As I type this - I hurt, I'm tired, I'm sore. I'm also not trying to wipe a huge smile off my sunburnt face. I had a race today that worked out pretty darn well for me.
It was a cool 40 something degree start at 7 am but I decided to run shirtless because I knew it was going to warm up and I didn't want to have to carry anything unnecessary later in the race.
I positioned myself at the start beside a 50 mile runner that I knew from the last 2 Pikes Peak Marathons - who is a little quicker than me, but I figured he was going to start out sort of slower due to him running an extra 18 miles. At the start, both 50K and 50 mile runners head out at the same time and run the same trail till almost 15 miles into the race. As we rounded the 1/2 mile flat stretch at the start around Pine Lake I counted about 25 to 30 people in front of me. I was hoping for a top 20 finish out of the 121 starters.
We hit the beginning of the first hill and immediately the 50 mile runner dude I was beside started walking. End of my plan to stick with him. I know that the longer I run without resigning myself to a walk - the better I do. I suck at power hiking / walking. I find it better to just keep shuffling at a slow and steady jog. So that is what I did for the first 3 mile climb up the initial 1000' feet or so of the race. Immediately it got warmer as we climbed up into the exposed burn scar area.
The climb wasn't too difficult as I hit the top still averaging near to 13 minute mile pace and feeling quite good. I let people pass me without any desire to go with them, instead just maintaining a steady effort. By the time I entered the first aid station at 4.3 miles I had settled in with a train of 5 other runners, one of which was a 50 mile runner, the others running the same race as me.
The next 5 miles was a down and up, 2 1/2 miles each direction, dropping 600' then going back up (a different trail 600'. I was in the middle of the train of 5 others the whole way down and we shared a relaxed conversation and pace the whole way down. I learnt the woman in front of me had run a 5:30 50K in Wyoming last year and so that gave me a confidence boost that I was hanging with her.
As we made the turn to head up the group stretched out and before long 3 had dropped off the back and it was just me and 2 others (including 5:30 lady). The climb was long and yet it was steady and I just stayed as consistent with my effort as possible, after a while I gradually pulled away from the other 2.
As we neared Aid station 2 we left the trail we were on to head across to it - about 1/5th of a mile to it, then doubled back to the trail we were just on - with the brief out and back I was surprised to see so many other runners in such a short amount of time, about 6 ahead of me and then about the same on the way back.
The next mile plus was a continuation of the uphill, albeit at a less vertical accumulation. I passed a guy tying his shoe, then a guy who had stopped to pee, which made me realize I needed to do the same - so they both passed me again. Then we began a meandering descent over the next 3 1/2 miles of about 1000' through some really pretty forest on awesome trail terrain. During the descent I passed the other guys as well as several more runners - these had started an hour earlier, as permitted to do so as they were 50 milers who needed extra time on the course to avoid cut offs / dq's.
Half way down the descent the trail opened up into another burn area, allowing for nice views around the horizon of peaks - but also of the trail below where I could see for about a mile ahead - seeing 6 or more runners ahead at times. Temperature's were also beginning to rise, but with that - a breeze was also picking up that remained the rest of the race, especially in exposed areas. It was a welcome breeze that kept things tolerable, mostly.
Finally at the bottom of the descent was Aid station 3 and a refill of a water bottle. 14.7miles in and now a tough climb ahead. I thought the climb was supposed to be in the burn area but it ended up not being so, which was good as it was a climb for about 2 1/2 miles and about 1000' feet of climb.
4/10ths of a mile from the aid station the course split for the 50K and 50 mile runners - I wasn't paying attention to the signs and went left, 50' or so along I had a panicked thought that I went the wrong way - I turned around and fortunately a guy was 20' behind me in a yellow shirt - I asked him if we were on the 50k course and he gave me a convincing "yes". So, I turned back around and started heading up, and up, and up.
This was a grind and immediately I went to a lower gear, but the thought came to me that this is what I had trained for, on the Falcon trail and Mt Herman especially, going up, keeping moving, keeping the effort steady. I kept running, slowly. But not walking. I was not ready to walk. Along a straight section I saw a guy ahead of me and determined he was about 1 minute ahead of me. Someone to key off. He was also not walking. I lost sight of him as the trail took several turns, head down - keep moving, keep the effort steady. A mile or more later I caught him, he was now walking, I eased slowly past him and tried to say something encouraging.
The climb continued, I kept jogging. We turned on to the Colorado Trail and finally some change in terrain. It was a mile of rolling hills up and down, then a section of up again. It seemed this section was also home to a boatload of mountain bikers, about 20 of them, all coming from the opposite direction. Several stopped to let me pass, several stayed right on the trail and I had to side step them. I tried not to grumble but it got frustrating. Finally I hit the high point of the course at about 8100' and knew it then lead to a long downhill stretch. As I began the downhill I quickly came up on a lady runner and breezed by her, only to turn a corner and almost collide with some slow moving bikers coming up the hill.
The next 1/2 mile was a rolling section including a couple of short uphill's before finally heading down again and into the 4th aid station. As I stopped to get a water bottle filled and eat some food I asked the aid station volunteers where I was - I almost choked on a fig newton when they said I was in 5th place. I told them that was not possible, I'm not that fast. They said I was, but was also about 10 minutes behind the 4th place runner.
The next 3+ miles was downhill through the burn scar and with 700' of drop it was here that my quads started talking to me. Then my stomach started to feel really tight, cramping like. It actually hurt a bit and whenever I tried to get my pace going quicker I had to back off. My mind was now in a bit of survival mode - I wanted to keep 5th place, not much chance of getting up any higher. 5th place! Wow! That would be a surprise. I wanted it.
As I went downhill the trail had several switchbacks allowing me to look back and up amongst the burnt out forest. I tried to but couldn't see anyone, which was good because that would have depressed me. It was however tough to see anything but burnt tree stumps. Who knew if other runners were actually there. Finally the downhill ended and I came out of the burn scar briefly, to turn onto the trail alongside Buffalo Creek. Alas it signaled the start of the last big uphill climb. 3 miles with 900' of climb. The next 3/4 mile was a gradual climb and took me back to aid station 3 (now 5). I stopped there for a minute and downed several cups of coke, some more fig newton's and had a good laugh with the aid station workers about one of them not doing anything. They were giving him grief because all he was doing was sitting in the shade - so I told him to "do something useful and hold my empty coke cups" - that brought resounding laughter from the others.
On to the next climb - I ran for about a minute and then could not run anymore. I was now 24 1/2 miles in and entering not only the toughest stretch of the race, but also my low point.
I walked for 2 or 3 minutes and then tried to run again, with a little success for a while, but the uphill was winning. I had also been in the burn scar since the aid station and it was warm now. That didn't help. About 3/4 mile out of the aid station I looked back, hoping not to see anyone - instead I saw the same yellow shirt guy from 10 miles earlier - and he was running, I was not. I don't know if he saw me but I saw him and it kicked me into gear. I muttered out loud that I do not want to finish 6th, 5th sounds so much better and I managed to get moving at my slow jog pace again.
Before too long I left the burn area and entered forest again, walking on the steeper sections but rallying to run on the more gradual uphill's. I kept looking back but couldn't see anyone, but my line of sight was much more limited in the forest. I was running feeling like I was being chased / hunted. It kept me moving.
After what seemed like an hour since the last aid station, I got to the final aid station and downed some more coke and fig newton's. 3 1/2 miles to go, almost all downhill. Time to trash the quads.
My time had slowed but I was well ahead of my previous 50K race pace still (5:42:12) which at 31:18 miles was an 11 minute avg per mile. Between the 5th and 6th (last) aid station my avg had dropped from 9:45 to 10:15 - not great, but still well ahead of a PR.
3 1/2 miles down and it was way down, the steepest sections of the course, dropping about 1100'. My stomach was tight again and my legs were achy to say the least. But I managed to push. I was running again in burnt, open areas on switchbacks that allowed me to look back and thankfully not see anyone pursuing me nearby. A mean uphill stretch of 1/4 mile uphill at mile 31 reduced me to walking it - but then back to the steep descent.
Finally back to the lake and on to the finish. I was ready to be done and finally I was, at 32.18 miles and 5 hrs 21 minutes and change. I had run an extra mile than my first 50K - but was 20 minutes ahead. I was warmly greeted at the finish line with confirmation of 5th place overall and 3rd in the 40 to 49 age group. Note: the winner was 43 and crushed me by about 65 minutes.
I was and still are thrilled with the results, a little irked that I suffered on the big climb out of the 5th aid station - I will use that for future training motivation. But for now and the next several days and more - time to rest, recoup and eat ice cream.