Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Pikes Peak Marathon 2012

It was at my first Pikes Peak Marathon five years ago that I knew mountain trail ultrarunning was what I wanted to do.  Pikes being only a marathon isn't really an ultra, but anyone that has done it will say that it ain't really just a marathon either.  With spectacular scenery, awesome people and volunteers, and a rich history, Pikes will always be a special race to me.  The only problem has been that I have never really put together a good race there ... until now.

It was great to once again share Pikes Peak weekend with my big sister Regina (aka Gigi, aka Whisper).  A Pikes veteran herself, she also had some lofty goals for this year.  She has been as hungry for Pikes success as me since having a great race going at the 2008 Ascent, only to be one of the first runners turned back at A-Frame due to the storm that year.

The Incline on PPM eve?  My sister is as crazy as I am!

My approach to this year's race was very relaxed.  No great expectations, just another good long day in the mountains as I gear up for another 100-miler this fall.  Okay, cut the crap, I wanted to finally nail this thing.

Just 5 weeks post-Hardrock, and with 200 miles and 50,000 feet of climbing over the last 3 weeks, I was at least coming into this fit, if not well-rested.  So on Sunday morning, I strapped on my hydration pack with all my gear that I wouldn't even need on this day, and told myself to go have a fun day on the mountain.  I had no concerns about carrying all the extra weight, because this was just a training run.  Right?

So the plan for the climbing portion of the race was just to do what I already knew I was capable of.  A sub-3:30 ascent.  I've done it in training runs before, or at least have been on pace to do it, but that is when it is just me and the mountain.  When I race with 800 other people, I always screw it up.  Today I executed it to perfection.  I found myself in a good spot up through the W's, not having to walk too much, but not letting it bother me when things bottlenecked.  My climbing legs felt a little fatigued, but my energy levels were great.  I felt great!  As the air thinned, I would pass more and more people and notice their labored breathing.  Maybe I should have been pushing myself harder, but this was the Marathon and not the Ascent, and I knew I was right where I needed to be for sub-3:30.

I didn't meet the leader, Kilian Jornet, until I was almost up to the 2-mile-to-summit sign.  This was farther up than I have ever made it before meeting Matt Carpenter in all my previous marathons.  It was obvious that Kilian was just there to win the race and had no interest in pushing for any of Matt's records, although I don't think he could have broken any of them.

Kilian going airborne on the descent.

At this point last year, I was already wanting to hug every rock and catch my breath.  This time, I'm taking photos, enjoying the scenery on a perfect day, and still moving fast. It's fun to start seeing the leaders come down now.  I have a brief anxious moment when I see 3:20 plus on the watch at the Golden Stairs sign, but I push just hard enough and hit the summit turnaround at 3:29:28.  As good as I am feeling at this point, I know the descent is going to be fun.

I get passed by a few runners coming down from the top as I tend to go pretty conservative through the now heavy 2-way traffic.  I then see Regina just below the Cirque and she informs me that I am running in 85th place.  What?  Top 100?  You must be kidding.  I am psyched to see Regina looking great and am now finally thinking about "racing".  I decide to just try to hold my position back down to A-Frame as the course is still pretty busy with uphill traffic, but from A-Frame down, it is "game on".

Just after the A-Frame aid station, I tell myself it is time for 10 miles of speed work.  I get after it and immediately start picking off my prey.  It was a fun game targeting runner after runner and knowing that I could pass them.  Fun until some girl flies by me from out of nowhere.  I don't even consider trying to hold on and am just amazed at what I just saw over some of the most technical trail on the course between A-Frame and Barr Camp.  Wow!

I continue pushing, blasting through Barr Camp (I'm not stopping or even slowing down for aid stations anymore).  I make a watch check and start doing the math for a sub 2 hour descent.  It won't be easy, but might be possible.  As I start back down the W's things really get fun.  After passing I don't know how many other runners, I spot the same girl that dusted me below A-Frame.  She is still haulin', but so am I.  So spitting gravel off the trail at every switchback, the chase is on.

Just before leaving the singletrack at the trail spur, I finally pass her.  I'm actually a bit disappointed and urge her to keep pushing with me.  She responds and eventually passes me soon after hitting the asphalt of Ruxton Avenue.  By this point, I have no legs and, as GZ likes to say, my teeth are starting to sweat.  I try to grab a cup from the unofficial hasher's aid station, but I'm running too damn fast and would just spill a perfectly good beer.  Anyway, I still don't know if sub 2 is in the bag and I am not about to slow down.  Not long before the finish line barricades come into sight, I again pass the fast young lady one final time.  As I enter the barricades, I make a watch check and see 5:26.  A 1:57 descent!  It's high fives to the finish line and a great sense of relief knowing I reached every goal that I even had on my radar for today.  Official chip time of 5:26:30 good for 64th place overall.

While my time wasn't good enough to bring home any hardware in my uber-competitive age group, I have to congratulate my big sister on her 3rd place age group finish.  Way to go Whisper!

The new course record holder for a Maine woman!

One Erskine bringing home some hardware.

So I guess this is a pretty boring race report, with no suffering (except when I wanted to), no getting lost, not even a stinkin' bloody wound to show off.  I guess I just ran darn near a perfect race.

I sure missed seeing Matt on the mountain this year, but it was great to see him at the finish and chat a bit.  He will always be the "King" of Pikes Peak.  His wife Yvonne may well be the "Queen" with her 5:08 and 8th place finish.  Although the real "Queen" would have to be Kim Dobson with the performance of the weekend, a 2:24 Ascent!  I was also psyched to see that my nemesis on the course came in as 10th overall woman.  Thanks for pulling me along Sandi!

Definitely more European spandex on the mountain than ever before, and it is great to see the level of competition continue to rise at this race.  However, Kilian needs to lose the pink cowboy hat.

Top 3 men and women.

It was really nice seeing everyone down there!  What a weekend!  I'm still the #1 mountain runner to my girls, so that is good enough for me.

Pikes Peak 2012 Results here


  1. Huge congrats again! You deserved this one.

  2. Wow, very impressive race Rob. Sounds like you put it altogether for this one. Nice job.

  3. Awesome. Well done, and congrats.