Sunday, August 19, 2012

D-D-D-Double D-D-D-Done!

I can now say, for sure, that the Double is one of those things that sounds way harder and more impressive than it is.

Don’t get me wrong, it was hard. The hardest part, though, was mental. Getting out of bed this morning and looking up at Pikes Peak looming and remembering every bit of how hard it was yesterday and knowing that I had to do it again, every inch of it, today. The thought made me cranky. Yesterday it was exciting, today it was not. My legs actually felt fine, but I was tired. I didn’t sleep that well last night because I was tossing and turning thinking about the mountain. Really I just wanted to get it over with and then get to my reward, the food. I decided I would follow the same strategy as yesterday – grim resolve, one foot in front of the other, relentless forward progress, et cetera. 

I started out feeling fine running out of town. The weather was perfect, clear skies and sunny with a nice cool breeze. It is so beautiful up there it’s hard to think about anything except the beauty. I was definitely more tired today, though. Not my legs, they felt fine, I was just tired. Even sleepy. When we passed through the Rock Arch it was so nice and shady up there that I began to fantasize about lying down and taking a nap. Okay, I knew a nap was unrealistic but maybe, you know, just sit down for a minute. NO! That’s where you lose big chunks of time. You can walk the entire ascent and still come out with a decent finish time as long as you don’t waste time sitting down on rocks holding your head in your hands. So I just kept going. I felt like I was going much slower than yesterday but decided I didn’t care.

I talked to more people today than yesterday, including every other Doubler I passed. The only thing we talked about was how we were feeling today. Most people agreed with me that physically they felt just fine but mentally it was a bit more of a struggle to keep going. I also talked to this woman named Joyce who is something of a legend on this course. She’s run it a billion times (OK, maybe 20 or so) and has set some age group records, and she’s almost 70. I had read about her somewhere and recognized her when she passed me, yes, passed me at Mile 8 or so. We were stuck walking up one of the steep sections together so I introduced myself and told her what an inspiration she was and how exciting it was to get to meet her. She was very nice and modest about her accomplishments, and acted like it was no big deal that she was out there kicking the ass of people half her age. She then proceeded to drop me like a rock although she assured me I would pass her on the descent because everyone did. (I didn’t believe her, but it turned out that that is exactly what happened, she beat me by about ten minutes to the top but then I passed her and she came in an hour behind me.) Anyway, she looked fantastic and her legs were nothing but muscle. Amazing!

The first downhill runner, NOT Matt Carpenter, passed us at about Mile 10, flying. It was great to see the first few downhill runners, but it got tiresome after that as the trickle of downhill runners turned into a steady stream once we got above treeline. My irritability from the start line came back. The trail isn’t really wide enough for two people in most places, and uphill “runners” (although we’re all plodding and dragging at that point) have to yield to downhill runners. That’s how it is and there is no other fair way to do it. Nevertheless, I was grumpy about having to stop moving every few seconds and step to the side of the trail. Then I started getting annoyed with other people. Like the ones who would yell, “Runner up!” when the oncoming runner was still two switchbacks above us. I understand that the air is thin up there and some people aren’t thinking clearly, but, really, I saw every single oncoming runner and stepped aside for him or her without needing to be told there was someone coming, so then I started getting annoyed with people for saying anything at all.

I saw the first fall up there too. This guy had been ahead of me for a while and I had noticed that he had the weirdest gait, sort of bouncing from one foot to the other and listing in the wind. He stepped to the side of the trail to let a runner by and toppled right over, backwards, and landed on his back and head on a pile of rocks. He got up and told everyone that his legs felt fine but he couldn’t seem to think straight. I passed him and the crowd of people that stopped to try to convince him to sit down for a minute.

I felt like that last three miles lasted an eternity, so I was surprised when I got to the summit and saw that the race clock said 4:29. That was a lousy time compared to my 4:15 yesterday, but only three minutes slower than my ascent last year. And last year I wasted five minutes hanging out at the summit aid station. So I actually got a head start down compared to last year by about a minute. I passed Kathy coming up right below the summit. Thankfully she looked (and said she felt) great. She had been worried about the altitude but it didn’t really affect her much at all. That was a relief because I would’ve felt guilty for influencing her to do Pikes Peak if she had had a bad time.

I was feeling pretty good myself now that I was going down. And now I was the one who got right-of-way on the trail, and that felt quite good. The only problem was that now I had to pee. I had this same problem last year at this point in the race. I was running with two guys – John from Pennsylvania and some guy from Phoenix whose name I don’t think I ever got. We all started talking about how we had to pee. Then somehow we started talking about farts. It was all extremely funny at 13,000 feet, let me tell you. John said he was going to wait till down by Barr Camp aid station to pee, and I said I would try to do the same, but then Phoenix said he was just going to do it right there and instantly I decided I did not want to wait. We were right at the edge of treeline where the short, scrubby pine trees start to grow. I ducked behind a couple of them and peed and… this is why I don’t like peeing in the woods, people. I peed all over my shoe. Like, all over the top of it, so my sock too. Oops. Oh well. Nothing I can do about it up there. At least I felt better, MUCH better, when I was done. I got up and started racing down the trail. I caught up with the two guys, then passed them. Phoenix yelled at me, “Geez, Tucson, you look like a gazelle there!” and I must admit, I owned the descent from then on down. I didn’t put a single foot wrong and had a fantastic run down. I don’t think a single person passed me but I passed loads of people like they were standing still. I walked the aid stations but that was it.

There was another bad fall on the way down. A guy tripped on a root and went down very hard. His run was done – his ankle was swelling up like a softball as we watched. I’m sure that guy was packed out of there by SAR but I didn’t stick around to find out. I was too busy enjoying my run down the beautiful shady trail. Everything smelled like pine and the light breeze was still blowing and the downhill was smooth, not punishing at all. This had to be one of my most enjoyable runs ever. I mean ever in my whole running life. I was a tiny bit nauseous due to my usual problem of having swallowed too much air and being unable to burp, but I was able to hold that at bay by taking little sips of water about every half mile and chewing on Tums.

I got to Mile 23 feeling awesome. Then suddenly I jammed my toe somehow – I don’t know how, there were no rocks, roots, or anything else – but I felt that sickening bend in my big toenail and knew I was going to lose another one. “Fuck!” I said out loud.

The girl running in front of me asked if I was okay. I said yes, that I was going to lose a nail but I guessed I could put up with anything for three miles. She said, “I’ll just be happy if I get to the finish line stand-” and before she could get the word “standing”  out of her mouth, she tripped on a giant root and went down hard. It was a bad fall. Her water bottle busted open and everything. I stopped, of course. I asked her if she was okay and she didn’t answer me for a second and then said she couldn’t breathe. There were some other runners around by now and we figured she had just had the wind knocked out of her. After a minute she was able to breathe okay again and started telling us to leave her, she was fine. We helped her to move into the shade and then she stood up and started brushing herself off and I saw she was okay, so I took off, being extra careful not to trip and do what she did.

It is such a shock to the body when you hit the asphalt in Manitou Springs after all those miles of beautiful soft dirt. Just like last year, I wanted to stop running there but couldn’t; there were too many cheering spectators. So instead I ran harder and finished up with an 8:00 mile just like last year. When I got to the finish line the clock said 7:06. Damnit! I should have looked at my watch at some point; I had no idea I was so close to being under seven hours. I should have just left that girl who fell… No, no, I can’t think like that. (Besides, I don’t think I spent six minutes with her. Maybe four at the most.) I still beat my marathon time from last year by six minutes, and that was even after doing the Ascent the day before. I even felt good after crossing the finish line. I had run pretty hard for the last ten miles or so and fully expected to be sick, but I wasn’t at all. (Now, hours later, is a different story. I’m horribly sunburned, totally nauseous after refueling on candy and cookies, and my legs are so sore that getting out of bed is a real chore – but that didn’t happen till hours after the race ended.)

There are so many cool races to do. Colorado is chock full of awesome races. Repeating races is a waste of money and time. But I just can’t see my running life without the PPM. This city and that mountain have a special place in my heart. And besides, I still have to break seven hours. So will I come back next year? I think I just might have to! 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

"Just A Glorified Hike" -- Pikes Peak Ascent Race Report

For months now, practically ever since I registered for the Double, I've been calming myself by reminding myself that the Pikes Peak Ascent is "just a glorified hike". Well, after completing it today, I must say that... I'm right! It IS just a glorified hike! God, I love being right. What an awesome feeling.

The Ascent has a wave start with the first wave starting at 7:00 and the second wave starting at 7:30. I was in the second wave due to my mediocre performance at last year's PPM. That was actually fine with me; I was thrilled to have the extra half hour of sleep I won't get tomorrow morning. (The marathon doesn't do a wave start, even though they have two waves for registration purposes.) My mom and sister are here in town to watch me race, so we drove in to the start line area together after getting my requisite McDonalds for breakfast. We're staying in the basement of a very nice house pretty close to the burned area. The burn scars on the hills are visible and some of the burned houses are too. There are houses that burned to the ground right next to houses that weren't touched at all. It's very sad to see the burned houses but encouraging to see how quickly they're cleaning up and starting the rebuilding process. But I digress.

Unlike every other race I've ever been at, there was only one line for the 30 or so Porta-Potties. There was something else I've never seen before -- an event staff person managing the Porta-Potties and pointing people to whichever one was open as soon as it opened up. The volunteer had rolls of toilet paper under both of her arms and was very enthusiastic and loud. She was doing a great job and the line moved extremely fast. Leave it to this race, with its superb organization, to have a Director of Porta-Potties too! God, I love this race, in case I have not mentioned it before.

Weather was beautiful, sunny and clear. I wore tights and a long-sleeved shirt (my OP-50 shirt, for the first time ever) because it was chilly for me at 64 degrees. Brrrrr. Actually I wore the tights because I didn't know how cold it would be at the top and I remembered being freezing in shorts at the top last year when it started raining. Well, I admit I was hot in the tights this year and I should have worn shorts. I was pouring sweat by the time I was a mile into the race. The start line is at 6400' and being that much closer to the sun makes you feel like an ant under a magnifying glass.

The amount of actual running I did in this race was minimal. I ran the first mile out of town. As soon as I started the steep climb at about Mile 1.2 (16% grade), I stopped running like I'd hit a brick wall. So did everyone else. That is actually the steepest climb in the whole ascent until you get to the very last 1/2 mile. It's exhausting and my least favorite part of the course. You have to just hold your nose and get it done, and look forward to the better parts later.

Fortunately everything is better. Even when you can't breathe. The next part of the course is the W's, a series of switchbacks about a mile and a half long. It is possible to do some running on these, though most of the people who were running weren't going much faster than the people who were walking, which was just about everyone. Barr Trail through the W's is narrow, really only wide enough for one person but with room on the side for a second person to squeeze by if they're really in a hurry. Conventional wisdom says Walk the W's, and save energy for later. I will add to that conventional wisdom that I, personally, think it's a good idea to go out fairly hard in the first mile and a half getting out of town. I look at it as, every single person I pass will be a person I don't get stuck behind at the W's. Besides, we will all be walking the W's anyway except for the elite runners, so there's plenty of time to get your energy back from the run uphill out of town.

The next landmark after the W's is the Rock Arch, this cool rock formation that you have to climb through. After that, the first nicely runnable parts of the trail appear. There are even a few (brief) downhill sections. I still haven't ever heard any better trail running advice than "Walk when running's too hard, run when walking's too easy." That's what I do, and even if I can only jog a short distance before slowing to a walk again, it makes a difference in my time.

I think it's Mile 6-7 that is the most runnable. It's a nice long downhill (which becomes a shitty, miserable uphill in the marathon on quads that have by then forgotten how to do uphills, but I didn't have to worry about that today). I passed lots of people on that downhill, including some of the slow people from the first wave. (They had blue bracelets, second wave had purple, so they were easy to identify.) I loved picking off blue bracelets! It was as much fun as picking off fast swimmers on the run part of the aquathlons when I used to do them. Take THAT, "fast runner". Ha.

I don't look at my watch during this particular race. I don't like seeing the elevation numbers and knowing how high I am. It's one thing to know I'm gaining 7800' in elevation; it's another thing to see 13000 on my Garmin. I wasn't going for any particular time so had no idea how I was doing, other than a general awareness that I was doing a little better than I had been last year. I really did not have a problem with the elevation at any point. Oh, sure, it was a little harder to breathe but I sound exactly the same gasping for breath whether I'm climbing up Douglas Spring or Old Baldy or, apparently, Barr Trail. I never got light-headed or headachy or nauseous or anything. The one thing that happened was that my hands swelled up. They looked like what happens if you take a rubber glove and inflate it like a balloon. (I KNOW I'm not the only one who's done that.) I guess it's my bad circulation. All I had to do was raise my hands up in the air for a while and they went back down to normal.

Once I got above treeline, it was exhausting, of course, going through those never-ending switchbacks through the boulder fields. But I was still doing better than most other people. I was still able to walk-jog and even talk to people occasionally. Even though every time I had to lift my foot up I felt like I was pulling it up out of glue, I was moving at a decent pace. Finally when I got past the Cirque aid station I looked at my watch for the first time. Time was 3:55. I was only about 6/10 of a mile from the finish and realized it was totally possible to get in under 4:15, which is the qualifying time for Wave One registration. So I picked up my pace as much as I could and got more assertive about passing people rather than just latching on to the back of the guy with the nicest calves and letting my eyes lock on those calves and going whatever speed he's going for a while.

Unfortunately the last part of the course is the hardest. That section is a bunch of switchbacks called the 16 Golden Stairs. I don't know why they're called that because 1) there are not 16, there are way more, and 2) they are not golden. They stink. It's a section of big busted-up boulders where you have to step up, a lot. I hate step-ups and I especially hate them at 14,000'. I did them, though, and passed loads of suffering people on the way. There were more people sitting on boulders with their heads in their hands than I saw last year. Of course there are twice as many people in the Ascent as in the Marathon, so maybe that's why.

I was looking at the finish line so close above me and looking at my watch and saw that it said 4:14 on it. Crap, I wasn't going to make the 4:15. I did as much of a "sprint" to the top as I could, but it was not fast enough and my Garmin said 4:15:10 when I stopped it. Oh well, I hadn't been trying to make the Wave One qualifying time anyway until I knew I was so close to it, at which point I wanted it insanely badly and didn't get it. I still beat my time from the ascent portion of the marathon last year by eleven minutes. (I am fiercely trying, with limited success, to tell myself that that was because I was faster this year and it was NOT because I didn't have to yield to downhill runners like I did in the marathon. Ha ha, sure that wasn't the reason. Anyway, I can lie to myself if I want because if I'm slower tomorrow I can just say well of course I am, I just ran up this mountain yesterday.)

I feel pretty good actually! I want a nap, but my legs don't feel tired, and when I got to the summit, a part of me wished I was running back down. I don't care much about my ascent time tomorrow but I would like to improve my descent by at least ten minutes over last year's time. This should be possible if I don't waste five minutes hanging out at the summit aid station, and if it doesn't rain and force me to slow down, and if I don't have to stop to pee. Those three things wasted some time on last year's descent.

Surprise happy ending: I checked my chip time online, and it was 4:14:56. YES! Such a stupid little thing to be excited about, but yet here I am, excited.

PPM report tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

It Finally Happened...

...I finally got hit by a car on my bike.

Even though I love to tell people that riding a bike on city streets is not that dangerous if you obey the laws, I also readily admit that if I ride long enough, I'm going to get hit. I ride between 5000 and 6000 miles a year, nearly all of them on city streets, and of course I see inattentive drivers every single day. Hell, I myself am an inattentive driver much of the time. Up until this point, I've had four encounters on my bike with cars that almost hit me. I only avoided getting hit by those four cars because I am hyper vigilant on the bike. I always assume that drivers coming out of driveways and turning drivers don't see me, and I slow down accordingly.

I was off at noon today and was riding up 6th Avenue, and a car passed me and then turned into a driveway right in front of me. So technically I hit the car, but there was literally nowhere else I could go and no time to stop. In the millisecond before it happened, I realized I was about to get hit and even had time to identify my feeling about it -- fascination with an undertone of annoyance at the inconvenience that was sure to follow. It's the same feeling I remember one time when I lost control of my car driving on Highway 12 in California going around a corner too fast and knew I was going to roll it and die. (I didn't; I regained control of it and it was like nothing ever happened.) I knew in that split second that I wasn't going fast enough to really do any damage, so there wasn't any reason to be terrified.

The crash happened and my bike and I ended up on the ground in a patch of gravel and bushes. I shook myself off and didn't feel anything at all. I looked at my bike and it looked fine too. The crash happened right by a shady bus stop so there was a big crowd of South Tucson street people for whom this was big excitement. They all came rushing over and started asking if I was okay. I said, "I'm fine, but I'm going to kick that driver's ass," and they cheered at that and followed me over to the car, like they were ready to help me if help was needed in the promised ass-kicking. I checked out the car -- piece of shit Toyota with Sonoran plates. The driver was a really young Hispanic woman -- really a girl -- and she had tears running down her face and looked completely terrified as I came up to her window. I knew I wasn't going to kick her ass or even do anything at all about it since my bike and I were fine. But I put on my best mean face, knowing I had an audience, and told her, "You're lucky I'm not hurt. I'm not going to call the police, but you need to watch where you're going. You have to yield to a cyclist in the bike lane. This town is full of cyclists and you need to pay attention!" I wasn't even mad, really, but I did want to at least scare her and make her a little more careful in future. (Yeah, like I am when I'm messing with my stereo and playing Words With Friends and reading books and trying to keep dogs in the back of the car while I'm driving. But in my defense I have never even come close to hitting a cyclist.) Meanwhile she was crying and saying, "Sorry, sorry" but I don't know if she even understood English or not.

I picked up my bike and put the chain on (and got grease on my fingers doing so, which did piss me off  and made me briefly reconsider the ass-kicking -- she was so meek and scared and small I could probably drag her out by the hair through the window with no problem). The street people were disappointed that I wasn't doing anything. "You gotta call the cops, man!" one of them said. "You might have a hurt neck or something! You should sue that bitch!" I was thinking of the crappy car and the Sonoran plates and knew I wouldn't get anything out of her. Besides, in all honesty I wasn't hurt, and she was freaked out and she knew she was in the wrong and I like to think she did learn a lesson -- I know I would have in her situation. Also, what I really wanted was to be sitting in Epic Cafe with my laptop and a coffee and writing, not standing around talking to South Tucson cops. So I got out of there and now here I am, sitting in Epic Cafe with my laptop and a coffee and writing and realizing that I did, after all, sprain my pinkie and get some (unimpressive) road rash.

I have to say that the biggest feeling I got out of this was excitement. I felt more alive and vigorous than usual riding away from there. Not relief, not leftover fear, nothing but excitement. I sort of think that is an inappropriate reaction to a right hook, but there it is. I was briefly afraid that this experience would make me paranoid, but I felt completely fine riding the rest of the way to Epic. I'm not going to do anything different since there was nothing at all I could have done to prevent this from happening in the first place aside from not riding my bike. And then, hell, this could have happened to me and my student on a mobility lesson if there was a driver not paying attention. You can't make drivers pay attention, and every time you venture out in places where cars can drive, you have to accept the risk of inattentive drivers (the rationale I use to justify my own bad driving habits). All I can do is continue to observe the safety measures I always do when riding. At least this justifies my habit of not riding that fast in town. If I was going 20 mph, I could have been flying up and over the car on impact instead of just falling down. So, if you see me in town only riding 13 mph, that is the reason, not because I'm fat and lazy and dead-legged. Sure it is! I promise!

One more good thing -- this experience inspired me to write in my blog for the first time in seven weeks! I've been writing plenty -- just not in this blog and not for public consumption. I will try to be more diligent in future though. I can sum up the last seven weeks briefly: lots of running, even more cycling, pretty much ready for Pikes Peak in 2 weeks.