Ultra Part 3 - Reaching the Summit
This is Merideth's story about her first ultra - the Pikes Peak Ultra 50k. PPU is one of the harder 50ks in the state, with over 7k of climbing, including summiting Mount Rosa at over 11,500 feet before dropping back into the city. I have it split into four parts for easier reading.
The race started at 6:30am sharp. The first 7.5 miles of the course included a few miles of rolling trails before the first big ascent started up High Drive. I started the race with just a small hand held water bottle and a gel. Earlier this year, I ran the High Drive Challenge, which is a 10 mile out and back race that includes the exact same first 5 miles as the PPU. I used my times from that race to help guide me on my pacing up the 2.5 mile ascent and to help me gage my food and fluids. Once I got to the top of High Drive, the course circled around to a trail called Captain Jacks, which is a mountain biking trail that descends another few miles to the first aide station. I felt great by the time I reached the aide station. I refilled my water, took my gel, and drank a small glass of Coke, which was available for runners. I did notice that I was behind on my goal time for this section, but I wasn’t worried. I had a lot of time to make up the minutes I had lost.
The second section of the race was the shortest segment between aide stations – a “short” 3.5 miles along a rolling trail combination of Spring Creek and Columbine. I was definitely feeling the humidity in the air, but otherwise, I was feeling really good.
The next aide station on Gold Camp Road was the main aide station for the race. I would run through this station a second time later in the race, but it was also where we were allowed to leave a drop bag. This race was my first race that gave me an option to have a drop bag. In my training, I had purchased a pair of more advanced trail shoes that worked really well on more technical trails, but I had experienced blisters when I used them for my longer runs. I had planned on switching to these shoes and grabbing my hydration vest at this aide station since the most technical trails were next. But I had a huge problem. I hadn’t locked the nozzle on my hydration vest, and my shoes were soaked. I also had some trail mix in Zip Lock bags that had spilled all over my wet bag. It was a mess. It was at that moment that I stopped to breathe. The shoes I was wearing were feeling really good at that moment, and we had experienced a lot of rain in the days before the race, so I wasn’t as worried about lose gravel on the technical part of the course. I kept on my shoes, grabbed my vest, and dug to find some backup snacks that were still sealed. I was also planning on taking in something salty at this stop, so I grabbed some potato chips and tater tots from the amazing station volunteers and took off. This stop alone cost me over 5 minutes. Something I will definitely fix next time.
I was dreading the next 6.5 miles of the course. There were two big ascents before the next aide station with a little bit of a flat reprieve in the middle. After the aide station disaster, I was also about 20 minutes behind my goal pace. This was not enough of a setback to be worried about missing race cutoffs, but it was a little frustrating. At this point, I was still around quite a few people because there were places were spectators could hang out, and the 30k course included the same trails up to this point. Once we hit the Gold Camp aide station, the course split away from the 30k. I was over 10 miles into the race, I had my audio book ready to go, but my demons hadn’t started creeping up yet.
I started this 6.5 mile section with a climb up a trail called Seven Bridges. Due to the torrential rain we had experienced before the race, the first bridge crossing had been taken out by a mudslide. The creek had rerouted itself around the former bridge, so a little unexpected jumping and trailblazing had to take place in order to get across. I felt strong during the ascent up Seven Bridges, but the humidity was draining. I kept an eye on my watch, but my pace for this section of the race was looking really good. Even though I felt like I was going slower than I wanted, I was quite a few minutes under my goal pace, so I didn’t make any attempts to speed up. By the time I finished the first ascent up Seven Bridges, I was at a beautifully shaded intersection that connected me with the Pipeline Trail. The first part of the Pipeline Trail is almost perfectly flat because it literally follows a pipeline that brings water into Colorado Springs from the mountains. I felt like I should run on this section to take advantage of the terrain, but I chose to relax a little, get my heart rate down, and refuel. I ate a PBJ sandwich I had picked up from my drop bag, and I focused on my hydration. The hardest part of the course was the next ascent up the end of the Pipeline Trail. When the uphill terrain started, I felt really good. There was another runner about 30 yards ahead of me, and I kept my eye on him. I would make small goals to power hike up to a spot he had just been, little by little working my way up the trail. Even though this was supposed to be the hardest part of the trail, I was able to complete it stronger than I anticipated. I was expecting to mentally crash during that ascent. I kept thinking about turning on my audio book because I felt like I was supposed to, but honestly, I didn’t need it.
When I reached the aide station at Pipeline, I was now only 4 minutes behind my goal instead of 20. I refilled my hydration vest, grabbed more potato chips and Coke, and headed up the final big ascent of the race: Mt. Rosa. I noticed the fatigue on my legs heading to the summit, but I still felt really good. I made sure to take a gel half way up, and I paid very close attention to my hydration. Mentally I was starting to get really excited because I was about to hit the highest point on the course, and I was about to surpass the longest distance I had ever run. Also, I had conquered my demons. They were gone. I did end up turning on my audio book near the top of Rosa, but it was only because the course was pretty solitary at that point, and it was nice to hear another voice. The decent down Rosa was pretty rocky, so I took my time to be sure I didn’t fall or injure my ankles.