Saturday is the 60th running of the Pikes Peak Ascent. It is one of the largest trail races in the country with over 2000 runners entered. We will run the first mile on the streets of Manitou Springs before getting onto the singletrack of Barr Trail. 13.32 miles and 7,815 ft of vertical. Hundreds of volunteers will refill our bottles, hand out food, and cheer us on at the 8 aid stations located at famous points along the trail: Incline, No-Name Creek, Bob’s, Barr Camp, A-Frame, Cirque. These are also our lap markers where we try to match splits with Matt Carpenter’s famous Pikes Peak Calculator. We will always run that second half slower than Matt thinks we should.
Many racers will start out too fast, believing a fast time on the W’s (the lower portion of the trail with endless switchbacks) will bank them time for the higher elevations. They will be wrong. They will become death-march zombies taking the trudge of shame above treeline. There is no turning back, no easy out, no shuttle bus to pick up stragglers. If you blow up, you just trudge on, with no oxygen to aid your recovery. Walking doesn’t really make the pain go away, it just makes it last longer.
The smarter runners will marshall their strength for those 3 miles above treeline. Those are the magical miles where everything seems so clear and close, where the mountain seems gigantic and the landscape below feels far away. Especially hard is the last mile, which can take 20 minutes on a good day. There will be a crowd at the top waiting for us with bells, whistles, flags and beer.
Pikes Peak is the mountain I look at every day. It is our icon, weather vane, good luck charm, and looming monster all in one. Every time I see it I think “I ran up that. I did it.” On Saturday I will do it again.