Pikes Peak Bomb

August 19, 2001

2000 Marathon Report is here

I got absolutely crushed at the Pikes Peak Marathon this weekend. I surprised everyone with the depths of my failure, including myself. I didn’t want to talk about it, but all my friends knew I was running it and, because they care, were anxious to hear about it. Opie checked the results and sent me a one-line email: “Bad day at the office?” Homie had to call. I answered the phone and all he said was, “What happened?” Homie had done the Ascent the day before and lent me GU and his watch for the race. Despite our active, but friendly competition, he is my friend and he wanted me to kick ass. He felt bad for me. Everyone did.

Two years ago I was entered for the Pikes Peak Marathon, but was unable to compete due to a broken back. My friends went without me and did well. Upon returning one said to me, “No way you could break five hours in that race!” Considering that was my stated goal, I felt this was the equivalent as calling me a conceited braggart. I didn’t like that, but what could I say? I was an invalid at the time and a year away from any chance at redemption. His words motivated me for a year.

Last year I ran the race and was on schedule for going sub-5 hours for most of the race. Well under 5-hours at one point. Of course, the race doesn’t end until you cross the finish line and I developed massive cramps in my legs and hobbled down the final seven miles in pain. I finished in 5:03. My friend was right. I had failed. Maybe I was close enough to my goal that I wasn’t too conceited, but merely setting my sights high. Still, I wanted redemption. Now more so to just be able to finish the race with some dignity instead of having to stop every few hundred meters to stretch out my legs. Hence, I’m back for round two…

This time, my usual companions aren’t joining me for the marathon. They’d had enough joint destruction in the previous two. Homie, Trashy, and Kraig were entered in the Ascent. Kurt and Dave were in the marathon, but they were considerably faster than me and I didn’t expect to see much of them.

In the Ascent, Matt Carpenter won with a time of 2:16:13. Scott Elliott was second (2:21:10). Kraig was 8th, PR-ing by over six minutes to run 2:32:14. Kraig is just a monster. The longer and tougher the race, the better he does. Kraig’s brief race report:

I was very happy with my result.  It was strange because I started out super conservative, like 30th-35th entering Barr Trail, then the lead woman passes me on the first steep climb!  At this point I'm depressed, and not into it. I was scared of the long trail ahead and remembering how much the last 2 miles hurt last year. Then I <had a bathroom stop> on the flat section leading to Barr Camp, losing 1 minute (I had to do this last year also.) Well, I hit Barr Camp, take my split and it's equal to last year, AMAZING. Now I start getting into the race because I know I have a lot left in the tank. I start picking off people and I'm in 11th at A-Frame and 2 minutes ahead of last year.  I keep the pace conservative all the way to the summit (148-152 heart rate usually) and finish feeling good. I made up 4.5 minutes on my PR above treeline.

Homie took 2 minutes off his best time and did 3:15:58 (101st overall and 17th out of 181 in his age group). Trashy had a tough race due to lack of training and went 3:32:34. Lori, in her debut, smoked. After taking 2:01 to get to Barr Camp, she did the upper half in 1:44, to finish in 3:46:51! She was the 75th woman and 3rd out of 29 in her age group! She ran a negative split of 15 minutes! I ran a positive split of 9 minutes. She did the upper portion only two minutes slower than I did. With some run training, she’d be unstoppable. Complete results can be seen at: http://www.pikespeakmarathon.org/results.htm.

The next day, in the marathon, Carpenter pulled off the victory in the Double with a Marathon time of 3:53:53. This was the first time someone has won both the Ascent and the Marathon on successive days. He is a world-class mountain runner and a legend in this race, yet the heat got to him also. He lay in the recovery tent for over an hour with an IV in his arm. Superstar Dave Mackey, of Boulder, in his debut at this race was only six minutes behind Matt in 4:00:06. When these guys passed me on the descent, Matt had about an 8-minute lead on Dave. That means Dave made up 2 minutes on world class Matt Carpenter! Dave was running him down! For more on Matt’s double see: http://www.gazette.com/daily/spts1.html and http://www.gazette.com/daily/spts1a.html.

Kurt and I started together, with me trailing him a bit. At the first steep hill, we both switched to a power hike and I went by – I’m no runner, but I am a pretty fast hiker. I wouldn’t see Kurt again until descending from the top. Kurt had serious stomach problems that kept him in considerable pain for most of the race.

This whole weekend, Sheri was an angel. She did all the packing since I had to be in at work. She did all the driving, both ways. She spent an entire precious weekend supporting me in this race. She did all the unpacking when we got home. In return I laid the biggest egg of my life. I ran a personal worst on the ascent portion of 3:15, but then things got so ugly and so hard and so painful and so confusing, that I can’t explain it. This effort was the equivalent of the entire family flying out to California to watch Sheri break the 5-minute mile and then have her run 7 minutes. What I did today was so disgusting and so irresponsible.

It’s silly and stupid to think I’ll do this race again. It destroys me and I’m just not tough enough. And apparently I’m too lazy to have the will to prepare for this race. I didn’t do my homework for this race. I deluded myself into thinking a few trivial trail runs below 8000 feet could prepare me for something like this. I’m too stupid and lazy for this race. That sounds so horrible, but it absolutely, positively, 100% true. Despite this disaster, and even though it is inconceivable at this time to attempt this race again, if I ever do venture south for it again, I will not be bringing my family. They deserve better.

I won’t continue with the self-flagellation here any longer as I’m sure no one wants to read it anymore than I want to write it or live it. Last year I was a whiner complaining about a great finish. This year I’m an imposter. I had no business being in this race. This race is for the strong, not for the meek.

I’ll list some explanations for what happened, but they read like excuses. For some reason, I cannot stay hydrated in this race. I wore a Camelback this time to try and help with the problem. I started with a full liter in it and still took double waters at all the stops. I refilled it completely (50 ounces) on the way down, but I couldn’t drink it. My stomach rebelled for the first time for me. I couldn’t eat or drink and I became nauseous.  The cramping started for me before even the summit. I down both the Tums, which Homie gave me, before even reaching the summit. The conditions were brutally hot, 90+ degrees down in town and 70 degrees on the summit! Once I started down from the summit, I found I couldn’t breathe. I had trouble keeping my heart rate above 140 beats (I normally descend at around 160-65). I just couldn’t breathe. This situation has happened to be at least once before. Ten years ago nearing the top of the Liberty Ridge on Mt. Rainier the same symptoms occurred. My partners took care of me then. Today, I still had 13 miles to run. It was a death march.

Within a mile of the summit, I had thigh and calf cramps take me down, screaming in agony. People encouraged me to stretch it out and walk it off, but I couldn’t do anything buy cry out in pain. A medical support guy asked me if I needed to drop from the race. I struggled to my feet and stretched until the cramps subsided. I decided to continue.

Kurt flew by me only 1.5 miles down from the summit. He looked good and is known as a very fast descender. He’d have to fly to break 5 hours, though. People passed me in droves. At the A-Frame, 3miles down, I saw Kurt sitting on a rock. He said he was hurting badly with stomach problems. I was in my own separate hell. I stopped to fill my Camelback completely and shuffled down the trail, keeping well to the side so it was easier for people to pass me.

A mile down, Kurt caught up to me and we ran together. I asked if he wanted to go by, but he said he preferred the company. Any thoughts of a good time had long left our minds. It was now just about survival. Kurt said he drop out of the race if he could. When I tripped and devastating cramps gripped both my legs, Kurt thought I had twisted my ankle. He stopped and sat on a rock while I worked through the pain. I told him he didn’t have to wait for me. Heck, we were in a race, weren’t we? He wouldn’t leave me. He said he was thankful for an excuse to stop and rest and enjoyed the company, but the truth is, he was concerned about his friend. As we stumbled onwards, Kurt says to me, “I’m going back to biking, Bill, and you should go back to climbing. I’ll be giving away my entry into Imogene Pass (18-mile trail race near Telluride, Colorado), that’s for sure.” Apparently with no limits to my stupidity, I responded, “Hey, I might be interested in that entry.”

A Barr Camp Kurt stopped to use the bathroom. If I stopped, I’d have to be carried out. I continue on in agony. The lower I got the better my breathing was and the higher I could push my heart rate. I had no desires to catch or pass anyone. I wanted to be left alone to suffer in solitude. I arrived at the French Creek aid station (51 minutes into the race when climbing up) at exactly the same time I finished the race last year: 5:03. I knew Sheri would be worried about me and she was. She eventually went to check the list for medical drop-outs (it is possible to drop out at the summit).

For the final six miles, I calculated that I needed to run 12-minute miles to break 6 hours. It is pitiful that I had been reduced to pushing the pace in order to break six hours - in a race where my goal was to break 5 hours. That’s just ridiculous.

I finished the race nearly catatonic and they wanted to stick me with an IV. I refused because from past experience I know it is extremely difficult and very painful to get one in my arm, despite prominent veins. My entire legs, calves and thighs were just quivering with cramps as I lay on a cot. I still could barely drink or eat, but when the cramps started in earnest the pain was so great, I choked down a banana and some Gatorade.

My time was 5:44:30, 74th overall, and 13th out of 67 in my age group. Now you might think, “Well, you did okay,” but, as my friend Opie wrote to me: “Placings and time don't mean shit.” I agree with placings. So many people are faster than me that a good placing only means that the fast people didn't show up. I don't care much about that because I know it is pretty meaningless. Time meant something to me, though. It was the whole reason I did this race, in fact. I also understand that you win some and you lose some. You have good days and bad days. But today wasn’t just a bad day. A bad day would have been 5:20. This was a disaster.

As I lay on the cot, my three-year old son Derek is giving me lots of attention. Initially, I couldn’t even acknowledge him, but now that I’m lying down I love looking at his cherubic face. He says, “You legs hurt, right Daddy?” The aid station workers love him and say it would make a great picture. Daniel is nearby also, but giving me some space.

A short while later Sheri informs me that Kurt has just finished. After his stop at Barr Camp, he ran strong the rest of the way down until stomach problems hit him again in the final, super hot, mile. He finished just over 5:51:11 and was pleasantly surprised to find out he was 2nd in his age group (55-60). That’s a nice consolation after such a horrible day. Here’s Kurt’s account of the end of his race:

I began running in earnest 6.9 from the finish as my stomach had settled down some. I was screaming, sprinted all the uphills and passed a ton a people all the way to the bottom. At the pavement I walked about half of it as my stomach was hurting again, but finished in a sprint. I was terribly drained by the fast pace and the heat.

Turns out, lots of people were having trouble with the heat. See this article for more information: http://www.gazette.com/archive/01-08-20/daily/spts1f.html. The heat was a factor for me also, but I don’t think it was my major problem. What was? I’m still not sure, but dehydration was a major factor, but not the only one. I had the same dehydration last year and finished 41 minutes faster.

I finished the race, once again, at 155 pounds – 15 pounds off my starting weight. I am not heavy enough to lose this kind of weight. I know the effects of dehydration. I wore a Camelback this time to try and solve the problem. I’ve run a bunch of other 14ers and done long, hard days without such problems. But, for some reason, I cannot stay hydrated during this race. I don’t know why and hence, don’t know how to solve it. If I do this race again, I’ll run the course before the race to see what I can learn.

After hydrating and eating somewhat, I still weighed 158 pounds when I got home. I still have a headache as I write this. I ate a big dinner, then a big dessert, drank lots and still only weighed 161 the following day. I should be back up to my pudgy 170 in a couple more days.

The day following this race, Dave Mackey sent me some email, not knowing my result and asked what was next for me. My response: “Couch sitting and TV watching. Something for which I have talent…”

I think I’ll take Kurt’s advice and go back to sport climbing. I suck at that also, but it doesn’t hurt so much…


2002 Marathon Report is here.