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!