At the start of Labor Day weekend I drove down to Philadelphia International Airport to catch a direct flight to Denver, CO to spend the weekend with friends. On the agenda was one of those big, self-imposed challenges in life - running/hiking up Pike's Peak.
The story started a few months ago when Phil and I were squaring away plans for my trip out west. Phil and Becky are both much more into trail running and hiking than I am. When I say "much more" I mean they do it and I do not. I have never hiked up a mountain and have exactly one trail race on my running resume, a 10 miler so long ago I couldn't tell you when I ran it. And when I ran it, I had no desire to go do something like it again.
So here I am going back and forth with Phil, who wants me to do a 14er with him. I agree because ... well why the hell not? He's naming all these different peaks, wanting me to look into them, yada, yada, yada. After he finally stops talking the conversation goes like this:
Jon: Why don't we just run Pike's Peak?
Phil: You want to do Pike's Peak?
Jon: Yeah. If I'm going to climb thousands of feet of vertical to go to 14 thousand feet above sea level I would rather do something that people know. If I go up Mount Whatever-its-name-is I'll have to explain what I did. If we go up Pike's Peak, everyone knows what it is. No explanation necessary.
Phil: Hummmmmmm .... you know, Becky wants to do Pike's Peak. OK. We'll do Pike's.
What is missing from the above conversation is the reality of just how over my head and outside of my comfort zone I had just put myself. I am a road guy. When I run trails it is something like the D&L Trail that runs through Bethlehem and is flat and well maintained. No big rocks, no tree issues, not even loose sections of gravel. As a road guy I would much rather deal with traffic and idiot drivers than wild animals or messy terrain.
So, so far out of my comfort zone.
But here's the thing. When I work with someone getting ready for their first Ironman I always find it good to not let them in on the true suffering that one goes through so as not to scare them off or psyche them out. It can be good to go into a big event a little naive. While I did my research and had a general idea of what I would be in for, I made sure that I stayed "a little naive" about what I was about to experience.
Fast forward to Saturday September 5, 2015 at 6:30 am in Manatou Springs, CO where I am staring up a this mountain of a mountain, readying myself to somehow make it to the top.
|It's all fun and games until the running begins.|
|Maybe I should have read that warning before we started running to the sky.|
From an elevation perspective the first four miles are steep, but not stupid steep. We started off running and soon ended up in what is best described as a brisk walk. Partially the result of the trail's grade and partially due to the trail itself. Or, in my case, my lack of trail running experience and my desire to remain upright without injury. Looking at my Garmin data we were moving in the 16-18 minute per mile, which felt doable. We ran when we could, walked when the trial dictated.
After about 4 miles the trail "levels out" a bit. Miles 5 and 6 came in at a blistering 15 minutes per mile as I could run some as the trail became more manageable for me. Somewhere along the way I fell off the back of Phil and Becky who are way more experienced than I am on the trails. For Phil this would be his fourth time up the Barr Trail.
Whenever one of our friends does an Ironman The Queen has one piece of information she wants to know. What she wants to know is at what point during the day did you first ask yourself, "what the eff was I thinking?" For me, that thought crossed my mind around mile six. After said thought crossed my mind I chuckled a bit and stopped to take a picture. This, my friends, is what my WTF moment looked like:
|That point where you start to ask yourself, "what the eff was I thinking?"|
After not nearly enough rest we were back onto the trail. About 90 seconds after we started running again, Phil and Becky were gone. Which was more than fine with me.
Going into this adventure I knew Becky wanted to do this trail for some time, and she wanted to do it well. I also knew at some point my body would start to yell at me and the elevation would become an issue. I don't do this, they do. Running trails - especially this kind of trail - is a much different effort than running on roads, no matter how steep.
Leaving Barr Camp my calves and hips were feeling the effects of the trail and getting air had become more challenging. With my goal being to just get to the top I had no problem being out there alone with my thoughts. I knew they wouldn't ditch me so all was good.
|This is about the point where a sharp left turn can end the misery.|
Which worked out great. For those most brutal of miles I had some really nice people around me to encourage and be encouraged by. We were in this together.
At 11,000 ft the elevation really hit me. Above the tree line (12,000 ft) I could make it roughly 150 yards before having to stop and catch my breath. A slow walk was a high end aerobic effort. Fortunately, the views were spectacular.
The last mile of the trail is the 16 Golden Steps, which is the final 16 switchback pairs you have to maneuver to finally make it to the top. The start of this final section is quite rocky, which on my tired legs and the lack of oxygen ... let's just say I had the most challenging mile of my life ahead of me. As I moved forward I fell into a routine of moving for a brief period of time, then placing my hands on my knees and catching my breathe. I also became very aware of the time, being we had a train to catch at 12:40 to take us back down.
Finally, after 5+ hours, 11+ miles and 8,000 ft of vertical I'm at the top of this amazing mountain. It wasn't pretty. Well, it was pretty, I was not. But mission accomplished, I made it.
|After 5 hours I made it!!! Now don't let that train leave without me!!!|
|Phil & Becky standing at the summit.|
Would I do it again?
Well ......... I still need that picture at the Summit.
Thanks for reading.
Train hard. Stay focused.