Redemption or Three Strikes and Youíre Out?

Pikes Peak Marathon 2002, August 18, 2002

Out of the ruins
Out from the wreckage
Canít make the same mistake this timeÖ
††††††††††††††††††††††† - ďWe Donít Need Another HeroĒ, Tina Turner

 

2000 Marathon report here.

2001 Marathon report here.

ďIt's going to be ugly. So ugly that my family isn't coming to watch this time. Youíve never seen me like I am after this race and I hope you never do. It isn't fun or pretty. Why do it? Because I hope that it won't be like that. So far, I'm two for two, though... Three strikes and I'm out...Ē

I sent that to my friend Opie a couple of days before this race in response to him wishing me luck.

Before this race I fantasized about starting this race report with words like Salvation, Resurrection, and Redemption, but after my third experience here I find myself more humbled than ever. The gods smiled on me today and gave me a miracle. I didnít do the training for this and I donít feel I deserve the results. But this report isnít a repeat of last yearís self-flagellation. Itís a celebration. Maybe the gods saw that I had suffered enough on this course and decided to release me from my misery Ė sort of like clemency for Sisyphus or Prometheus.

While I certainly didnít conquer Pikes Peak, I finally finished this race with my head held high. My history with this race, though short, is checkered, but punctuated with a disastrous race in 2001. I wanted to quit trail-running altogether after that debacle, but Sheri convinced me not only to keep running, but also to come back and slay the dragon.

For reasons documented in my previous reports, I desperately wanted to break five hours in this race. I wonít keep you in suspense. Today I ran 4:58:58. Iím elated. Iím emotional. This was so close the entire way. The last forty minutes I suffered like Iíve never suffered before. I suffered because it was still possible. I had dreamed of this for four years and I couldnít let it slip away while there was still a chance. I fought it all the way downÖ Who knows what a few months will do to my attitude, but the pain of this race is so intense that I donít know if Iíll ever do it again. Itís time to sheath the sword.

What success I had is mostly due to my great training partners. I didnít do enough training, but I would have done much less if it wasnít for them. Kreighton in particular was a great foil for me. We are closely matched and he spurred me to try and compete with him. Kraig was an inspiration by being so incredible fit and fast, yet still working out with people like me. Homie is always there and always doing things bigger and faster. Warren, Trashy, Loobster, and Eric Winkelman joined me on long, high hikes. Thanks so much, guys, for getting me out.

Homie and I signed up for this race early in the year. It was one of my ďbig fourĒ goals for the year. I turned forty this year and instead of going out and buying a sports car (Iím actually looking at mini-vans) to reaffirm I wasnít old yet, I set down four goals to accomplish: Redpoint a 5.12 (accomplished on 5/20), run the Bolder Boulder 10K sub-40 minutes (39:48 on Memorial Day), climb the Nose of El Capitan in a day (6/3) and run the Pikes Peak Marathon in under five hours.

I fully expected to pull them all off at the start of the year and I worked out like mad, getting a huge PR at the Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon. I was dedicated and worked hard, but after nearly six months of that, I needed a break and didnít work out much. I never did any long runs to train for this race. My longest runs were all less than two hours. I did do a number of long, high hikes in the mountains, but always at a very low-level pace. I was setting PRís right and left on my trail running courses, but only one of them was longer than an hour of effort. This led me to be much more relaxed about this race. I was content with getting three out of four of the goals. I hadnít paid my dues for the results I sought and I didnít expect them. I just wanted to avoid the unbelievable cramps that had plagued me in this race. I wanted to avoid the severe dehydration that put me in the medical tent for an hour after the race. I just wanted a little dignity.

The final few days before this race I was bombarded with good luck wishes, but more than that I was sent affirmations. My friend Kreighton sent me something particularly poignant: ďMake no mistake about it, Bill, you are FIT!Ē My brother in-law Kraig said the same and assured me Iíd break five hours. Homie said it, but not to me. He said it to Sheri. Bill Briggs and Buzz Burrell sent me nice notes of encouragement. And of course Opieís note. These notes changed my attitude a bit. I felt I needed to do my best not to let them down. Maybe it wasnít the gods, but my friends that created this miracle? They pulled me to the top and then carried me down.

Of course, Iím an optimistic guy. I wouldnít give up right from the start, but I changed a number of things in my race strategy. In previous years I went too hard on the ascent, trying to break three hours (and never getting close). I once again ran with a Camelback and I took five sodium supplement pills with me. The real key was my pace though. Instead of going out at 90% heart rate for the first hour, I went out 5-10 beats slower. Still, I knew I had to be under 3:15 at the top to have any chance and more likely I needed to be under 3:10, but if I couldnít get it with this lower heart rate, then I wouldnít get. Any faster has proved to be suicidal for me. Even this pace could have turned out that way, but it was worth a shot.

Homie hadnít done the necessary training either and he nearly dropped out of this race. I convinced him to stay in. He had just PRed on Longs Peak (much longer, tougher, and higher than any run I did to train) and he PRed up South Boulder Peak without pushing hard. He was in.

We drove down in his truck the night before and had a fitful sleep. We each had to get up three times to pee, such was our enthusiasm to hydrate. I was a bit nervous and anxious and tried to will myself to sleep Ė normally an easy task for me. I woke up a lot and we ignored the 5:30 a.m. alarms and didnít stir until 6 a.m. We only had an hour to get ready.

We made numerous trips to the bathroom in search of satisfactory results. Each time I was dissatisfied with the results. We needed to drop some weight and I wasnít doing it. We picked up our race numbers and shirts. We changed and I packed my Camelback with horrible, horrible Power Gels. These things are like poison to my system. Do not buy these! I didnít plan well and was out of GU. Homie graciously parted with two of his GUís and Iíd eat these first. I offered some Power Gel to him, but he wisely wouldnít touch it. He had enough and carried eight GUís. I carried two GUís and four of the horrid Power Gels.

The day before Kraig had smoked the Ascent in 2:31:11 and 8th place. Green Mountain Time Trial record holder Nathan Schultz was 2nd (2:24:40) to the incomparable Matt Carpenter (2:23:22), who won for the 10th time. Last year he won both the Ascent and the Marathon. This year he only did the Ascent Ė probably as a result of his first child being born just a month ago. Matt did the race on only 40 miles of training per week. He followed the lead group, led by Nathan, until a mile below Barr Camp. Then he made his move with a hard surge, much harder than he could maintain, to drop and demoralize the others. It worked, but he was fading fast at the top while Nathan closed the gap.

Mattís sometimes rival Scott Elliott (2:28:42) finished in 5th place. Anita Ortiz won for the second time in a row and by a whopping 18 minute margin. She is the new queen of the mountain now that Danelle Ballengee boycotts this race. Kreighton ran well to the A-frame Ė on a sub-3-hour pace Ė and then the altitude called for him to pay a debt he couldnít cover. His lack of altitude training hurt him and he faded to finish in 3:15:28. Despite his disappointment, Kreighton finished 5th (out of 81) in his age group (25-29). Heck, Kraig finished only 6th in his age group! Fellow Minion Warren Teissier did the Ascent for the first time in 4:02:39 and finished in the top half of the toughest and largest age division. There is no question that the best talent runs the Ascent. Itís the masochists that run the Marathon. Full ascent results can be viewed here:

http://www.pikespeakmarathon.org/race_results/2002_pikes_peak_ascent.htm

The gun went off at 7 a.m. and we moved up the street. The first half-mile of this race is relatively flat, but then it turns upwards and climbs 7,800 feet to the summit of Pikes Peak at 14,110 feet. I noticed my heart rate monitor was reading really high and it must have been thrown off by something. I felt I was going at a very moderate pace and it seemed a hundred runners were ahead of me. I looked back early and Homie wasnít there. Two years ago, when we ran this race together, Homie was by my side for the first thirty minutes of the race. Now he was gone after three minutes. I found out why at the junction with Ruxton Avenue: I was way ahead of a 3-hour ascent time.

I backed off my pace as we started the steep climbing and walked more than I normally do in reaching the start of the Barr Trail. The steepest part of the race is right here at the bottom and I always power hike this section. I can hike this section and catch people who are running. Iím sure most runners feel silly hiking so early in this race, but I believe it is the smart decision.

I watched my heart rate closely and kept it under 165 beats per minute. I resisted the urge to react when being passed or to try and run down other racers. Iíd only exert more effort for brief moments to pass people and then only when forced. At the first aid station, as I would at all aid stations, I took two cups: one of water and one of Powerade. I walked until I got all the liquid down. Two to four runners would pass me whenever I did this, but I cared not. Iíd usually pass them back shortly after starting up again, but I cared not about that either. I could not start racing anyone now and, in fact, I couldnít really race this entire course. It is just too long and difficult. Basically, Iím doing a long time trial.

I made the top of the Wís 50 seconds ahead of a 3-hour ascent pace. I made No Name Creek 20 seconds up and by Barr Camp I was two seconds under. Normally I lose lots of time from here on up, but not this time. I was really fit for a one to two hour ascent and even with my reduced heart rate I was going fast. But the reduced heart rate had me feeling fairly comfortable with the effort. I was able to run most of the way up to the A-frame, where I arrived just a couple seconds over a 3-hour pace. Here, like Kreighton, I started to give up some time. I lost three minutes in a little more than a mile. I lost another minute in the penultimate mile and then another two minutes in the final mile, but I wasnít pushing hard. I knew that a PR on the Ascent was possible and was content to let the 3-hour mark go. I was never shooting for it anyway. I had to keep my eye on the ball: not crashing on the descent.

Just below the summit I saw Matt Carpenter with a tiny video camera. I called out my congratulations for his win the previous day and moved slowly on by. I was hiking all of the 16 Golden Stairs and already resting up for the conversion to downhill running. I saw Chris Reveley heading down and I cheered him on. I was the 19th person (18th male) to hit the summit. The only woman to beat me up was Erica Larson. Sheíd go on to win the Marathon by over 22 minutes. The winner of the Barr Mountain Trail Race, Kelli Lusk, was having some thigh cramping problems and turned around at the A-Frame. I was surprised to catch and pass her above Barr Camp, as I usually only see her on her way down. We chatted for a bit. It is always disappointing to see another runner having physical problems.

I hit the summit in 3:05:56 Ė a PR for me. My previous best was in the 2000 Marathon when I went up in 3:07. Iím totally satisfied with my race already. I know a crash and burn is likely on the descent, but Iíve run smart to this point and I still got a PR on the Ascent. Iím about nine minutes faster than last year and I feel 100% better. The race will be a success even without the coveted sub-5 time.

I was feeling pretty good at this point and took my two waters and started walking back down. I think there is a perception that the Marathon is not much tougher than the Ascent since the second half is all downhill. This couldnít be further from the truth. I know that I canít adequately describe to you why this is true. I know you cannot fully believe me. I wouldnít. But Iíve been there. This race is very similar to my experiences with a flat road marathon. The half-way point in terms of physical and mental suffering is around twenty miles. On this course that is Barr Camp on the way down.

I consciously ran at a comfortable pace, without pushing hard, right from the start of the descent. The tendency is to push here and feel like a hero. Iíve done it before. It is a heady experience. All the runners still coming up are so gracious and encouraging and inspiring. It is really quite touching. The call goes up ďRunner coming!Ē and it travels down the course like a wave and the runners part like the Red Sea for Moses. I felt entitled. Most runners cheered me on and encouraged me. The most gracious seem to be the runners near the top - the ones only marginally slower than myself and, presumably, just as ambitious. Some of these runners will catch and pass me, but they crowd themselves off to the side of the trail to let me pass. I want to stop and thank each and every one of them, but I barely have enough breath to respond with a ďYou too!Ē and frequently just give them a wave of appreciation.

I tripped on a rock and went sprawling onto my hands and chest. In the past this would mean instant cramps, but, quickly, Iím up and moving on. As I approached the A-frame, I remove my Camelback and unscrew the top. As soon as I pull there, I just hold it out and the aid station people fill it with water and Powerade. Quickly, Iím moving again with nearly fifty ounces of fluid on my back. Iím caught and passed by a runner or two, but I get down to Barr Camp without much suffering.

I make Barr Camp at exactly four hours. The descent from the summit has taken 54 minutes. Iím more than halfway down (since the race doesnít finish at the start, but about four minutes closer). If I can maintain this pace, Iíll break five hours. But already, Iíve started to fade and I know once you fade in a marathon there is no recovery, you just keep going downhill until everything stops working.

The temperature was now on the rise and my stomach was nauseus from the Power Gel. I couldnít eat it anymore. In the entire race I downed just two GUís and two Power Gels. I did eat some grapes and grabbed some pretzels as well, but they were difficult to eat. My stomach wouldnít let me eat any more and it was even difficult to drink. For twenty minutes, I felt I would hurl after each sip of water. With my full Camelback, I didnít need to stop at any of the aid stations any longer. I had plenty of water to get me down and I wasnít cramping.

There are a couple of mellow hills to climb on the descent and I ran maybe half of these and was grateful for the walking break on the other half. With forty minutes to go, sub-five was still possible. I was grateful to be in this position, but was fully aware what it entailed. It would require me to suffer mightily until it was out of the question. A fall and it would be over. A cramp and it would be over. While disappointing, it would release me from the pain of pushing. A few runners caught and passed me, but I hardly noticed. I was in my own world of pain and the only outside sensations were the ticking of the clock. I cared not one whit about my placement. Not that placements donít matter, but that I was so broken down as to be released from that concern. It was now about putting this baby away. I truly wondered if I had the toughness to endure.

If I stopped running it was over. In some ways I wished for a cramp or a fall. Then it would be over and I could walk for a bit. But as long as I could run without losing time, I still had a chance. One 9-minute mile and it was over. But I didn't do a 9-minute mile. So I had to keep going. One 7-minute mile and I'd have some buffer, but I couldn't do that either. I knew I had to endure the pain for exactly forty minutes. After that it wouldn't matter what I did. But forty minutes when you're hurting as bad as I was is an eternity. I found myself checking my watch, not to see if I had more time left to reach the finish, but praying for more time to have elapsed off the clock so that I could stop soon. Win or lose, I just wanted to stop. So I prayed for the forty minutes to run out as quickly as possible. Each minute seemed to take an hour out of life.

At the last aid station, I dumped a cup of water over my head. I was now in the Wís and the heat was stifling. It seemed to jump up ten degrees once I got on these endless switchbacks. I ran a good mile from ď3 to goĒ to ď2 to goĒ. I could run 8:15 miles and make it, but I paid for that mile. The tank was empty. I had been going on fumes and now I started to consume myself, throwing everything into the fire. A couple more runners passed me and I stuck out my hand to give them skin for their efforts.

I finally hit the ď0.9 miles to goĒ sign and I had nine minutes left. All I needed was a ten-minute-mile pace. I thought I had it in the bag, but things went further downhill. I was in agony and my paced dropped further. With four or five minutes to go, my friend Brian Hunter saw me and started cheering me on. ďCome on, Bill! Sub-5 man! Youíve got to push! All you, buddy!Ē Brian is the most positive guy I know. He is an elite athlete and was here to cheer on his wife, Vicki (sheíd take 5th overall in the Masters Division in 6:08:21). He knew what I was doing, as any competitive runner would. He knew it was going to be close. His calls urged me on.

With three minutes to go, I still didnít see the final turn. Despair gripped me tightly. ďHow could this be taken from me this close?!Ē I wondered. Even though the course was downhill and paved now, I couldnít respond. I was hoping to muster a one-minute kick if necessary, but I didnít think I could do any more. I probably couldnít have done the full minute. And when I say ďkickĒ, I mean cranking it up to maybe an 8-minute-per-mile pace.

In another minute I received salvation. I saw the corner. The announcer said my name. I was going to make it. I had experienced no cramps and I was finishing the best I ever hard in the fastest time. I mustered a tiny kick at the finish. I didnít need it to break five hours, but it got me under 4:59: 4:58:58. There wasnít a lot of slack there. I canít believe it worked out this perfectly, but it didnít come easy. The pain involved in obtaining this time is not something I want to revisit any time soon. I was the last runner to break five hours.

I sunk down into a chair and Chris Reveley immediately came over and sat next to me. He finished in 4:47:41 and in 12th place (2nd overall Master). I had just introduced myself to him before the start of the race. Heís done the marathon fourteen times and is a bit of a Colorado rock climbing legend. His latest thing has been running into the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming, climbing big routes on big mountains and then running back out Ė all in one day. For Gannet Peak this involved 40+ miles of terrain.

I hobbled up the street to cheer on my friend. I want Homie to succeed as much as I want myself to succeed. As the time ticked by, I knew there would be no race day miracle for him and I hoped he wouldnít run into the disaster I did last year. Of course, that didnít happen. Homie is smart and tough. He was suffering mightily, but he has more control over himself. He doesnít have the tendency to whine like I do. When I was finishing, Brian Hunter could see the agony on my face. Homie was in a similar state, wanting nothing more out of life at that moment but to stop and sit down. Like myself, he couldnít stop or walk or do anything but run once the crowds lined the streets. His goal of sub-5:30 was gone, but he had too much pride not to run.

Homie finished in 5:31:19 and collapsed in a chair. He looked good. I hobbled over to him and took the chair next to him. It wasnít long before he asked how I did and I barely choked out the words that I had made it. With our heads bowed, seemingly in prayer, but really in fatigue, he grasped my hand and squeezed it hard. He knew what this meant to me and, like the true friend he is, he was thrilled for me. This is a difficult thing to do after suffering for five and a half hours. He squeezed hard and long and tears rolled down my face. The gesture said it allÖ

The family didnít come down this time, just like I wrote last year. They were busy and I hadnít been giving them much to cheer for, though they nonetheless did cheer. I called Sheri after I finished the race. We cried on the phone together. If that sounds silly and stupid over a 20th place finish and a completely arbitrary time, so be it. Maybe it is silly and stupidÖ

Homie and I checked the results and noticed that I finished 4th in my age group (40-44). In this race they have always removed the top ten racers from the age group results and since one was in my age group, I figured Iíd be listed as 3rd. I donít put much value in my place in a race because it is so dependent upon who shows up. Heck, if my Thursday night running group ran this race, Iíd move down twenty places. Thankfully, they view this race as too easy and spend this weekend running the Leadville 100 instead. Nonetheless, it is a cool bonus to place well. Later I found out that they removed the top five Masters (runners 40 and over) from the age group awards as well. That should move me up in the standings, I thought and searched for my name. It wasnít there. It turns out that I was the 5th overall Master and removed from the age group results altogether. The fact is that I was the 9th overall Master since four Masters were in the top ten and removed from the overall Mastersí results. Complicated, isnít it? Chris Reveley was 2nd in the overall Masters results and I swelled with pride to be listed together with him in such a small group. Results can be viewed here:

http://www.pikespeakmarathon.org/race_results/2002_pikes_peak_marathon_awards.htm

http://www.pikespeakmarathon.org/race_results/2002_pikes_peak_marathon.htm

Why did this race go so much better than last year, when I did more distance training? I donít know. I have some thoughts, though. Last year was brutally hot. This year it was very hot for the last 30 minutes, but it wasnít too bad before that. We had nice cloud cover and a little breeze to keep us cool. I think having lower expectations and a reduced stress level helped me as well.

I still finished this race at least ten pounds light, but apparently I can handle that and not cramp. I started the race at around 167 pounds and finished probably around 157. Previously I had started at 170 and finished at 155. After eating and drinking all the rest of the day, and I mean eating like a horse, I was 161 pounds on Monday morning. I was able to maintain five more pounds of water weight during this race. How? I think the reduced pace of my effort not only slows down sweating, but my breathing is much less forced. Breathing hard dehydrates you and I wasnít breathing nearly as hard in this race. I also took four tablets of salt-supplement tablets and they might have helped hold off the cramps.

Oh, Opie also sent me something else before I left for the race. He wrote, ďDonít forget to have fun.Ē This is an interesting point. This race wasnít fun and I knew it wouldnít be. The fun, if it comes at all, will be afterwards, knowing that I gave a good effort and maybe even had a good time. But the race itself is not about fun for me. It is about how much I've trained, how fit I am, and how much pain and suffering I can endure before I break and collapse or limp into the finish with no respect and no control. You must be horrified to read something like that. Why does one do such things? I'm not sure. I'm sure it involves my ego to prove something. My desire to be something I cannot be. It is very complex and I'm not sure I understand it myself. I've talked and written about such stuff before. I don't believe races are for fun. They are for testing and hurting. Fun is what I had on Audubon and on many training runs and all my climbs. But races are to hurt and to push my limits. At my limits my body and mind is in a lot of pain. Actually, there is some fun in this race sometimes. I've had times where I felt so strong flying down the course. But it doesn't last. The descent is too long and these moments of joy probably just hasten the collapse. Oh well, the game I play!

A final note: I found out that by finishing in the top five of the Masters that I won a watch. I also get a free entry into the race next year. Iím such an idiot, for two days after this race, I found myself considering thisÖ

691 people finished this race Ė 538 men and only 153 women. Perhaps most women are too smart for this race. Of these only 267men and 56 women broke seven hours. Only 117 men and 16 women broke six hours. And, only 20 men and one woman broke five hours. No one broke four hours. Granted, as Matt Carpenter has pointed out many times, the average level of athletic prowess in this race isnít really high, but it still takes a pretty serious effort for a chump like myself to break five hours. Iím satisfied.

I must also say a heart-felt thanks for all the great race volunteers. These people are so helpful and so encouraging. They make the race a much better experienceÖ

Figure 1: Elevation and heart rate vs. time. I can't explain the very high heart rate at the start. I'm sure my heart rate wasn't above 170 and probably not above 160 for the first five minutes.

 

Table 1: Race Splits

Location

3-hour ascent rate

Bill

3.5-hour ascent rate

Homie

Ruxton Ave.

0:03:58

0:03:12

0:04:37

0:03:18

Hydro Street

0:11:20

0:10:23

0:13:14

0:10:55

Top of the Wís

0:36:11

0:35:22

0:42:13

0:38:04

No Name Creek

0:52:44

0:52:14

1:01:32

0:57:32

Barr Camp

1:31:26

1:31:24

1:46:41

1:40:01

Bottomless Pit

1:44:46

1:45:06

2:02:13

1:56:09

A-frame

2:08:10

2:08:13

2:29:31

2:21:59

2-miles to go

2:26:10

2:29:10

2:50:31

2:45:03

1-mile to go

2:41:28

2:45:42

3:08:22

3:04:29

Summit

3:00:00

3:05:56

3:30:00

3:26:28

Barr Camp

N/A

4:00:19

N/A

4:25:32

No Name Creek

N/A

4:28:17

N/A

N/A

0.9-miles to go

N/A

4:51:04

N/A

N/A

Finish

N/A

4:58:58

N/A

5:31:17

 

2003 report here.