Monday, August 18, 2008

Journey To & From Pikes Peak

I had a very good rest and woke up at 4am for my breakfast. Took a peep out of my room and it was not raining or drizzling anymore. Had 4 slices of my trusted raisin bread that I brought along from Singapore. Checked and confirmed my running top: Nike dri-fit singlet, Adidas dri-fit short-sleeved tee, Hind dri-fit long-sleeved tee and my 2007 Adidas Milano City Marathon event long-sleeved tee which was not exactly of dri-fit material but something thick enough to provide warmth and thin enough to wear during cold weather condition. Well, at least for me. Also checked and confirmed that I had pinned up my race bib to my race belt, my CW-X long tights, Solomon XT Wings trail running shoes, Wright socks and my favourite Marine Corps Marathon red-color cap and black-color jacket. :p "I am good to go and I feel good to go too". Switched on the TV and checked on the weather report - seemed that the weather would be fine today! Went back for a nap and woke up at 6am, bathed, changed and I was ready to go to the race start!

It was really not raining when I left the motel. I parked my car along the Manitou Avenue main road, a distance away from the start, behind a fellow runner [so that I was sure I was not parking illegally]. Took my bag, Canon IXUS 850 and walked to the start. Then I saw a beautiful mountain standing behind some other lower mountains a distance away. You can see how gorgeous the mountain was as it had its peak covered in snow! Well, that had to be Pikes Peak, I guessed. It looked spectacular even if you could only see the top of the peak. Yet it looked very gentle but intimidating at the same time. "Hmmm, perhaps it seemed calm after yesterday's bad weather," I thought. As I reached the start line, I pondered for a long time if I should wear my Milano long-sleeved tee. I felt warm with the singlet, short-sleeved tee and long-sleeved tee. However, I also worried that if the weather turned bad, I would need the Milano long-sleeved tee. I couldn't quite make up my mind so I wondered around the area, checking out the attire of other runners. Well, some were wearing shorts, but most were wearing long-sleeved tee and pants. I decided that I should wear the Milano long-sleeved tee since no matter how hot it becomes, it would still be cool when you are high up in the mountains. Besides, I could always remove it on my way down if I got heated up and tie it around my waist.

I took some photos at the race start, before deciding that I would not bring along my camera for the race since it might still rain and I had no water-proof cover to protect the camera. I reluctantly put the camera and car keys, along with my jacket into the bag and deposited them with the volunteers. Started to do some stretches to warm myself up. An announcement came through in the meantime: that we might expect bad weather later in the day. We were also warned that there would be 3 inches of snow at the peak. Well, since it was not drizzling like yesterday morning, what more could I ask for? At least I started the race dry as compared to the Ascent runners yesterday. What may come later is really out of my control and I should just enjoy myself. Yeah right! Fancy going for a holiday trip in USA by running (hiking / jogging would be more appropriate words) up a 14,000 ft mountain from an initial elevation of 6,300 ft! If anyone in Singapore knew what I would be attempting, they might not be too far off from thinking that I was an escapee from the Institute of Mental Health.

Ascending Pikes Peak

The race started at 7am promptly. I ran. And was amazed that I was still running after 95 metres! "Wow! That was cool! So this seemed slightly easier than Leadville" - I thought to myself. Perhaps this was due to a lower starting elevation at 6,300 ft than Leadville, which started at 10,152 ft above sea level. But slowly, I could feel the lactic acid build up in both my legs again though I was still able to run. After we turned into Ruxton Avenue, the incline became steeper and before I reached the Pikes Peak Cog Railway Depot, I slowed to a walk. I adopted the run / walk strategy but one that based on the number of steps I ran / walked rather than based on minutes. It was fun! Weather was great too although I was feeling kind of warm wearing 4 layers of attire. The rest of the runners around me was also jogging or walking so I did not feel pressurised. Once we turned into Barr's Trail, we had to run / jog / walk in a single file as the trail was narrow. The incline became very steep as well. I kept my body straight instead of leaning forward so that I won't exert too much stress on my back, as read from books on the right posture to adopt while tackling steep inclines.

I tried and managed to pass runners in front of me, one at a time, as I was a much stronger uphill runner than I was a downhill runner. Besides, we were all hiking / walking, rather than running. It was tough. I didn't take noticed of the mile marker along the route nor the scenic trail. My one aim was to cut as many runners as possible on the way up the summit. In some instances, I managed to cut runners while maneuvering around switchbacks. :p I looked forward to all the aid stations, mainly to refill my water bottle and refuel my stomach. I also had to take note of my timing since the cut-off time at Barr Camp (7.64 miles from start) and A-Frame (10.2 miles from start) was 3hrs and 4hrs 15mins respectively. At about half-way to the summit (or thereabout), the trail became a little wider with a more gentle incline so I started my run/walk routine. Then, something happened just before I reached A-Frame. Fluffy snow began falling onto the trail and the runners. It was the first time I ever saw snow falling. But I didn't really have time to slow down and enjoy this moment. I pressed on and reached A-Frame well before the cut-off time. [Although it was supposed to be another 3.1 miles to the summit, I thought I saw the 9 mile marker just after A-Frame, which meant that I still had another 4.3 miles to go. But I could be seeing wrongly too.]

Passed A-Frame also meant that I would be passing the treeline soon and how right I was as the trees disappeared altogether eventually. The snow was also getting heavier. I had to watch my footing as the path was getting silky and slippery. Every now and then, I had to dust off the snow accumulated on my arms, hands, chest and cap. By now, there were also more and more runners running towards our direction, on the way back to the finishing line [and did I mention Matt Carpenter ran past me even before I reached A-Frame!]. We helped each other by shouting "runners!" so that runners behind us could take the necessary precaution by stepping off the trail to allow the downhill runners to run past us as downhill runners have the rights of way. The uphill runners became more spread out probably because we were back-of-the-pack runners. Then suddenly, I realised I had more time to admire the beautiful scenery that presented itself before my eyes. The view was stunning, awesome, remarkable, and many more!!! The entire mountain was covered with snow. It was WHITE. The sky seemed so bright but yet, you can't see where's the top of the peak. You could also see clouds scattered around at a distant too. Totally regretted my decision of not bringing my Canon IXUS 850 but there was nothing I could do now. :( And after 5 hours 6 minutes of running, jogging, fast-marching and hiking, I finally conquered and reached the Pikes Peak Summit! I was slow but it didn't matter one bit. I stood there for a few seconds, looking stunned and extremely reluctant to proceed further. I wanted to admire this beauty forever! :p

Descending Pikes Peak

But I knew I had to get going soon as I know I would not be able to replicate what I did in Leadville - a fast, downhill "sprint" along part of the descent section of the trail. The path from the summit, was treacherous with the narrow and wet ground condition. I started my descent slowly. My eyes always fixing on the ground for a longer time, as compared to when I was coming up, especially when I was passing the uphill runners. Occasionally, my feet wobbled as I did not get a good grip on the snow. The level to climb down from one rock (or boulder) to another was also significant [climbing over the same rock was easier for me] and I could feel the pain on my knee. Twice, I even missed the switchbacks entirely! (Realised my miss as I saw other runners walking further up before turning into the path I was trying to reach :(). Luckily, there were no officials around who could disqualify me by taking a short cut, which was not much of a short cut (about 2-3 metres) though I was still embarrassed by my mistakes. I took a good glance around the surrounding before the path lead me back into the trail. Phew!

The first aid station back in the trail was at A-Frame. I took a a good rest there as I needed to empty the stones accumulated inside my Solomon and it was so difficult to remove and put on my shoes! Seemed that my feet had expanded after running/hiking for more than 6 hours. I drank some water, refilled my water bottle and grabbed a small bunch of grapes. Then I thanked the volunteers at A-Frame before continuing my journey back. The way back on the trail was much harder than I thought. Somehow, felt more difficult as compared to Leadville. I was not sure why. Maybe it was because there were roots sticking out on the trail suddenly. And the path was still as narrow although by now, there was not much crowd since I was taking my own sweet time. I did run whenever I felt like it but most time, I chose to walk. :p More and more runners ran past me but that didn't inspire me to pick up my pace. By now, I was counting down the number of miles that I need to tackle. 8 miles to go. 7 miles to go. 6 miles to go. 5 miles to go, etc.

Then between the last "4 miles" marker to the last "3 miles" marker, I sensed that the distance seemed longer than the 1 mile. (Did anyone has the same feeling?) It didn't really matter because between the last "3 miles" marker and the last "2 miles" marker, it felt much shorter. Well, I was maintaining my pace so it would be very odd to be covering the same 1-mile distance in less than 10 minutes. Just before I reached the last "1 mile" marker, I heard this loud music from below and remembered this guy blasting out music along the Ruxton Avenue just after the Pikes Peak Cog Railway Depot on my way up earlier in the day. I was ecstatic or so I thought. But when I reached the source of the music, I was kinda disappointed. You see, the guy had brought his player and speakers further up into the trail section of the route [thanks very much!!!]. This meant that I was further than where I thought I would be. Nevertheless, the music perked me up a little. Thanked the guy for the great music before I continued. But soon, the last "1 mile" marker greeted me on the road pavement and I knew I was very near. I started running again and although, yet another runner ran past me, I was also able to run past a few other runners who were walking towards the finishing line. There were also crowds lining up the streets cheering and clapping for you. At approximately 50 metres from the turning to the finishing line, an announcement blasted, "Bib No. 905, Kelly Thong Lim from Singapore". Someone extended his hand from the crowd and high-five to me. I put up a victory sign when I saw the photographer before turning left towards the finishing line and crossed it after 9 hours 17 minutes 42 seconds.

At The Finishing Tent

A volunteer put a finisher medal around my neck before I went to grab some food and drink. Then I went to pick up the long-sleeved black-colored finisher tee. Another volunteer than brought me my bag that I deposited with them. Then I hang around at the finishing area, cheering for other runners coming into the finishing line and taking more photos. Just before the event closed its timing, I left and drove back to the motel. I needed a good rest. But before that, time to feast! I certainly deserved that! :)

My Pikes Peak Marathon Stats

Total time taken for Ascent: 5hrs 6mins 08secs
Total time taken for Descent: 4hrs 11mins 34secs [negative split :p]
Total time taken for marathon: 9hrs 17mins 42secs

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