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Race Result

Racer: Jesse Leitner
Race: Pike's Peak Marathon
Date: Sunday, August 20, 2006
Location: Manitou Springs, CO
Race Type: Run - Marathon
Age Group: Male 35 - 39
Time: 6:38:42
Overall Place: 256 / 698
Age Group Place: 46 / 91
Comment: it's all about altitude, steep up, and steep down

Race Report:

Ok, here's one to help you sleep on a long plane ride.

I arrived in Colorado Springs with the family a few
days before to get a few days vacation in and to get
a little bit of altitude acclimation (albeit at just
over 6000 ft, a mere pittance of what was to come).
I got some nice trail runs in at Garden of the Gods,
practicing some long downhill runs and steep ups, once
again, just a shred of what was coming. I still have
a vivid memory of my trashed quads at Vermont and
that did not have 13 miles of relentless continuous
downhill and uphill. The day
before the marathon was the Pike's Peak ascent, a
race to the top only. A lot of rain and thunderstorms
that day, which can be quite scary on the mountains.
However, Sunday morning came and it was very mild outside
in the high 60s, low 70s, pretty clear skies. I just
wore my singlet, which, in retrospect was not the best
idea. I decided I would start out on the fast side,
keeping in mind my heart rate limits and keep it going
as best I could until the altitude became a factor, because
there was no question that at some point the lack of air
would slow me down to a screeching halt anyway. We
started out at 7 am on the roads in Manitou Springs
and made our way up about a mile until we
hit the Barr Trail trailhead at the bottom of the mountain.
Even the first mile was a relentless uphill, especially
the second half of it. Just a sign of things to come.
I decided I'd let my HR go up to the low 170s for a while,
dangerously close to my anaerobic threshold of 177. About
3 miles in I was finding that on some of the serious
grades which were up to 20-25% at times, I was even hitting
179 in "power-hike" mode. I decided not to worry about it
because I really couldn't control it. My first mile on the
roads was about 9:15 and after that they went into the
12s, 13s, 15s, 16s, etc., which can sometimes seem fast
on nasty trails. But these were trails like I've never
known. At one of the aid stations around mile 5, there
was a sign that said the temp at the summit was 36 deg.
I knew that I'd pay the price shortly. Around this time,
my stomach started bugging me, probably because I had
been at such a high heart rate and taking in more fluids
and such than I would in, say a 10k race, which is the only
other time I'd sustain such a level of effort. I also
popped a gel at that point because I knew I would dig into
my carb supply more than usual at this effort. Needless
to say, it didn't sit well with my quirky stomach, but I've
made it quite some time with stomach issues before. A bit
after 5 miles, there was a period of about a mile with longer
switchbacks and a reduced grade, even a short downhill stretch.
This gave me some recovery time and even a bit to open up the
pace a bit. I got my heart rate back down to the 160s and
was able to hold it there for a while. The climb continues
for several miles, mixing between jogs, runs, and powerhikes,
just trying to keep my heart rate under control. At this point,
with each elevation increase, the temperature drops noticeably,
the trails become rockier and rootier, and the air gets thinner.
At about mile 10-10.5, the lead runner zipped by at about
6:30/mile on his way down - it was simply amazing. No one
would follow him for a good 20 minutes.
Although I was slowing down, I really didn't see any significant
altitude effects until I hit about 11,500-12000 ft, about
11 miles in. At this point, it just hit me all of a sudden.
My breathing was fine, but I became lightheaded, slightly
nauseous, and I could actually feel the lack of oxygen getting
to my muscles, whatever that means. No more running after this
point - I just wanted to stop. But I slogged along. I became
really cold, fearing that hypothermia was setting in. There
are several patches of slushy snow. With
the lack of oxygen, I couldn't pick up my pace and I couldn't
keep my heart rate up, so colder and colder I became. There
was one thing that kept me going. My GPS pace said I was at
about 28 min/mile, faster than I was going a mile 88 in
Vermont! At last a positive. I passed the treeline at somewhere
around 12,500 ft. Shortly after, I hit the "Golden Stairs"
which is a euphemism for the cracked-up, rocky
switchbacks from hell. My brain was so fogged, it was really
becoming hard to keep my footing on the jagged rocks, especially
at each cut-back point. Getting close to the summit, I'd
glance outward and catch the beautiful view, but it would only
give me a momentary positive thought. I couldn't get the thought
out of my head that after reaching the top, I would have to then
turn-around and put in a couple more miles without air. Then
one of the returning runners zipped by and said "it gets a *lot*
better going down." Then I started thinking with my last shred
of brain cells, "My pathway to air is to get to the top, turn
around, and then get down as quickly as possible." This was
apparently enough (although it did nothing for my miserable
pace). I hit the summit (13.32 miles) at about 4:03, made a
sour face at the great volunteers cheering me on and encouraging
me, and then started plodding back down, heading towards the
golden stairs. I'm freezing cold, nauseous, and disoriented, but
now it's a struggle to reach that good old air that I have grown
to take for granted. It kept me going. For a couple of miles
I just did my best to keep my footing on the rugged terrain.
I made my way down, getting slightly faster as my brain functioning
slowly improved. I was on pace now for about 7-7.5 hour finish,
which was fine - I just wanted to be off this damn mountain.
Then with about 6 miles to go, I suddenly feel great. For about
a mile, I pick up the pace, wondering when I would sink down to
a low again. At the 5 mile to go point, the trails become a bit
less nasty and I'm able to open it up a bit. I'm now getting
into my element and I'm able to get my trail footing together
and keep up 7:30-8 minute miles. I'm building speed and passing
people more and more as I head down, every mile faster than the
previous. I made up for a lot of lost time and at some point
I realize that I've moved back into sub-7 hour pace. Everything
feels good, surprisingly even my quads. With about 3 miles to
go, I come out of the trees, and notice that the temperature
is about 85-90 and muggy! It was a lot better than the 30 something
at the top. No problem since it's all downhill. Feeling strong,
I pull into the finish at 6:38 and change. Not fast by any stretch,
but I'm glad to have that over with. Somehow my quads survived
the trek.