The Triing Lizard

Sunday, August 10, 2008

5 days til the Pikes Peak Ascent! It's a race to the top of Pikes Peak involving almost 8000 feet of altitude gain over 13.2 miles.

My journey to get to this race started back in March when one of my coworkers, Shawn, told me that registration for the Ascent was the following day. My response was "What's the Ascent?" He described the race - it's a brutal half marathon hike/run up to the top of Pikes Peak. He didn't sugar coat his experience doing the race the year before (which wasn't the greatest, he had major blisters and his legs were done with 2 miles to go). Despite his story I knew I had to sign up, this is just the kind of challenge I crave, it makes me get out there and train, plus it would hopefully help me get back my strong, lean body that I had lost in the process of moving to Colorado. So on March 12 as soon as registration opens I'm on the website madly typing in my info, desperate for an entry. The race sold out in 30 minutes and I was IN. Oh my God, I'm really doing this.

I had let my fitness go bigtime during the transition from Maryland to Colorado. It was a really stressful and scary thing to do all by myself so I told myself that it was okay to gain weight, that I would lose it once things settled a bit. I estimate that I gained about 10 pounds and I lost a significant amount of my fitness by working out only when I felt like it. So here I am, some extra weight, berely able to run continuously for a 5K (I had been doing Jack Quinn's runs on Tuesday nights), and berely able to get through a step class at the Y without passing out from lack of oxygen. So I had 5 months to get myself back into tip top shape, lose weight, and get used to not only the altitude here in Colorado Springs, but also the altitude at 14,000 feet where there is 43% less oxygen than at sea level. Yikes, this was a lofty goal.

I followed Hal Higdon's Intermediate 1 Marathon training plan. I decided to substitute climbing 14ers for my longest "runs" at the end of the program.

On June 29th I hiked up to the top via Barr trail, same trail as on race day. Started around 7:00 AM, the first part of the hike was tough, it is steep and I wasn't warmed up. Once I got going though I found a groove and got going. I didn't push too hard, this was supposed to be an easy hike.

View of the summit as I'm on my way to Barr Camp. The pile of rocks is the summit. I'm walking up there! Today. Right now in fact.

After the 7.8 sign to the top it started to get tough. I see a guy ahead of me walking, his pace was good but a little slower than mine, I catch him, we chat for a bit, and then I decide to jog a bit because we had finally gotten to the flat part of the hike (there's only one so I gotta take advantage of it)! Then I get to the dreaded 0.5 mile to Barr Camp sign which means that the trail is going to start getting really steep and rocky, I think it's an old river bed. It's a LONG TORTUROUS half mile but the reward at the end is Barr Camp!

Barr Camp is such a welcoming sight. I take advantage of the port a pots and stop in and say hi to Neal and Theresa (Barr Camp caretakers, people can spend the night in these lean to structures there or they can stay in their house) - Theresa always remembers me, I don't know how she does it. This particular day she was helping a group of people from Ireland with their options for getting to the top. She was strongly urging them to either drive up or take the cog, that it would be a long day going to the top and then hiking back down. Hopefully they took her advise! I said hi to the guy who I had talked to on the trail, he wasn't planning on going to the top otherwise I would have offered to hike with him to the top.

Above Barr Camp the trail has some LONG switchbacks, nothing too steep yet so I'm sticking with my comfortable pace and I'm happy with how little I had so far been affected by the altitude. I'm passing people right and left here which is pretty cool and I'm following 2 girls ahead of me, I'm trying desperately to keep them within my sight. I'm excited to get to A frame (apparently there is an A frame shelter here) since I had never been on the trail from a little below A frame all the way to the top - unchartered territory - I had no idea how my body was going to react to the altitude under exertion. I was nervous and excited at the same time. I am closing in on the two girls, this is very exciting for me, I need to ask them about my hands - they are at this point swelling up like sausages and I was getting a little concerned. I pass A frame (it was just a sign for all I could see, I wasn't about to hike around searching for the shelter at this point) and then I catch the girls. One of them turns out to be a PT who specializes in hands - perfect! Both girls show me their hands and they have the same thing going on, they tell me that they normally don't wear their rings on these hikes because of this problem. Sigh of relief! My hands aren't going to explode - that is good news! :)

I hike with them for 10 minutes or so, they have done the Pikes Peak Ascent in previous years and loved it, today they were just doing an easy hike. I start to not be able to breathe and I have to slow down. They keep going their same pace as if it was no effort at all. I stop, drink a bunch of water, eat some food, and just prop mysef up against a rock. I watch them as they get farther and farther ahead of me. No chance of catching them again. I start hiking again and the nausea sets in. I feel like I'm about to puke at any moment. I press on, just concentrating on moving myself forward, careful with my feet placement, and careful to not topple over down the pile of rocks. I have to stop periodically and just sit down. This is brutal. The top looks so far away still.
After a lot more trudging I reach the 1 mile to the top sign! Only 1 mile to go, excellent! I can do this. How long can 1 mile take me, couldn't be more than 20 minutes or so. But at this point my legs are really starting to get tired and the nausea is getting worse. Then I hit the sign for the 16 golden stairs. This part of the trail is basically a bunch of rock stairs leading closer to the top and then you still have to get through tons and tons of switchbacks. The top STILL looks really far away. So I rest against yet another rock (luckily there is no shortage of rocks up here) and a woman is heading down the trail and asks me how I'm doing. I tell her about the nausea, about the Ascent, blah, blah, blah, I think I thought she had endless amounts of time to hear about all of my problems. Then she asked me how I was getting down and I said I had no idea, I was planning to shower in the bathrooms at the top, try to find some tourists who didn't look like kidnappers, and beg them to allow a stinky exhausted hiker to ride down in their car with them (or on top of the car, I didn't care). Back up plan #1 was to try to take the cog railway down. Back up plan #2 was to attempt to walk back down. I had no idea really. I couldn't think with the lack of oxygen and the nausea. She told me that she had 4 people in her car but that she could take one more and I just about gave her a hug on the spot! She said she wasn't entirely sure she could take me though b/c one of the other people who was riding with her might have offered the spot to someone already - that they were on their way up from the bottom, she had driven their car up to the top to meet them. She was on her way down to meet them and hike the rest of the way back up with them. I was so excited that I might not have to beg for a ride, what good luck!! So we exchange names and I tell her that I'll meet her at the top, I'll be passed out somewhere inside.

I press on, I take it one switchback at a time, resting A LOT. That last mile took me 45 minutes, not exactly the 20 minutes that I had planned. :)

The top!! Check out those storm clouds coming in, hiking down might not be the most pleasant (or safe) option!! I've been told that you should try to get off of 14ers by noon and it was already past noon. I needed to come up with a plan fast.

I go inside, eat some freshly made donuts (I figure there is no way I could eat the same number of calories as I burned today so what the hell), and started scoping out people. The harley dudes are a NO, the couple with the million kids is a no, they probably won't have room for me, the other people that look like hikers are probably a no. Hmm, I better go find the woman who offered me a ride, she may be my only option.

Sheer happiness and exhaustion. I am thinking to myself - I just finished my first 14er!!!

I find the woman who I met on the trail, I can't remember her name right now! She has Doritos, gummi bears, sodas, and all kinds of stuff in the car! It was fantastic! I met everyone else, they were all ultra runners who were super cool. We had a really fun ride back down, I was sandwiched in the middle in the back seat but I didn't care, I was so grateful to be sitting down and resting. We regaled tales of past races and upcoming races, put in bets on the car's brake temperature (I won!), we all got along really well. I couldn't have asked for a better group to be with. Hopefully I'll meet up with this group again at some point! They dropped me off at my car, I offered money for the ride but they wouldn't accept it - they just said that if I drive up sometime that I should offer someone a ride back down - kind of a pay it forward type of deal. Turns out a few weeks later I would be doing something very similar, helping out another fellow hiker on Mount Elbert. All in all, my first 14er was a great experience, I enjoyed every second of it! Next time I do this hike, I will be racing it!


  • This is a great story - never heard all these details (becuase you were so estatic about making it and getting a non-killer ride back).

    By Blogger Doppelgänger, at 7:53 AM  

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