Pikes Peak Ascent History & Race Report

PRE-RACE:

The Pikes Peak ascent is a prestigious race covering 2,382 vertical meters over 22km.  Because it is regarded as a premiere event, it is flooded with applicants, but sadly limited to 1,800 competitors.  It started back in 1956, thus making it one of the oldest foot races in the U.S.A.

Due to the technical terrain, elevation gain, and high altitude, the race is much more strenuous and challenging than a typical half marathon.  The average grade is 11% moving through boulders, gravel, roots, and alpine terrain.

This year, Pikes Peak was the host of the World Mountain Running Association World Championships.  Naturally, this means that the best of the best mountain runners in the world competed in this event.  As the days grew closer to the big day, the reality of who I was running with became more and more apparent- I started getting more nervous as time went on.  Luckily I had a good crew of team mates to lean on and strategize with.

Team Canada Posing

Team Canada Posing

 

Fortunately I had the liberty of preparing with a recon hike on the Wed.  I had a quick, but leisurely hike in order to check out the race route as well as a chance to spend some time at altitude.  This equipped me mentally, seeing the course first hand.

RACE DAY:

The day of the race I woke up as late as I possibly could, made a cup of coffee, and ate my breakfast in Deb’s truck on the way to the start line.  As anticipated, the streets were flooded with people and traffic.  Wearing Canada’s colours brought us a lot of attention.  Many Canadians approached us asking questions and wanting to take photos.  This was a new challenge, adding to the complexity of warming up, etc.

The ladies pre-race

The ladies pre-race

Once the gun fired, the masses took off and my heart beat soared.  I focused deeply on breathing, keeping calm and moving forward at a decent pace.  Once off the road and onto the skinny trail, I struggled with finding rhythm and my pace.  People were speeding up and slowing down to walk.  There was no consistency, which I believe interfered with my running.  My heart rate sped up and slowed down as I tried to navigate though the crowds of people.  It wasn’t until about mile 4 (6 ish km) that I felt I could get into a groove.

I arrived into the first major aid station about a mile behind my projected split time, which I told myself wasn’t far off in the grand scheme of things.  There was still plenty of time to still meet my goals.  I pulled into the 2nd major station at mile 7.5 (12.2 km).  I knew I had 500+ vertical meters before my final aid station, so I slowed down and fuelled up.  I stuffed my shorts with grapes and pretzels.  My nutrition plan was to take 2 gels, one at each hour, and then stick to the food I was accustomed to- fruit!  The pretzels were to aid in salt loss from sweat.

Basically- I paced myself well and tried to run as much as possible.  At times I got stuck behind other racers hiking and took things slower than I wished to.  I only felt a little queasy once- about 1.6 miles from the summit.  I attribute this to all the food I was eating, but recognize it also might have been the elevation.  I slowed into the last aid station, grabbed a cup of gatorade and stood still while drinking it.  After taking this small break I felt like a million dollars and headed steady towards the top.

Approaching the summit

Approaching the summit

There was a LOT of positive energy throughout the entire course.  With spectators and volunteers scattered throughout, I had a constant cheering squad.  “Go Canada!” was shouted out frequently.  With my name on my bib, complete strangers were able to address me with a, “Good job Michelle!  Way to go Michelle!” etc.  How could I not keep my head high and push forward?!!

With summit fever I kept increasing my pace and made a sprint across the finish line.  I was euphoric! Here I was, standing atop a super high peak at the finish line of a prestigious race.  I had just run with the best of the best, and I considered myself a very lucky girl!

I met my time goal with 6 minutes to spare.  I didn’t place quite as well as I had hoped for, but I was still in the top 6th percentile.  What an amazing day!

 

Strutting our Finisher Medals

Strutting our Finisher Medals

Team Canada at the finish

Team Canada at the finish

Thanks to everyone who supported me in this journey!!!  All the financial contributions, words of encouragement, and cheering truly helped me to be my best at this event.

Receiving an award

Receiving an age category award

Pre Race Jitters

The day before the race was very busy with press conferences, luncheons, bib pick ups etc.  Needless to say, I still took some time to do some last minute planning and preparation.

 

Julie representing Canada at press conference

Julie representing Canada at press conference

I studied the course map again and tried to secure in my goal for time.  And then I worked backwards and estimated my splits to the major aid stations to obtain said goal.  I was quite anxious about the starting line-the mass start with approx 1000 people in my wave.  This frightened me.  Very quickly the course narrowed into a single track, thus I was apprehensive about getting stuck behind too many people.  On the contrary, the race already starts at a high elevation, therein the opposite problem of going out too quickly at the start to get ahead and blowing my race.  I concluded on a medium pace and to monitor my heart rate and adjust accordingly.

over 2000 m of climbing!

over 2000 m of climbing!

I pre-planned on where and when I would fuel up.  I took 2 gels with me and planned on taking one each hour.  I also knew that after Barr Camp (just over halfway into the race) there would be 534 meters of climbing to my next station.  With this in  mind, my strategy was to eats lots and shove lots of food into my pockets.  I accounted more for the meters than the km in my timing through this section.

My fuel and accessories:)

My fuel and accessories:)

Finally- I laid out all my clothing and gear in one neat pile and did some reading before bedtime.

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The Incline

Located in Manitou Springs, there’s a popular local fitness challenge.  Originally constructed as a funicular (aka a cliff railway), now lies a rise of steps that go straight up the mountain.   With over 68% grade in some places, the 610 meter gain is covered in less 1.2km!

This seemed like the perfect combination of fitness, high intensity,  altitude exposure, and a shorter day. My approach was to run for 30-60 seconds/walk slowly for 30 seconds, then repeat all the way to the top.

The incline

The incline

The base of the incline sits at 2,000m (6,600 feet)- thus altitude also adds a little to the challenge.  And just for funzies, I didn’t start until 9am- and it was HOT!  The sun beat directly onto the dirt and there was little opportunity to find reprieve in shade.  Parts of the trail are quite broken and sections have exposed pipe from the old hydroelectric utility system.  In some of the steeper seconds I could only manage to run for 20 seconds before I needed my break.  It was most certainly hard work.

Pipes on the trail

Pipes on the trail

Still huffing and puffing

Still huffing and puffing

The incline joins up with the Pikes Peak race trail, so I explored around the trail and descended it back to the base of the trail only run back up again.

The Bar Trail

The Bar Trail

 

What a great intro to the area!  Less than a week to the Pikes Peak Marathon.

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Check out my campaign page.  So many donations already!!!

Stoked for TrailStoke

Finally a recap on the Trailstoke 60Km race that took place on July 19th.

It was the inagural year as well as the Cnd Long Distance Mnt Running Champs.  Thus I kept my expectations low- I knew the field would be deep filled with lots of talented runners.  My goal was to place top ten and my super hero goal was top 5.

The race started with a massive climb up Mt Revelstoke resort.  A good 15km long and a 1515 vertical meter climb.  At the starting line I didn’t put myself right at the front this time.  I followed my friend’s (Travis Brown) strategy of going a few rows back to ensure I wouldn’t get caught up in the frenzy and start too fast.  With such a big climb I knew the best strategy for me was to go slow and steady.  There was a LOT of climbing, but I never let myself walk for too long, unless the hill was steep.  Whenever I stopped to walk I counted to 10 or 20 and then started running.  This allowed me to gradually pass other racers.  At the top I was only 8 min behind 1st place, but I didn’t know this at the time.

In reality- I had no idea for a majority of the race where I was standing.  As well my watch battery died so I couldn’t monitor progress.  I think this played to my advantage.  I simply worked hard, stayed positive, and did my personal best.

The middle section of the race was extraordinary.  We sped through a variety of ridges and alpine meadows.  It rained most of the time, which allowed for some pretty spectacular foggy views.  It kept things mystical feeling.  The terrain was rough, with jagged talus and rocks jutting everywhere along with mud bogs and slippery logs.  I kept myself light footed and agile.  I slipped twice descending through the meadows, but bounced back up and kept going.

At a turn around point I realized there was only one female ahead of me, thus putting me in second place.  I remained focused and constantly reflected on my performance seeking small ways of improvement.

Photo: Rob Shears

Photo: Rob Shears

One area of improvement in this race is that I ate constantly.  I always had food in my hand to nibble on.  If my heart rate started to slow down, I either ran faster or shoved food and water in my mouth.  Normally my tummy starts to hurt and I really struggle with eating.  The rainy weather certainly allowed me to eat more.

Finally we had a looooooooong descent back down the mountain. I tried and tried to go as fast as I could.  Deb Russel caught up to me and stayed with me for the remaining 5 ish km (?).  It was nice to run together, and to my benefit, she kept my pace from slowing down.

The final stretch, we both let loose.  A sprint finish after a gruelling 60km made the crowd go wild. Deb had a good push and earned a 2nd place finish with myself coming in a mere .4 seconds behind her.

I’m was 10 feet tall- Happy for a successful and amazing race!

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This has now qualified me for the World Championships!  Surprise!  Check out my campaign and story at: http://www.gofundme.com/ccvtes

 

How to Recover From an Ultra

 

Yesterday I competed in the inaugural 60KM Trailstoke (race report to follow soon).  I had a lot of fun, put a great deal of effort into the race, then had a blast at the after-party.  But just as the effort going into training and racing is important- the recovery is also key.  Continue reading to draw from the following words of wisdom:

 

BE A TOURIST:)

Playing up the tourist day

Playing up the tourist part

The day after a race is still a relevant part of recovery.  Planning ahead certainly helps a part of this process.

In most cases, you likely have a drive home the following day, just as I did.  I broke up my drive with a few tourist sites.  I am notoriously terrible for sitting too long in the car, especially after a race.  Personally I prefer to keep my body limber and stretch out with light exercise.  Casual and carefree exercise helps to flush waste from the legs.  Thus, en route from Revelstoke to Canmore, I stopped at Rogers Pass to take in the sights.

Trail covered in water

Trail covered in water

Perley Rock & Illecillewaet Glacier

Perley Rock & Illecillewaet Glacier

I often find myself driving past places to reach the same destinations.  Hence on the return trip I’ll stop in at some of those gift shops or 200m “hikes” that I rarely time the time to see otherwise.  Depending on how long the drive is, I might stop two or three times along the way to prevent any stiffness to the body.

If you invest time in the training & the race-> invest time in the restoration of your body & mind!

 

 

Ha Ling High Tea

Like many events in our lives, I cannot say this one came from one single inspiration or thought, but yet it was evoked from a medley of different experiences and interactions.

Tea should reside as a consistent part in all of our lives, not only for its flavour and comforting warmth, but also for its ability to awaken our inner spirit and connect us with other amazing people.

Several years ago after hiking, I walked into one of the mountain hotels in order to grab a cup of tea. After discovering the cost of a regular bigelow brand teabag was going to put a dent of $59.99 into my wallet I thought, surely there is a better way to experience “high tea.”

Enjoying a spot of tea

Enjoying a spot of tea

 

Throughout my journeys in the mountains, I often think how fortunate I am to so easily explore the stunning mountains in the Canadian Rockies.  Life was not always so easy for women to venture into the mountains.  Many other adventurous women have worked hard to pave the way- I emphasize many, as there are too many to recognize in this post.

One such amazing woman was Elizbeth Parker, journalist and co-founder of the Alpine Club of Canada.  Thanks to Elizabeth and her advocacy for females, the ACC is the world’s first national mountaineering club to welcome women.  There are stories of women wearing skirts to appease society, only to later rip them off along the trail to expose trousers beneath.  After the ACC’s first camp, it was decided that the dress-code would be the same for women as it was for men.  How progressive!

Elizabeth Von Rummel is famous for her unwavering hospitality at Assiniboine and Skoki lodges.  Dorothy Carleton, a war bride, stepped off the boat from England and landed herself in a secluded cabin as a warden’s wife.  And then Kathy Calvert paved the way as the first female warden in mountain parks.

There have also been significant female contributions to the mountaineering world.  Phyllis Munday was the first woman to summit Mount Robson (with Annette beck).  She also discovered Mount Waddington with her husband.  Mary Schaffer Warren is known for putting Maligne Lake on the map.  The list goes on and on and on.

Which leads us to the Ha Ling High Tea.  This past Sunday, a group of modern day female adventurers put on their skirts, grabbed tea-cups and went for a walk up the iconic Ha Ling Mountain in honour of the important role women play in mountain exploration.  We shared stories among old friends and planted seeds into new friendships.  Ideas formed, potential future adventures brewed, and a new tradition was formed.

The Ladies showing off their skirts

The Ladies showing off their skirts

I raise my glass, or rather my tea cup, to all the amazing, strong, and determined women out there who push boundaries and play hard. May the outdoors always be your playground and the mountains your vehicle of expression.

 

Looking towards the summit- courtesy of Marg Fedyna

Looking towards the summit- courtesy of Marg Fedyna

 

The Magic Suit

There are many heroes in my life.  I have lists of adventurers who I can look up to and admire: Killian Jornet who is redefining ultra-running, Scott Jurek who can run forever even after puking, Janelle Smiley for being a super fit & fast female…. and the list goes on.

But there is one person who deserves to be applauded.  This girl is a rad skier who owns her skis. Last fall she injured herself while skiing, which led to knee operation, therein meaning skiing was out for the entire season.  No skiing equals no skimo racing.

Post race with Martha

Post race with Martha

If I was in this position my spirit would be deflated.   I would probably mope around the house for a little while.  But I am not Martha.  And Martha is incredible.  This girl LOVES skiing- and skiing loves her.  Beyond her love for skiing, Martha has an amazing spirit, and nothing gets her down.  She even flew to Japan for a ski trip whilst injured and couldn’t actually ski, but she was far from morose.

Martha Burley getting rad

Martha Burley getting rad

In full support of my racing career, she lent me her race suit for the season.  I didn’t even ask, she just wanted to pass on the spirit and the power of the skin suit.  Martha told me, “it will make you faster on the up.”  And magically it did.  I felt like a somebody wearing the suit.  I had to perform well sporting team colours.

Sporting Martha's Skin Suit

Sporting Martha’s Skin Suit

The suit didn’t just come with increased confidence, it came with a cheerleader.  Martha limped out to various points at the races with her cowbell and cheered on with great fervour.  I admire a person who can stand by and support her team mates without being able to race herself.

If anyone deserves recognition, its my dear friend Martha Burley.

Thanks for the skin suit and a such great spirit!!!

Chin Chin to Winter

Winter has its fingers wrapped around mother nature- sending snowflakes tumbling from the sky.  Moving into May, I’m chilled to the bone by the unusual dampness.    Most people are grumbling and complaining as they post pouting faces on facebook.

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All smiles booting up the CoolR

 

But not me!  With arms open wide I’m reveling in the continuation of my favorite season.  In my favour, my friends are as moonstruck as I am.

Bill Knight project manager of the Boot and the Pack

Bill Knight project manager of the Boot and the Pack

 

Spending time with our friends following our passion allows us to be truly free.  We skied incredible lines, laughed until our belly aches, and swerved around the potholes and chunder on the rally road approach.

Transition Happiness

Transition Happiness

Claim The Title

Two years ago I competed in the Canadian Skimo National Championships, a race called the Dogtooth Dash.  I was new to racing, let alone skimo racing.  The competition was challenging.  Back then the course seemed to go on for eternity- endless hill climbs and demanding descents.  Skiing was still new to me at the time, let alone attempting black diamond chutes with shitty little skis.

dogtooth dash logo

 

At the after party I was advised to try out the recreational category instead of the elite.  I was crushed.  To do so would be to give up or take the easy way out.

Instead of selling myself short I persevered and applied everything I had to the sport.

Practicing Transitions

Practicing Transitions

 

I trained not only harder, but also smarter.  I read up on training, poured hours into creating training plans, I talked to people, I changed my nutrition, I watched video clips, I analyzed, I reflected -I posted pictures of opponents on my wall.  There were days when my friends partied and I stayed home to sleep or study.  If I was going to attack the Dogtooth Dash- I was going to attack it with fervor.

 

I started my 2014 season with severe frostbite on my fingers.  I couldn’t go outside for 3 weeks and even afterwards I was restricted on some very cold days.  Racing wasn’t always an option, and my healing fingers certainly impeded my performance as I physically managed my hands and mentally dealth with the risk of further damage. Without a doubt, when one invests so much into a sport, the agony of defeat is powerful.  It seemed that whenever I started to experience success, another roadblock or setback kept storming its way into my plans.  I wasn’t going to ease my way to the top- it was going to be a serious endeavor.

 

March 2014 rolled around.  I suffered a few weeks of sickness- mad fever, sore throat, and a nasty nasty cough.  The couch became my BFF, but I still had a hard time shaking off the cough.

 

I woke up Saturday morning coughing. I ignored it.  I knew my body was still a little sick, but I figured if I didn’t give voice to it- the ailment didn’t exist.

Getting ready to race

Getting ready to race

 

The race was phenomenal.  I sprinted hard around the Eagle’s eye restaurant and took off like a flash down the Crystal Bowl descent.  My heart always beats at an alarming rate in the first section of every race.  The first ascent I struggled to keep my heart-rate at a decent level as I climbed up to Stairway to Heaven. Fortunately I shifted into the zone.  Each ascent and descent I felt myself get a little bit stronger.  I continued to push the pace after every transition.

The sun shone brightly.  The snow conditions were excellent.  The skin track was 1st class.  And the descents were fantastic fun black diamond lines down stellar chutes.   I rejoiced in every moment of the race.  It was an amazing course. Every transition I laughed and chitchatted with the volunteers and fellow racers.

Bootpack

Bootpack

 

Bootpacking Terminator Ridge

Bootpacking Terminator Ridge

When I crossed the finish line- to say I was euphoric might be an understatement.  To hear my name announced as the female national champion was a pretty incredible feeling.  I did it!  I claimed first place.

Wahoo!

Top Female Finishers

Top Female Finishers

Girls getting silly

Girls getting silly- a new DD finish line tradition

 

 

~  ~  ~

& not to forget- a great accomplishment is not possible without a great event and the people behind it- a well deserved shout out to: Buff Canada, Live Out There, SkinTrack, KHMR, the organizers Stano & Eric, the many volunteers, and other sponsors and wonderful folks!

Podium- photo courtesy of skintrack

Podium- photo courtesy of skintrack.com

 

Low Low Low = Go! Go! Go! ???

Unless you live in the Rockies.  Then it just might be the same message: no! no! no!

With the forecast stating low low low, the urge to do something in the “kinda rad” category was scratching away at my insides. I’ve gotten over the no powder aspect of this entire ski season.  Seeing the “low” avalanche hazard rating certainly perked me up to search for some fun lines.

The desired line of the day

The desired line of the day

Out a little too early this morning at -31 degrees, a pit stop at Laggan’s bakery for some coffee seemed a necessity.  After braving the cold I deviated from the shivering and felt the stoke.  Couloirs prepare for Michelle!

The nice surface slab

The nice surface slab

Or not.  Low low low…… slow slow slooooow down there cowgirl and take a look at the handsome slab hanging out on the snowpack- ready to propagate and glide down. A 6 ish cm slab was very prominently found below the couloir and in its fan.  For giggles and fun we dug a pit and found CT1VE several times.  Just slab-tastic out there.

oh slab

oh slab

slab chunks everywhere

slab chunks everywhere

I know I’m more conservative than many.  With several factors and observations, yes, there was probably a way to safetly navigate the couloir.  And realistically, the avalanche that was possible to occur would probably not have stepped down and most likely would’ve been small.  I had faith that someone else with greater knowledge could’ve skied that line, but not me.

I’m currently on that stage of recognizing risk, its scale of danger, but still not sure when to push the boundaries and when to back off.  Today- I backed off.  The red flags were prominent enough for me to say- “Okay Cnd Rockies! I surrender again!  Love your snowpack!”

Oh dear!  Gotta love the rockies.