Monday, July 27, 2009

Pikes Peak Scouting Run

Dan Turk put a message up on the Fort Collins Trail Runners listserv late last week about a planned run up Pikes Peak. The email came soon after I found out that I was in for the Pikes Ascent, so I quickly responded to Dan - a nine time Pikes vet - that I was up for the trip down to Manitou Springs, and we made plans for a 5am meet, with Alex May, another local Pikes runner making up our party of three. Alex and I were taking on the full climb and Dan was driving to the top for some quality time at altitude with a 3-2-1 workout (3 miles down to treeline, 3 back up, 2 miles back down, etc).

Having never run the Barr Trail, I was pretty intimated by the imposing sight of Pikes Peak as we made our way down I-25, but figured it would be just like any other big climb: stick your head down and settle in. Aside from knowing next to nothing about the trail, I had also never run a straight 8,000 feet of vertical in one shot (aside from Rainier, is that actually possible anywhere else in the US?), and certainly not up to and above 14,000 feet.

Anyway, Alex and I started out from the race start at the square in Manitou and jogged the mile and half to the trail proper. Once on the trail, I was gratified to find it in perfect running shape, with next to no technical issues to deal with. The opening climb through the 'W's is probably the steepest of the whole run, but because of the quality of the trail I was able to get into an easy but steady rhythm, passing No Name Creek at 45 minutes or so. I picked up the tempo a bit from here and pushed quite hard through the next section, which included some brief moments of down, and much easier grades in general. Went past Barr Camp in 1:18, and just kept plugging at the pace I had settled into, waiting for the fun at treeline to begin.

Hit the three-mile-to-go marker at 1:56, still feeling good with little noticeable impact from the rapidly decreasing supply of oxygen. Although the summit still looked impossibly far away, the sign said three miles, and I kept that in mind rather than spending too much time looking at the peak. By mile two to go, I was definitely beginning to feel the reduced oxygen, so slowed to maintain an equal effort. Went through in 2:12, for an almost 16-minute mile. Went through the penultimate mile in 14 minutes, and the final beast of a mile in 18:30 for a total run time of 2:44:03. I let out a yell - as I'm apt to do - as I rounded the final switchback onto the cog tracks, which was cause for a degree of amusement among some of the assembled tourists.

I ran every step of this climb with the exception of about 100 meters through the cruel section known as the 16 Golden Steps, which comes maybe a half mile from the top. The whole effort felt controlled, and served as a pretty big confidence boost with regards to running a sub 2:30 on race day - a number that will be borderline with respect to cracking the top 10.

Wore the Crosslites for this run and was for the most part happy with how they ran. There's no doubt they were responsive to the pea-sized gravel on the lower Barr Trail, but I'm still not 100% on them on the rocks. Either way, I'll probably run these at the race, although I need to test the Vasque Celerators a little more as they are a similar weight with a little more grip on the rock, I find. Maybe not as responsive as the Crosslites, however.

With a run at Flattop (12,300'), Hallet (12,700') and Taylor (13,150') planned for next weekend and then Longs the following weekend, I'm hoping that come race day I'll be able to push through some of the burn I felt at 13,000'+ today.


  1. Excellente! My nickel on this is this: be careful with the Ws. Your reserving it on the front end is indicative of what probably needs to happen on race day. Well done.

  2. All I heard about from my bro at the Leadville race was how great the grooming was on Barr Trail. I'm jealous and will need to experience this for myself one day.

  3. Hey George, if you check back, I'm currently thinking through the strategy this race is going to need. It would seem there is major time to be lost up top if you're hurting bad, but it also seems there is good time to be made on the first half of the course, because of the great footing. Finding a happy medium is the obvious answer, but right now I am sorely tempted to adopt a gun-it-from-the-start attitude and then try to hold on late.

    I see, from just one run up it, why this race grabs peoples' imaginations: it's extreme in every sense, and there are a ton of ways to approach the race and, by extension, a ton of ways to ruin a race. I can't wait! BTW - do you have thoughts on carrying or not carrying a bottle?

    Natalee - Definitely a must do. Next year? The trail is night and day versus Leadville. Like swimming open water versus the pool. I'm not saying one is harder than the other, becasue they are so different, but for me it's easier to settle in for a long climb, get that done and then switch gears for the down, rather than constantly switching gears like at Leadville.

  4. Nick - re: strategy ... if the steeper stuff does not adversely effect you, then a "go from the gun" strategy might be good for you. My experience has been that for most (and me) is that the steeper stuff, and the early nature of the W's can leave most people wrecked for the later stuff.

    I also have a bit of a crazed theory that the altitude is not as much a factor as people think it is . It certainly is a factor, but I think it is less so then people think. My point here is once people get to tree line, they have done 5000 feet + of climbing and ten miles. They are effectively cooked muscularly. They often then blame how they feel on the altitude. I suspect most would feel like ass (as they have run 2-3 hours) anyway - even if they had started at sea level.

    THAT SAID, altitude is a factor - and for a few - it is a HUGE factor. Altitude becomes a factor for all of us at some end ...

    Not sure that makes sense - and I certainly have no hard data to prove it.

    Bottle - at your speed - I don't think you need it. You will hit aid stations every 20-40 minutes. I have never carried one - but, I have seen Mackey and Carpenter carrying them anyway.

    Finally - yes, I totally agree about your thoughts on how to approach. It has some steep stuff, some flat stuff, altitude ... so it plays to the long run, it plays to speed, it plays to climbing, and in the marathon it plays to the down. And standing there at the start - you look up and are blown away about the ridiculous thing you are contemplating ... run to that peak top ... and back.

    I love it.

    And yeah - the trail is a super highway as far as trails go.

  5. George - agreed on your altitude thoughts. By the time it truly is a performance inhibitor (12.5k+), the race is essentially over. Just a question of pushing through with whatever you have left. That said, altitude does different things to different people. I guess I got lucky genetically (or whatever) and don't find it to be that much of a factor.

    That said, we both live at relative altitude, and so have no issues with the elevation on the lower sections of the race. I think it is a real issue from the gun for those coming from sea level, making the last three miles that much worse.