Garden to Peak
I think it'd be fair to say my entire summer was building to this point. Ever since Brian first introduced me to the Garden to Peak Challenge, I knew this was the next step I wanted to take as I continue to strive to push my limits. Having tag-teamed with Brian the Garden of the Gods Ten Mile in June and the Barr Trail Mountain Race in July, I was now standing alone looking up the mountain to cap off this epic summer. To be clear, while I may have been on my own at the base of Pikes Peak, I knew that when I reached 14,115' I'd be embraced by Brian and awarded my finisher's medal, as he chose to stand at elevation for 6+ hours volunteering in part to be there to see me through the finish (for those combined factors, I stand by my belief that he had it worse that morning than I did, since I was moving, didn't have windchill, and could focus on my suffering...not that his view was bad!!!).
Brian and I had scheduled an early departure Saturday morning (4:00am) in order to get him to his volunteer station in time, with me set to hunker down for more resting and stretching at the race site until my start time (7:10am). Unfortunately, that early wake up call was even earlier, as I woke up seemingly every hour the night before, until I decided enough was enough shortly after 3:00am. Once we got to Manitou Springs and Brian had left for his volunteer station, not only did I benefit from the several hours for resting and stretching, I also had the opportunity to put in the earbuds and amp up to my Pikes Peak Playlist, which I had naively created for the race prior to learning no earbuds were allowed on the course (I timed this perfectly so I walked out to the start line as my final song, You Want A Battle Here's A War, came to a close).
In all honesty, I felt the first 1-2 miles were by far the most challenging...true, the incline was gradual at best, far less than what I'd run into later up the course, but it took a while to get my lungs firing fully, even after extensive training with the elevation mask set at 18,000' and having gotten into Colorado Springs a couple of days early and having raced other races in Colorado recently...hammers home the point that nothing is the same as being at altitude consistently.
The Cruise Control
By the time I reached the base of Barr Trail, my body was warmed up and activated, so miles 2-8 were fairly straightforward, even with the single tracks and inclines and switchbacks. More than anything, I thrived off the familiarity of this section of the course being identical to what I had recently run for the Barr Trail Mountain Race, allowing my mind and body to shut off and just enjoy the beautiful morning and beautiful people sharing this experience with.
I came into this race with two time goals. My worst case scenario time goal was 4:28:00, as this represented an average 20:00 / mile, plus I appreciated the subtlety of 4/28 for my birthday. My more ambitious / flying blind time goal was 3:50:00, which I only came up with hours before my race, as I knew my start time was 7:10am and Brian's volunteer shift ended at 11:00am, so I relished the challenge of reaching the top before he was officially done volunteering (even though he could stay up there as long as he wished). This meant I would need to maintain an average pace of roughly 17:18 / mile. Through mile 9, my average pace was comfortably at 17:03 / mile. Then, at mile 9, while casually talking with another racer as we both were on our merry ways, we seemed to hit it off, to the point that I made the conscious decision to scale slightly back and enjoy this part of the experience rather than remain laser focused on the objective (she had run this race the year prior anyways, posting a 4:30:00 finishing time, so I also knew she was moving at a somewhat similar pace as me). For the rest of the race, we carrot-and-sticked it, sharing in the suffering as well as the stunning sights of Colorado once we cleared the tree line.
The final 1-2 miles were brutal, although in a way altogether different from the first 1-2 miles. Yes, I was now 8,000' higher, but my lungs (and body) genuinely felt surprisingly strong. No, what was brutal was the single track switchbacks and, when you mistakenly looked up at the so close yet so far summit, it truly did feel and look like Mordor, just ready to fall into a bottomless pit of fire. When it was all said and done though, I finished in 4:27:41, just under my conservative goal, fully recognizing I could have shaved off more time had I chosen objective over experience. Better yet was the feeling of seeing Brian at the top and earning that medal. We stuck around for pictures, just long enough to begin to feel the full effects of the cold wind, before we headed back down the mountain (by van and bus!) to slowly make our way back home.
Even as I neared the finish line (earlier in the race if I'm being completely honest) I already felt convicted in one thing - I will come back at some point to run up and back down the mountain...the full Pikes Peak Marathon!