Oh man, here I go again
I signed up to run the Pike Peak Ultra back in April. With two failed attempts at a 50-mile race, I was determined to, finally, complete this distance. I completed Rim to Rim to Rim (50.3 miles) at the end of April but that was a leisurely stroll with friends. However, the Grand Canyon trip gave me confidence and I felt that I could complete a tough 50-mile race. The Pikes Peak Ultra takes you into beautiful Cheyenne Canyon and up above 11,000 feet to the South and West of Pikes Peak. The most brutal part is ascending the technical trail of Mount Rosa (about 1,800 feet in 2 miles) at 35 miles of the race. I kindly refer to this part of the race as “kick’em while they are down.” However, Mount Rosa has a spectacular 360 view that includes Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak, Santa De Cristo Mountain Range and Collegiate Peaks Mountain Range.
You will never run againBefore we go further, let us go back 6 years ago. I had just had my second major back surgery in 2 years and was on complete bed rest with a back brace. I could only walk 100 feet and I was on heavy narcotic medication for the pain. 1 ½ years earlier, I’d been in a car accident while I was stationed in Germany and the disc in my lower back crushed the nerve root on the left side. I could not lift my left foot up and needed a cane to walk. My first surgery helped to alleviate most of the weakness but I still had pain in my leg. The second surgery helped with the pain but it would take a while to recover. I was told that I would probably not run much again and be restricted on lifting. I began with swimming and light lifting for the first 1 ½ years. I transitioned to hiking with pack and heavier lifting. 2 ½ years after the second surgery I started a walk/jog program. 3 years later, I entered my first 5k race (first race in 5 years). A year later I did my first Marathon and 5 months after that my first Ultra. My first Ultra was the ICY 8-hour in Virginia February 2014.
Huge life change but same old issuesIn February 2016, I retired from the United States Army and moved back to Colorado Springs. During the move, I hurt my back slightly and ended up with a foot drop on the left side (could not keep my foot elevated towards my head while walking on my heels). I was a little discouraged but I worked through this by working on purposeful movement, strengthening and not doing things that aggravated my pain and foot drop. In 1 ½ months, I was able to run a 50k in 5 hours and 30 minutes without any increase in pain. I did the Rim to Rim to Rim 3 weeks later with some pain afterwards and had to start slowly again. From the end of April to end of July, I would work on focused movement and conditioning. I had three months to go from painful running farther than 8 miles and foot slapping the ground after 8 miles to finishing a 50 miler with around 20,000 feet in elevation change.
|Rim to Rim to Rim: The awesome running crew!|
|Barkley Fall Classic: The look I gave when they told me I had to climb another hill after climbing for 4 miles!|
It is game timeOn the morning of July 30, I woke up at 3:30 am. I worked hard to get here and wanted to do the best I could. I always have thoughts of grandeur that I can run any course with ease but today was about making it through my first mountain ultra. I completed Rim to Rim, Rim to Rim to Rim, and the Barkley Fall Classic but none of these were at altitude. I arrived just after 5 am for the 5:30 am start. I turned in my drop bag with some stuff I needed at mile 19, 23, and 29. We lined up at 5:25 am (no wanted to be right at the start line even once we started) for the race brief and started right at 5.30 am. The leader shot out like a cannon and would end up breaking the course record on his first ultra (you could tell he was his first ultra because he did not even know how to put his pack on and it almost fell off a mile in).
All my best laid plansIt was cool but humid and I began to sweat right away. This was very unusual weather for Colorado Springs and I had to make sure I hydrated well. I planned to fill my water at mile 11 (carrying to 500ml bottles one with UCAN electrolyte in it and the other just water) and I needed to make sure I drank all the water. I started out in the top 10 and was with a pack of 5 runners for the first 6 miles (gained 2000 feet in 6 miles). After that, they separated from me and I just ran an easy pace on this rolling section. I hit the first aide station and ran right through it. I could see the runners in front of me but as we started to climb again, I started to walk some of the steeper hills. The next aide station was at mile 11 (3,000 feet in climb at this point) and I stopped for a water refill and a small break. The next ½ mile would be flat and a chance to recover from the climb and then the next 5.5 would be about 3,000 feet in climb. During this section, I would start feeling my heart racing if I pushed too hard and become light headed. I kept my pace slow and the top two females passed me at mile 15 and mile 17. I did pass one other male at mile 18. I made it to the water only aide station and refilled for the two-mile climb to deer park (above 11,000 feet). Once at Deer park, I hit the aide station and started taking in some fruit, honey and peanut butter sandwiches, and a little coke. Then we ran 1.5 miles to the gate at Almagre (11,900 feet) and back down. I felt good and passed another male racer at the top of Almagre. I hit the aid station again, grabbed some fuel, and took off west for a 6.5 mile round trip. This part was fairly flat and open. The sun came out and it started to heat up but the humidity dropped. My shirt dried out within 30 minutes. This part was rolling hills with some significant elevation.
I completed the round trip, had one of Lara bars, and grabbed some chia bars for the 6-mile trek to the next full aid station. I contemplated having a fireball shot just for the hell of it but my stomach was feeling good and I did not want ruin that. This next part was downhill for the first half and slow steady uphill for the second half. I ran this part well and felt good. I had no issues until we started going uphill again but I just walked when I needed and jogged when I could. I reached the next aide station just below the steep climb to the top of Mount Rosa. I filled up with water and grabbed some fruit and coke again. This next trek would be 4 miles round trip with around 3,600 feet in elevation change.
Things became very interesting
35 miles into the race now, I was climbing at a 20%+ grade and I started to feel lightheaded and dizzy. I was able to plug away but slowed down significantly. The 2-mile trek would take longer than I thought and I would have to take frequent “rest” breaks. Once I reached the top of Mount Rosa, the view was awesome and somehow re-energized me. I ran back down the 2 miles without issues to the aide station, refueled, and took off for the 4.5+ mile technical downhill. This part was the quad killer but I was able to make up the time I lost climbing up Rosa. I reached the last aide station and that was the point where I knew I would finish this race and DNF was out of my mind.
I just have to keep movingI sat and the last aide station for a few minutes and then power hiked up High Line Drive. At this point, I felt good and did sub 9-minute miles down the 2.5 miles of high line drive. However, my prolonged stop at the last aide station allowed the runner behind me to catch up and he passed me ¾ of the way day high line drive (I was passed by 4 people and I passed 5 people). I decided that the last few hills in Bear Creek Park would be power hiked unless I felt good (I power hiked all three hills). I jogged through the finish line and was ecstatic to finish my first Mountain Race. I felt good after I finished and had no injuries or nagging issues.
The biggest lessons:
I still need more altitude acclimatization and that I went out too fast. I need to stay humble in my abilities as a runner (I want to think I am elite but reality mediocrity = me). I need to eat small amounts and have some sugar but not too much. My legs and back are good; when I run with proper form and pay attention, they are not an issue.