little train stop that is basically parallel to Barr Camp, just about a mile and a half into the woods. Be warned though that if you take the Cog from Mountain View, you will likely be the only person getting on there, and they just stopped the whole train for you, and the one behind it too if there happens to be one, and that tends to induce a lot of staring from Cog occupants at the curious new oddity among them that just materialized out of the woods. It’s fine, just super awkward (well, I mean if you’re me, because somehow I make most things awkward) and you may be asked how your “Nature Jog” went or “did you hike ALL the way here?!” No, but seriously it’s cool.

Anyway. So I’ve kind of unconsciously divvied the course up in my head into quarters over the last few weeks. There is the start at Memorial Park in Manitou (the part where it’ll be oh so tempting to take off like it’s a road race…) up to the 3.5 mile sign, in my opinion the first 5k is a bit of a doozie, lots of climbing!

Then there is my favorite stretch, from 3.5 up to Barr Camp, which is a lot of climbing but a lot of undulating terrain where you can actually get into a rhythm, and it takes you through a lot of aspen stands and lots of wildflowers and right by the turn for Experimental Forest. I’ll tell you all about Experimental Forest in a minute because I find it quite fascinating, I know you’re super excited so stay tuned!

From Barr Camp you make a bit of a gnarly climb up to A-Frame, which is a shelter built at timberline and it’s about 5k from A-Frame to the finish, easy peezy right? Well, no. If I had to guess, and I am guessing, this is probably the part where everyone’s race will either be made or broken depending upon how smart they were in the earliest stages. It’s a good last 5k in that it isn’t on any washed out or technical stretches of trail, but it’s tough because it’s all above treeline and there’s not a lot of, you know, air in the air. This was where I first learned that 15-plus minute mile pace can in fact feel extremely challenging even on your best day, and that has been hard to get used to. But if you went too hard to early on, it’ll probably be the most difficult 5k of your life. One thing that I did learn up there though was that if I was having a particularly rough time, just don’t look up. That was kinda my mantra at Mt. Washington because if I looked up it looked so much steeper and further than what I thought I could keep doing. So really, not looking up is super helpful. It’s kinda like life: concentrate on what’s in front of you and what you’re doing about it, not what’s to come way up ahead and how’re you going to do it, because that can make it seem somewhat overwhelming.
You’re welcome for that analogy.

Last Sunday was the first time I ran from the base to the summit non-stop, before I had only done segments of it repeatedly, and I was amazed at how fast it seemed to go by. There is a lot to concentrate on but also a lot to look around and take in, so it really didn’t feel like all that long of a distance and it doesn’t feel quite so intimidating anymore.

I’ve run into loads of pretty cool people up there, here we have Brandy Erholtz and Sage “The GOAT” Canaday:

And a bighorn sheep:

I wish that I had more photos but carrying a phone on runs basically is against my religion.

As a special bonus for actually reading this far, I’m going to give you:

FUN FACTS ABOUT PIKES PEAK!
(Most of these were learned on my many Cog trips)So GET PUMPED!!!

-Pikes peak is composed of Pikes Peak Granite, which is found in only 2 places in the entire world: Pikes Peak (!) and Elephant Rocks State Park in Missouri.

-Pikes peak granite, due to its brittle nature, is not used in construction.

-Ponderosa pines do not attain cinnamon colored bark until they are at least 80 years old!

-Ponderosa pines are a scratch and sniff tree: if you scratch the underside of the bark you will smell chocolate, cinnamon, or butterscotch depending upon your genetic makeup.

-Aspen groves stem from a single root system, making them 1 big organism instead of simply single trees. As such, they are one of the biggest organisms on earth.

-If you boil or chew on aspen bark, it has pain killing properties.

-Pikes peak is referred to as America’s Mountain not because it is the tallest mountain in America (not even close. Not even in Colorado actually. But I’ll get to that), but because it appears so dramatic surrounded by flat plains.

-At an elevation of 14,104 feet, it is the 31st highest peak of 53 in Colorado.

-Experimental Forest was originally planted in the early 1900’s so that we could figure out how to regrow the rapidly disappearing forests most quickly So they brought in a bunch of different tree species to see what others would flourish, lo and behold, all of them died except for the native species.

So, I’m pretty excited for next week, albeit pretty nervous, but what else is new.

That’s all folks. Hopefully next I’ll have a Successful Ascent Race Report

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