Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Pikes Peak WMRA Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge

Well that was some experience!

As mountains usually do, Pikes Peak taught me alot during my short stay in Colorado and having the chance to experience such an iconic race as part of a field of the worlds best mountain runners is something I will never forget. Colorado is a pretty amazing place and I will certainly be visiting again in the futre. Here is my account of the whole experience.

After a long flight (double CurraNZ for the immune system) We arrived late on the wednesday (orwas it thursday??:)) evening. Our accomodation was at the amazing Glen Eyrie Castle resort. All of the other 17 WMRA teams were staying at the centre so it was a great place to meet other athletes and begin to soak up the atmosphere of the race weekend. It was pretty cool to be looked after, attend press conferences, eat dinners courtesy of the WMRA etc and made you feel a bit of a celebrity. The castle was sitting at about 2100m in altitude, walking to breakfast the air felt a little thin and during my first very easy morning jog I noticed the same.

It was great to meet my fellow Northern Ireland teammates to. Ian Bailey, Justin Maxwell and Peter Bell. It was a privelige and honour to in the team with these guys, we all got on really well and the wealth of experinence within the team certainly helped. Peter had already climbed Pikes Peak the day before, he told us with a smile on his face and twinckle in his eye that we were in for a treat. of course he was right.

We got out for our first training run on the course that first day. It was during this run that I first realised how tough this race was going to be. We climbed to around 2600m and I definatly felt the effects of coming from sea level and trying to run at altitude. A high heart rate for a fairly low output and slightly dead legs were the main things I noticed. It was manageable but meant that my race would have to be very measured. I am used to just being able to go hard but other factors were at play on this mountain.  During the race we would climb another 1700m up to 4300m. I quickly adjusted my goals for finishing time and remined myself that just finishing the race should be my main priority and would be an acheivment in its own right.

Peter had arranged a meeting with a good friend and multiple Pikes Peak marathon and ascent veteran William Elliot. He drove 2hrs and sat with us for at least another 2 to impart all of his knowledge of the race on us, answering questions we had and putting our minds at ease. This guy knows this race inside out and his advice on pacing the first half was invaluable. We all listened and took on board as much as we could.

Justin, Peter, Ian and Me

On race day morning I felt pretty relaxed but certainly had some lurking fear of what the next 3-4hrs would bring. As usual with races I was happy to get going, along with 900 other athletes in the first wave and another 900 to follow in the second. As William had advised I took it very steady up the road and onto the trail proper, the first 1.5miles of the race. It was not the time for breathing hard, there would be plenty of time for that up top! The first half of the race I made sure to stay well within myself, hydrated, fuelled and make sure I had plenty left in the tank for when the altitude got serious. The race really got interesting for me once we left the tree line at around 3650M, mile 10 of the 13. As the saying goes, trees dont grow up here because they cant! It took me around an 1hr10mins to cover this 3 miles! Over 1 third of my total ascent time. Truth is I cant remember an awful lot about this part of the race. My brain was clearly not functioning and all effort was on just moving upwards, trying to fight the feeling of just wanting to stop. I ran when I could and walked when I could'nt. It was a strange feeling to be so constarined in what I could do with my body. I knew conciously how slow I was moving and could also see how other people were moving. There was no just pushing harder through the pain or gritting the teeth. I moved forward as Pikes Peak and its thin air allowed. Some people streamed past, never to be seen again. The finish line eventually came, it honestly felt like it never would. The medal hung straight around my neck for finishing would mean alot this day.

The top section of Pikes Peak

 The team did great, finishing 8th overall out of around 17 countries represented. Individually the team also excelled with Ian breaking 3hrs, Justin just over and Peter finishing in 3.52hrs (at age 60 having already climbed Pikes Peak a couple of days before!). I finished in 3hrs20 in 185th place overal. I had hoped to be closer to 3hrs but I did what I could.

This race sums up what I love about racing in the mountains. It takes away a little bit of the pure athletic challenge that say track racing involves. Greater forces are at play and I find I always learn about myself. William told us a great story about Pikes Peak record holder and legend Matt Carpenter. On his way to his first Pikes Peak race he told his friend  'I am Pikes Peak'. Positive thinking I suppose but more the kind of thing you would expect from an NFL quater back. On the way down after having to stop the car to throw up and finishing second, he retracted his statement and said 'No one is Pikes Peak'. The mountain is always greater than the athlete, no matter how hard he has trained or how much he is able to able suffer. It allows us to pass and leaves us with an experince. Pikes Peak reminded me of this. I will be back, it was so much fun me and Justin decided to bash out the Marathon on the monday. More of that in my next blog.

A massive thanks must got to the Active Cumbria Talented Athlete fund and NIMRA for making the trip possible and giving me the chance to be part of this amazing race. CurraNZ supplements made sure I was in great shape and recovery was amazing. TrecNutrition Isofaster and gels kept me hydrated and fuelled. My LaSportiva Helios shoes were the perfect combination of lightness and protection for the race. - natural NZ Blackcurrant antioxidant sports supplement

No comments:

Post a Comment