Monday, September 2, 2013

Pikes Peak Double 2013

I’d always wanted to run the Pikes Peak Double, but in the prior years of running Pikes (2001, 2007, 2008, 2012) my sole focus was to win the marathon, so doubling was not an option.  As the ultra years rolled by, as well as the age group categories, it became apparent that winning Pikes marathon is not in the cards unless there were a major snowstorm, my favorite condition to run in (not unheard of in summer, actually).  I’d had three 2nd place  finishes in the past, and always finished anywhere from 1.5 minutes back (2008) to 20 minutes or so in prior years when Matt Carpenter raced. In all my racing years, these 2nd place finishes were the thorn in my side, for to win Pikes marathon or Ascent means you have access to the coveted FREE LIFETIME ENTRY. This is huge. Go online at age 80 after winning it in your youth one week before the race and you’re in. I had dreams of this occurrence and wanted to be eventually be the oldest to ever run Pikes Marathon. I did not achieve and will not achieve this in all likelihood. Ouch. Time to move on though.
Anyway, racing the Pikes Double (combined times in the 13.1 mile 8000 foot Ascent on Saturday and the 8000 up + down Marathon on Sunday) is also a huge accomplishment. To win it would be akin to winning an ultramarathon. The key to running best on the Double would be to be 1) acclimate to running hard over 10000 feet, and 2) recover well between the two races. 
Thanks to my altitude tent, I felt good over 10000 feet, as I had been sleeping that high and training locally in Boulder up to 8500 feet.  I hadn’t got down to Pikes Peak though to train on the PP course in five years, but wasn’t too worried about it.  I know the course pretty well already. I also felt I had excellent energy and recovery reserves as I had been fueling consistently in training and after with Vitargo all summer.  I also hadn’t raced an ultra since late June, so that deep ultra recovery that comes with time was present, a good thing.

Pre-race..Buzz Burrell photo
Day 1: The gun went off in downtown Manitou Springs and I settle into the pace right away that I knew I could keep to the summit. There are always a few rabbits who head off at unsustainable pace.  Thanks to Matt Carpenter, the Pikes Peak races have data and generators to help one figure their pace and splits and compare it to prior years. (  I knew that if I was in 20th place on Ascent day by the end of Ruxton street mile 1.5, I reckoned to be fine by the summit as runners peeled off the pace. The end of Ruxton just before hitting dirt single track is the hardest part of the whole Ascent, as the pitch of Barr trail all the way to the Sixteen Golden Stairs just below the summit is actually very runnable.  This is why road runners can run well there and why leg speed is an important part of Pikes training. The uninitiated Pikes runners are intimidated, but once they get on the course it can be quite fun. There are actually sections midway through the Ascent where elites run 6 minute miles or faster, as it is flat before the Barr Camp midpoint.
As said, I felt in control, but had never run only the Ascent race; in the past I could make up time on the Marathon descent second half.  I thought I had a 2 hour 35 minute ascent  in me, but I knew it all came down to the final 3 miles over 12000 feet from the “A-Frame”; above this landmark, a 13 minute mile is a difficult task up there. 
Coming off the W’s, the many switchback section in the first few miles, one is tempted to push the pace. I held back though, and found myself already passing several rabbits. It is rare in the PP ascent where one “blasts past a runner”, it is a slow grind to catch, and then a mile or two later you finally have the person out of sight. But even then it is easy to be re-passed as you climb through the five or six ecosystems of the mountain and your energy levels.
My Barr Camp split, mile 8 at 10200 feet, was 1:16.  Traditionally you can double this time and that will be your total Ascent, so I knew I was close to 2:30 pace.. if you have it in you to a decent pace over 12000 feet! Good luck. I was happy with this split but knew I’d run faster in the past and had my work cut out for me But as I climbed past Barr camp the trail gets relatively technical with off steps on large and small boulders, which I love as I am good at it compared to most runners.
I found myself racing the Ascent close to a triathlete fellow named Brian who made it verbally clear he also was running the Double. So be it. I didn’t tell him I also racing the Double, and we found ourselves in 6th and 7th place as approached the summit finish. I tried to hang on to him but didn’t have it in me as he put two minutes on me to the summit.  I crossed the line, got tackled by my daughter, and instantly had a bronchospasm that lasted 5 minutes.  It was worth it though, as a daughter’s love is like no other, and I finished 7th place in 2:34:17. Not an Ascent PR, but only 7 minutes off the podium. I quickly had three scoops of Vitargo and an almond butt and jelly sandwich, and spent the next couple hours with friends and kids on the summit, feeling very comfortable recovering at 14100 feet. Based on this, I thought I’d have a good day next day in the Marathon.  Triathlete Brian had a lead on me though, but said at the summit he was terrible at downhills for the Marathon next day. 

Not looking as good as I felt

Day 2: After an easy 200 meter warmup, the gun goes off and the Marathon started. I didn’t feel sore heading up Ruxton again, but rather a mild fatigue in my lateral quads and glutes from the Ascent. I knew pacing would be even more important, and focused on 80% effort.  I used the same fueling strategy as the Ascent; 400 calories of Vitargo on wakening, an energy bar, and 400 more calories 30 minutes before the race.  I also carried a hand bike bottle of Vitargo with me until I ran out half way up, to refill it at the top thanks to Buzz Burrell’s handoff of a fresh full bottle. 
The marathon actually was more competitive than the Ascent, because it was the USATF trail marathon championships. There were some super fast Coloradans with US Mt team resumes, Japanese, Basque, and other internationals because it was also part of the World Skyrunner series. Damn. I paced about the same as the Ascent, and surprisingly found myself in the same position and pace as the day before. Cool. I also was right near Tri Brian, and as we ascended through the Ws, and then recognized Tim Hola, a strong Colorado runner. We were close to each other getting up near Barr Camp, and as we passed through I was happy to see my split was only one minute slower than yesterday. I was happy about this as I wasn’t killing myself to maintain the pace, and as we passed Barr Camp, I left the guys and found myself reeling in more runners. I had drank my Vitargo by mile 5, and had to refill with the stuff at the aid stations, and made sure I was constantly swigging, as it was a warm day even over 10000 feet. I knew I’d gained an advantage over the other guys, because I rarely saw them touch their fuel or drink except for a cup here and there at aid stations. This paid off huge as I passed the Basque runners and their Buff sponsor uniforms through A Frame 12000 feet.  With two miles to go though, I had to stop behind a boulder to poop, which I hate to do up there, and lost 90 seconds, only to be passed by the Basques. I quickly repassed them, and with one mile to the summit the first marathon guys who’d summited came down past me on the return trip.  A Japanese runner, and eventual winner Touru Miyahara, and four other guys blew by down the hill including past PPM winner Galen Burrell and D1 runner 24 year old Cameron Clayton, who was only one minute ahead of me by the summit.
I hit the summit in surprising 2:37, got my fresh bottle from Buzz, and started working the downhill, my favorite part of racing. My descent PR was 1:20, which used to be close to top 15 all time on Pikes. I thought I could come close to this and thought I’d catch a few of these guys ahead. Running down the PPM is no easy task, it’s fast, and there are several hundred runners coming up who are supposed to yield to you, but doesn’t always happen. At A Fram I was told 30 seconds unbtil Cameron Clayton, so I knew I was gaining time. Barr Camp came by quick, and was told I had a minute til Cameron, and was surprised. After BC, I found the flats to be a challenge to keep the leg turnover, and with 5 miles to go, I wasn’t sure I’d catch him or anyone else unless they blew up.
Into the W’s with 3 miles to go, I worked hard as the 90 degree heat set in. Looking back with 2 to go, I saw a runner two switch backs up charging on me. I swore and dug deep pounding down the trail as I could hear his footsteps behind me. Luckily I increased pace and the steps faded away as the pavement mile to the finish started. I didn’t look back though and cruised into town, in 6th place overall in a moderate time of 4:02.
Not a PR by a long shot, but the mission was accomplished in winning the Double in one of the fastest times, and I was able to bounce back in stage race fashion.
I’d recommend the Double to anyone silly enough to try it, but be ready to hurt on that Descent on Day 2! 
Thanks to Hoka One One for mega cushioning recovery, Injinji for zero blisters and comfort ( I wore the same pair of Injinji's back to back days), Udo's Oil for my daily three tablespoons, Vitargo S2 fuel, Hypoxico air, and Julbo USA shades.

Last turn to the PP Marathon finish (Nancy Hobbs photo)

 Post race video about Vitargo usage during a post- Pikes Boulder training run


  1. Suuweet.. I have always wanted to run the double..

  2. Great report, Dave! Congrats on winning the Double. Super impressive back-to-back races!