Ten years ago my husband and I were just dating and tried to run this little race called Pike’s Peak. I won’t say much about it. I’ll just copy and paste my original write-up on it with only a few things edited. I want to warn you that it is rather long. Also the note at the bottom was part of the original post. As I said in one of my other posts, I do think the first part where I mention being a social runner is kind of funny. I can go either way. I also forgot to mention in the post that our rooms had their own private hot tubs. There was just so much going on that weekend. Oh, I also saw this article and thought it was funny that it was included in a list of races to not expect a PR. It makes sense of course.
You may or may not know a few months back I signed up for the Pike’s Peak Ascent. For those that do not know what that is, it is a 13.32 mile foot race to the top of a mountain near Manitou Springs, Colorado. The elevation at the bottom is 6,295 and the elevation at the top is 14,110. They also have a marathon the next day that goes up and then back down, but of course I wasn’t crazy enough to do that! I have only run a 25K or about 15 miles. So I wasn’t really afraid of the distance I was afraid of the chance of getting really sick from the altitude.
I started off the day with butterflies in my stomach and some of the basic race essentials like goo and Gatorade. I was really nervous and wanted to get to the start of the race to settle my nerves. Socializing and talking to the other people really seems to help (I also found out during this little experience that I’m a social runner all together. I HATE training by myself. If I ever train for anything again, I’ll have to find a buddy or buddies to run with me). My boyfriend is the opposite. He likes to piddle around until the last-minute and then show up only a few minutes before the race starts. It was driving me NUTS!!! I finally got him out of the hotel room and we started off toward the race. It was only about 0.8 miles. He started naming off several things that we forgot. He wanted to go back and I wanted to just get there. We did the smart thing. He went back by himself and I went on to the start.
I made it to the start in time to chat with our fellow Arkansans. I was still a little nervous when my boyfriend finally showed up and said he still ended up forgetting the camera. As soon as we started I felt better. All that nervous energy was being put to good use. I ran into a fellow I knew, Bob, while we were running on the streets heading for the bottom of the trail. We chatted a bit and my nervous energy started to burn out as we herded ourselves up the narrow dirt trail. I tried to pass a few people and felt a little frustrated at first. I did end up passing a few. We could keep track of our progress by looking at the signs that told us how far we had to the summit. I’m not sure when it happened, but I think I started to feel nauseous around the 10 mile mark. Not a good sign. I think I saw a friend of mine named Angela around this time. She passed and I didn’t see her again until we were back at the hotel.
I tried to push myself. I wanted to make my boyfriend proud since he had been such a good runner in high school. I also wanted to do well because several of my friends were with me and I knew of at least one that wasn’t there that doubted me. Plus the fact they had a really cool looking finisher jacket made of fleece. Oh, and they had a medal too. The problem was that each time I pushed myself I felt like I was going to throw up my toes! So I walked a little slower. The problem with that is that it caused me to lose time and it hurt my feet and legs. I felt like I was getting blisters. I was trying to find my happy medium when two other ladies, Elaine and Jamie, I knew passed me at the Arkansas aid station. I told them I was feeling nauseous. They said I might want to get a coke at Barr Camp.
At this point, I’m really getting frustrated. All these people are passing me. I don’t really feel all that tired. I know I could do more, but the altitude was causing me to feel like I had swallowed an alien. Before Elaine disappeared in the switchbacks, she also said that the trail leveled out a bit for the next few miles. She was right!!! Of course she knew because she was a Pike’s Peak veteran. So on I pushed feeling that acid build up in the back of my throat.
My original plan was no stops. Well that didn’t really work out since there were so many people trying to get up a narrow trail, but I also could not catch my breath. So I would take mini stops, only a few seconds, to breath easy and try to settle my stomach. I thought maybe eating some goo would help. WRONG! Nothing seemed to get rid of the nausea except when I stopped. I was bending over to try to get my heart rate down when a pudgy man came up to me and told me to try to stand up straight instead. He said it was easier to get oxygen that way. He was right. He talked to me for a little ways to try to distract me. It really helped. The trail started to get hilly again and I somehow ended up ahead of him and lost him.
I was real excited when I reached Barr Camp. I forgot my watch and someone said we made it there in three hours. Barr Camp is 5.72 miles from the top. I was over half way there!!! Three hours was great because the cut-off time at top is 6.5 hours. I didn’t have anything salty so I grabbed some of the pretzels they had and pushed ahead. I saw Jamie at this time. She gave me the rest of her Coke to help with the nausea.The rest of the trail started to get hilly again. I could hear the announcer at the top. I guess he was calling out the people who had already finished. Jamie and I passed each other several times. She finally pressed ahead, but I pretty much kept her in sight.
I could tell we were getting close to the top because it started to get cooler and the trees were thinning a little. At the 4-mile mark, I noticed it was getting cloudy and I heard thunder. I saw at least two or three runners come back down the mountain. Someone up in front of me asked if they officially called the race off. They each said no. They were making a personal decision to go back down the mountain. Okay here is where I start to panic. There is no way, I mean NO WAY I’m going to be able to go all the way back down that mountain. I HAVE to make it to the top to get my ride down. As far as I knew they were not offering rides back down this mountain other than for those at the top. There are no roads except the one you can get to at the top. There is a railroad known as the Cog Railroad. We rode it to the top the day before the race. The announcer said they usually drop people off or pick them up from Barr Camp. However when we dropped a few off that day I noticed a sign that said it was over 2 miles to Barr Camp. I told myself that if I had to go back I was going to pitch a fit until they got the Cog. At this point thought I was NOT going back!!!!!
I pushed on up and lost sight of Jamie as we were getting close to the A-Frame stop. As I approached I heard someone say that we were cutting it close. I kept on going. I saw a lady with an Arkansas shirt on that I recognized. She was talking to some of the race officials. We ate dinner with her and some of the other runners Friday night. Her name was Mary. She was asking if we made the cut-off time. The officials said yes, but there was a really bad storm at the top and the rest of the race was officially canceled. Okay this is where a thousand and one thoughts run into my head in the matter of a few seconds.
I know my boyfriend is at the top and he is waiting on me. I want to make him and my friends proud of me. I want that finisher’s jacket. I want that one person who said I couldn’t do it to eat his words. Mostly, I do NOT want to go back with only 3 miles left to go. I look around distraught. Mary looks at me. She tells me to give my number to one of the officials since we made the cut-off. He looks at my number and tells us to move on down the mountain while another official is yelling at a man who is trying to push ahead. Now if you didn’t know this already the number one killer on Pike’s Peak is lightning.
I was told later on that they did not start turning people back until around 11:50. The cut-off for A-Frame was noon. That means I barely made the cut-off. However if it had not been for the weather, it would have given us at least two more hours to make it to the top before the final cut-off.
After the official gets my number, Mary looks at me and says that I will be fine. I told her I didn’t think I could go back that distance. I asked if she knew if they would give us a ride on the Cog. She said going up was causing me to be sick. She said I would be fine going down the mountain. I was still scared of the distance. She grabbed my hand and assured me that everything would be okay. As we were leaving A-Frame it started to rain and hail on us. I was covered for the most part. I had on a long sleeve white running shirt, running shorts and a cap. The only parts of me that were getting hit by the pea-sized and then marble-sized hailed were my ears and neck.
My boyfriend told me he had not made it to the top when it started to hail. He was above tree line at that time. So whereas we had a few trees to help shelter us down at A-Frame, they had nothing. The lightening was dangerously close as well. He also had to maneuver over big icy rocks. He did finally make it to the top. He said he waited up there trying to send me positive thoughts.
Mary held my hand as we made our way down a few smaller icy rocks. I immediately noticed that my nausea was gone. We joked around about how we were practically going to be doing the same course as the marathon runners. So at this point we started to jog. We passed some people between A-Frame and Barr Camp that had trash bags. I was still cold and Mary already had one. I saw Rosemary, another fellow Arkansan getting a trash bag from one of the officials or volunteers. I stopped to get one and they pressed on down the mountain. As soon as I got my bag, I started off to catch Mary again. I passed Rosemary and said hello on the way down. It was really nice not to feel pukey for a change. I caught up to Mary as we raced for Barr Camp.
Mary lent me a handkerchief at Barr Camp to keep the hail off my neck. However I think it stopped hailing at that point. The Barr Camp guys wrote down our number. Mary and I asked about our medals and jackets since we were turned around due to bad weather and did not get to finish. A gentleman by the name of Mike said we would have to ask the people at the bottom. Mary and I ran on ahead. Nobody said anything about letting us get on the Cog and we didn’t ask.
I ran on ahead and Mary said she might not be able to catch up but to keep going. I felt good enough to keep running and I really really wanted off the mountain. The next thing I know not only have I lost Mary, but I am by myself. A few minutes later I pass two other people who made a remark about us practically doing the marathon. I didn’t see anybody for quite some time. Most of the aid stations we passed had been packed up. I was beginning to think that I would not run into another one until the bottom.
I finally ran into one guy at a single table. He said he had not seen a single person come down yet. I knew that did not sound right since some people had turned back before reaching A-Frame. I asked him if he heard what they were going to do about those that were turned around. He wasn’t sure, but he gave me the scoop about those that did make it to the top. He said the hail turned to snow and nobody was able to leave. They were going to have to wait up there until the roads were clear. About this time the two people I had passed earlier, one man and one woman caught up to me. I thought that maybe my boyfriend would already be down and might we worrying and waiting on me. After hearing this bit of information though, I made a remark about how we might make it down first. The other two runners stopped for a bit and I took off again.
I ran into only one other aid station towards the bottom. It was pretty much the same dialogue but different scene. I did mention this time that I had not trained to do 20 plus miles. He asked if I was okay. I thought for a moment and then told him I was surprisingly feeling good. I was sick almost all the way up, but I was much MUCH better now.
I almost got lost twice. There were two splits in the trail I did not remember. The first had a sign that was quite visible. I almost went that way until I looked down and saw that someone had put two twigs together making an arrow in the other direction. I walked a few paces and saw another sign that was behind some rocks and bushes. It was yellow but one could not see it from where I was standing a minute ago. It said the Cog Railway was up ahead. I knew that was the right way since we ran passing the station on the way up. The other intersection was not so easy. I almost cried. I had already gone about 19 miles or so and did not want to add any extra. The direction to the right looked like it went back into the wilderness. The direction to the left looked like it went toward the station. So I took the left. It did get me back to the station, but I didn’t recognize the parking lot I was in at the time.
I bumped into some people in the parking lot that were worried about their friends. I answered their questions and they offered me a ride. I had figured that with the trek to the hotel and back, the mileage for me that day would be at least 22 miles. I figured if I had gone all the way down the mountain I could at least make it all the way back to the hotel. I thanked them anyway and looked down the hill toward the main road. I saw the woman I had passed earlier on the trail walk by the parking lot. I hollered at her asking where she popped out on the trail. She said she went down the trail along the river that we followed up the mountain. I caught up to her and we walked the rest of the way into the park together. She said there was a guy at the bottom of the trail that took her number and asked her to give her number to the people in the park as well. She said she didn’t think I did any more or less going the wrong way, but I missed the other guy. Later I found out he moved up to that intersection to get numbers and direct traffic.
I was glad we bumped into each other because it would have been a lonely walk back to the park otherwise. One gentleman stopped us a little pass the Cog to offer us a ride, but the lady (sorry I was rude and didn’t get her name) and I were of the same mind. We wanted to go ahead and do the rest by ourselves. We chit chatted about the run, the weather, if we were going to get a jacket or medal. She even knew someone who ran in the hash. I can’t remember the name, but I knew it was someone I had not met. We were stopped only once or twice to answer questions about what happened. Only one person congratulated us for making it back down safely with the exception of the people at the Cog Railway Station. We finally made it back to the park and gave our numbers to the officials at the gazebo. I turned to ask about my boyfriend and lost my new-found buddy.
My boyfriend along with several others was still stuck at the top. I heard the announcer at the rail station say they were canceling the afternoon tour as me and the other lady made our way pass earlier. I thought maybe they would be heading up to help get the runners off the top soon. After stopping and talking to the officials I started to feel a little stiff. I noticed they had a massage tent in the park. I remembered something about it in the brochure. I walked up and asked if they were for free. I figured I would get a massage while waiting for my boyfriend. The lady told me what the rates were and I had no money on me. That is when it hit me that my boyfriend had the room key as well. I wandered to where they said the shuttles would let people out. There were others standing there waiting for their friends and family. They told me they heard the shuttles were just now coming down and it would be at least an hour before they were back. I mentioned that I did not have my room key. One older gentleman said most hotels would understand and give me another. I thought that maybe he was right. Besides I didn’t know how sick my boyfriend would be from being up there that long. I figured I could be cleaned up and have the hot tub ready for him when he got back to the room.
I made it back to the hotel and swapped war stories with everybody. This story is already too long to add all of those. Needless to say mine is not the best but it is all mine. Everybody made it back okay. My boyfriend was stuck at the top for over 5 hours, but he was okay. I still do not know about that stupid jacket and medal. However I did learn something. I can run/jog/walk (nope, no crawling) 22 miles. I also got a really cool bag when I got my race packet. My friends are all safe and I can’t wait to be able to have a beer with them and swap some more stories.
Note: I read the brochure again and found that they do not give medals or anything else to runners who do not finish due to weather. It is just as if we did not finish. Bummer, huh?