Pike’s Peak Ascent saw the most competitive field in years
The 2014 Pikes Peak Ascent doubled as the WMRA World Long Course Challenge and 20 countries were represented, making it an Olympic-atmosphere feel full of colorful kits and comical communication barriers. After traveling the days leading up to Pikes Peak Ascent, my legs felt like garbage from running along the river and my head felt like it had been punched by the very large fist statue of Joe Louis himself.
A packed starting line
The grandioseness of the weekend did not set in until I began to see all the uniforms: South Africa, Wales, Eritrea (it looked like a 2:10 marathon uniform, and it was worn by four-time WMRA Long Course runner up and 2012 & 2013 WMRA Grand Prix Champ, Azerya Teklay), Ukraine, Italia, Norway, Slovenia, Mexico, Australia, and many more. I finally met fellow Inov-8 teammate and obstacle racer-extraordinaire, Cody Moat—it’s difficult to miss a bright red jersey with a foot as an 8 on it. I searched for another Inov-8 member, friend and all-around good guy, Scott Dunlap, but he was somewhere gathering his strength for the Pike’s Peak Ascent /Marathon Double and knew that he had to partake in our now-traditional celebratory beer on the Peak after the race.
The start line looked intimidating with all the cleanly shaven legs and intense looks. My ego wouldn’t fit on the front line, so it was pushed back to the second row of the start line. It was, by far, the most competitive race the Pike’s Peak Ascent has ever assembled, but I knew that the race was not won in the first mile so I had to run smart and know if I did I would deserve that beer at the top. The starting cannon detonated and either gave you an additional shot of adrenaline or stopped your heart momentarily. I did not fall down so I guess I received the former.
The lead pack is three times the size it usually is during the Ascent and I felt like I was in a swarm of bees that had just had their hive kicked, buzzing and eager, almost angry. Apparently, I was eager, too, because a 6-flat first mile on the road climb to the Barr Trailhead can lead to the death sentence in this race. Oh well, can’t take that back now!
Starting the climb of 14,115 feet (4,302m)
The next section, the Ws, is one of the toughest sections of the Pike’s Peak Ascent, in my opinion, with its long and steep switchbacks that appear as Ws on an aerial map. It seemed I wasn’t moving fast enough because the entire Italian contingent went by me in a matter of about 10 seconds, each one saying “sorry” to me as they passed. They were so nice in their competitiveness.
The next couple of miles was like purgatory, it had to be done to breach treeline and face the most difficult section of the course, A-Frame to the summit (3 miles) aka the surface of the moon, where you are either struggling or have already turned into a zombie. I spotted more runners up ahead! As Thomas and I approached, he stated who the runner was (Emanuele Manzi of Italy) and excitedly exclaimed “Maaaanzi, gooud runnah!” (That’s the best New Castle accent I can hope to impart in written word.) I knew the field was world class and everyone we came in contact with now held an impressive resume, so I seemed to be acquiring 1UPs with every person I passed.
2 miles to go and close ahead I could see Zinca passing a pair of runners. I followed suit and decided I needed to do the same. It was Amed from Mexico and Mei from Italy. I had no idea what place I was in at this point. I could have been from 7th to 15th from my rough calculation, but the brain doesn’t really function properly at 13,000 ft. My brain did know to run as hard as I could with as little oxygen as was available. And so I ran on…
All in the for the race to the finish line
1 mile to go. I couldn’t tell who the black and white singlet was until I passed him, Stefan Hubert, Germany’s top runner. One foot in front of the other, the senses are getting blurred now. Struggling runners, I am struggling, but I am still passing them. How!?!? With a half mile to go, you encounter the crippling rock scramble which is the 16 Golden Stairs. As the name indicates, 16 tightly weaved switchbacks over boulders make 15 meters seem like 800. Zinca is slowing to a crawl, am I really going to pass him!? I hear someone yell “10th place!” Are they referring to me or someone else?
I am energized again by a red, white and blue-clad superhero perched on a precipice, waving an American flag, mullet flowing in the breeze and muscles rippling in the vacant-atmosphere sunlight. He vaguely resembled my Team Colorado teammate, Brandon Stapanowich. This put a smile on my misery-stricken face for the first time in 2 hours and 20 minutes. I still couldn’t let up since Zinca was hot on my tail. I knew the last two minutes of the race are among the most painful I would experience in life.
Last turn. Don’t catch your toe on that boulder. Don’t fall over! I crossed the line to a congratulatory high five from race director, Ron Ilgen, and all of a sudden the world is audible again. I placed 9th overall in 2:21:11, a 5:28 personal record on the mountain, along with being 6th American and behind only two Italians and one Eritrian. In previous years, my time would have made me famous pretty quickly. Just to display how competitive the race was, 23 males broke 2:30 and 16 women broke 3:00, while only 3 men and 4 women broke those respective barriers in 2013. Women’s winner, Allie McLaughlin, ran the 3rd fastest women’s time in race history. I was very proud to be part of it.
I would like to congratulate all of the participants–winners as well as those whose goal was just to reach to finish in under the cutoff time. To the US men’s and women’s team for both capturing the individual and team gold medals (Team Coloradan Sage Canaday and Colorado Springs native Allie McLaughlin). Thanks to those on the US Team for making me feel like I was part of the team, even thought I was not. After all, the slogan for Pike’s Peak is “America’s Mountain.”
Gear used: Trailroc 245