I did it. I finished a half marathon up a 14'er.
The adventure began on Friday when B picked me up from school so that we could begin the long journey down to Colorado Springs. It's not a particularly long drive -- but at around 4pm on a Friday is treacherous. It took us about 2.5 hours to get through all the traffic and, after texting with our buddy Smack and his wife on where to eat, arrived at a chain Italian restaurant. We were all pretty hungry and I needed to get some carbs in my system. However, Sprocket won the award for most carbs consumed -- that kid can pack it away!
Sprocket ran around with his bloated pasta-belly hanging out and generally terrorized the dogs, Schitzy and Duke. I wrangled Sprocket into bed (an hour overdue!) and then we hung out talking. Well, B talked...I looked up mountain stats on the Ascent website and got even more jittery about the next day. After laying out all my stuff for the next morning, I hit the hay. And tossed. And turned. And tossed. And turned.
The alarm went off bright and early at 5:20 and we got ready and headed to the race start in Manitou Springs. Waking Sprocket up went a lot smoother than I thought and I choked down a piece of toast and a banana -- my stomach was doing backflips. We parked and walked to the race start. Once I got my bib and sweat check bag, we ran into J and my friend Lara's husband, Jeremy.
|Getting ready to warm up. I put my bib under my long sleeves in case I wanted to run in just my short sleeves.|
|Sprocket was having a good time people watching|
We nervously chatted until about 7:20 when I started warming up. I was nervous about my IT Bands, but they felt pretty loose. The start was really surreal. I couldn't believe that I was actually going to finally run up the mountain. They yelled "Go!" and we all started the shuffle.
|Taken by B...I have no idea where I am.|
|Apparently Sprocket was very tired by the time they got back to the car :)|
The first half mile was flat through Manitou Springs and then we turned and headed up to the start of the trail. It got a little steeper (the road is known as "the spur"), but I ran almost all of it. There was a guy dressed as a beer bottle that instantly annoyed me. I think its the fact that he was dressed up...but didn't seem to be too fond of ribbing and heckling. I decided that I wanted to beat beer bottle guy.
At about Mile 3 I realized that in most parts I was just as fast walking as running. It was a nice realization, but a little disheartening. I ran/walked as best I could and didn't stop once. I was passing people at a pretty good pace and felt strong. There was a water stop around 4.3 miles in and I heard a guy say that it got relatively flat (with little ups and downs) until the Barr Camp aid station at 7.5 miles. Sure enough, we had a really great 3 miles. I was averaging about 15 minute miles through that part and it felt good to get moving. I rounded a corner and I heard Beer Man say "is everybody ready?" and another guy said, "ready for what?" and he replied (in a smug voice), "for the last downhill part of the Pikes Peak Ascent." Bastard. Yep. I'll say it. I wanted to punch that Beer Man in his Beer Nuts. I mean, I get it. I realize I was running/walking a half up a 14'er, but I don't need it thrown in my face by a douche beer.
|In good spirits before Barr Camp|
Barr Camp was my oasis. Music, Gatorade, water, candy, snacks, and cheering fans. I ate some pickle slices, three peanut butter and jelly pinwheels, and a handful of M and M's. I felt amazing. It was like rolling through a RAGBRAI town on the trail...you know, minus the beer and brats and pie. The next two miles were pretty tough. They definitely got a lot steeper. I was worried about the time cut-off and I overheard a guy behind say that he had done 21 Ascents and had never "moved this slow." He said he didn't think we were going to make it to A-Frame in time for the 4 hour 15 minute time cut-off. I told him that he was a veteran and he was supposed to put us Newbies at ease. He chuckled and then sped up. It frustrated me. I felt like the time limit was a monkey on my back that I couldn't quite shake. I decided that there was nothing I could do except keep moving as fast as I could. I had to take a couple small breaks to catch my breath and I was definitely feeling the lower oxygen level at around 9,000 feet.
I finally reached A-Frame at 3 hours 40 minutes...a full 35 minutes ahead of the cut-off. It was liberating. I knew that I was on schedule to finish under 6.5 hours, but I also knew that the hardest 3 miles was still ahead of me. Basically, I had a 5K left...with over 2,000 ft of climbing -- all above the treeline. I grabbed a couple handfuls of M & M's and refilled my small bottle that had Perpetuum powder in it. I also downed my third Hammer gel packet. B was going to meet me at the top with Sprocket, but I didn't want him to have to sit outside if the weather got bad. So, I sent him a quick text telling him what time I had made it to A-Frame.
The first half mile was actually kind of nice. The views were amazing and it wasn't too steep. I ran into J, said hello, sang her a song, and marched onward. After that it got really tough. I started getting some intense tunnel vision. It was like I didn't have any peripheral vision and it almost made me feel claustrophobic. A very eerie feeling when you are 11 miles into a half marathon and above 12,000 feet. Everyone was just kind of trudging along up the trail. I laughed at the absurdity of the whole thing. A bunch of wayward souls walking a death march in the high-altitude desert. Stupid.
I was really feeling bad and struggling to keep going when I heard someone above me yell "Porkchop, Porkchop!" I am in charge of a student leadership program that is focused on "Going Big!" Basically, being yourself and being confident in your abilities. One of the silly songs we sing is "Porkchop, Porkchop, Greasy, Greasy, You made that look really easy!" Hearing someone yell the beginning of the song made me laugh out loud and realize that I could definitely do this, I just needed to have faith in myself.
I had 1.5 miles left and had been able to hear the announcers at the finish line since A-Frame. I passed a guy with a long white beard that was stumbling and sitting down often. I asked him if he was okay and he said "If I could just see I would be fine!" Oh boy. He was in rough shape. I got to the last aid station and told the search and rescue and they went to meet him on the trail.I also heard a girl yelling "You got this! You can do it! You have .7 miles left...you are ALMOST THERE!" It took my 15 minutes to actually get to where she was, which was a little disheartening.
Finally, I turned up a switchback and saw the sign for "the golden stairs," which aren't really stairs -- it actually refers to the 16 pairs of switchbacks to the top. Only 32 switchbacks stood between me and the finish line. I had to stop several times to catch my breath and it was probably the hardest 0.4 miles of my life, but finally...FINALLY I reached the top. I turned in front of the finish line and pumped my arms and yelled in front of the crowd. Everyone clapped and I crossed the line...and promptly almost tripped into the lady recording bib numbers. My finish time was 5 hours 42 minutes. Those last three miles had taken me two hours!
|Heading up toward the finish line area|
|My version of the Usain Bolt pose :)|
|Right before I almost fell into the volunteer|
We went back to Manitou Springs and picked up our medals and finisher shirts and then headed into Colorado Springs for the most delicious mac and cheese and Diet Coke I had ever tasted. It was 3 pm already and I hadn't really eaten a meal up to that point.
B and I headed home and made it through some crazy Denver traffic to get home around 7 pm.