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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.