Friday, August 12, 2011

Pikes, Revisited at a Distance

The Pikes Peak Ascent is coming up this month. The event takes place on the 20th.

I'm trying to figure out how to write this without sounding like a pompous asshole. I don't mean to be. It's more that I think running Pikes Peak and setting the record at age 16 was something kind of cool. It's the one moment in my life that makes me actually feel proud, and that's definitely not common for me. Maybe the fact that it was somewhat surreal, almost dream-like in nature has something to do with it still standing out in my mind as something big. It was one of those rare moments where everything fell into place- hard work met opportunity, and luck was sprinkled in there somewhere.

Every year the Pikes Peak Ascent is held, I hold my breath and get a funny feeling in my tummy. I can't help it. That was once my race. Yeah, I'm no Matt Carpenter or Scott Elliott (did you know I finished 2 minutes behind Scott in '83?), but it was still a race that was in my blood, one that forever called me from the first time I heard about it. In '87, I was poised to shatter the women's record. That was before I ended up in the hospital weeks before. Saying it was an off day when I attempted to run to the top of that mountain anyway is putting it mildly, and it's one of those races that still leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth, just like getting 2nd at state in the 2-mile after someone sat on my ass and out-kicked me did. I mean, it just wasn't supposed to go down that way! But life is full of all kinds of weirdness, and one has to move forward, let go and follow all those other bits of advice that are generally and often frustratingly true. These days, even though I'm not in any kind of racing shape for even a low-key 5K, I always look at the women's results for Pikes, and when the times are slower than 2:39, I breathe a little sigh of relief and experience just a bit of undeserved satisfaction. It's not as if I have had anything to do with the race lately. I'm well aware that I probably couldn't even get myself up the mountain in any kind of reasonable time frame, but I love that my bold and maybe reckless effort in '83 has remained one of the fastest times for women in the history of the race. I think it's in the top 5 fastest times or so?

Here are my stats for the years I ran. I'm also one of these blue dots. I still hold the age group record for age 16. I only ran the race three times, but all three times, I was under three hours to the top.

Hee ~ What a dramatic finish!

There are countless debates on how to train for that race. There are all kinds of debates about altitude training too. My training wasn't as scientific or specific as Matt or Scott's training, I'm sure. In fact, I had never set eyes on the trail until race day. My training plan was simple: one big long mountain run per week that was generally up and down a 14Ft peak, a few medium trail runs and occasionally some speed work. Though this race is a hill climb, obviously, there are plenty of sections that are less steep. If you can't open up and move on those sections, it will affect your time. This is the same reason why the Vail Hill Climb is so difficult, especially if you are out of shape, as I experienced last year. In that race, the switch-backs are steep, but then the ground levels out a bit. It's quite a bit of changing gears. In shape, I loved running that race, because I could shorten my stride on the turns and open up, pushing hard on the flatter sections. Out of shape, it's more like struggling up the steep parts and trying to recover enough to keep moving forward on the flat sections. ick. I have to confess too that I dropped out of that race once years ago when I was trying to make a bit of a come-back. I got to about mile two, and, in addition to feeling completely overwhelmed, just sort of felt like crap. It wasn't happening that day, so I turned around, jogged back to my car, had a good cry and went home. I'm not the runner I once was.

The truth is, I don't know the best way to train for Pikes. I'd like to think that what I was doing at age 16 would work these days. I don't know if it's necessary to study the mountain, live at high altitude and meditate on nothing but Pikes Peak. I'd like to think that my results show that other kinds of training schedules work, but I didn't win the thing a million times. I also didn't run it a million times. Still, I was considered one of the top mountain runners of my time. Maybe I'm far from an authority on the subject, but I liked the training I did leading up to that race. I did eventually go over the edge, but before that I was loving the trails and the training I did for that race.

Unfortunately, here I am now, hardly able to run all that normally. I don't know. I'm a little on the frustrated side with training, even though I had a great run Tuesday after kind of bailing on Monday. My foot was a little bit stiff and sore the next day though. I keep having to remind myself that I had 4 months off from the sport, and couldn't even really walk in December. Then in Jan, I could only walk if I wore my sister's big North Face boots. I was trying to imagine how that was going to look in the summer. last year, despite the fact that I jumped in 2 races, I was pretty out of shape too, only it was for different reasons, mainly not training hard.

I got through watching the race last night. I had mixed emotions. Part of me wanted to be running, and part of me was glad I wasn't running. It went much better than expected though, and hanging out with awesome people after only made the experience better. I'm in a good place lately. If I can just be patient and keep training as much as my foot will allow, I think all will be well. Despite all the worries I have been having lately, I'm feeling generally good about my life, my decisions and where I'm headed. That's rare for me. I may never run anything like Pikes again, but I'm OK with that. I just want to run without too much pain!

Good Luck to all of you who are running Pikes this year!  

Pikes Peak


  1. Absolutely love this post for reasons you probably already know.

    For whatever reason, even though it was a simple 10 minutes over close to 25 years ago, my win in the 2 mile at our conference track meet is a stamp on my life. My runs at Pikes are attempts at creating such stamps again.

    Beautiful stuff here Lize. I will be calling on some of the themes here somewhere BELOW A frame (on the way down).

  2. Thank you, GZ!!

    Ooooo- I will be thinking of you on race day ~ I hope you have a fantastic run!