I think this year’s Pikes Peak Ascent was both the best…and at the same time the worst…barefoot run I’ve had. This year I ended up at 4:23 by my watch which was 3 minutes slower than last year. I would never have guessed…even up to A-Frame during the race that that would be the case. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning.
We started the day a little hectic as I woke up an hour later than I was supposed to. Ugh. However, because we had planned to get there early to see the first wave start, we made it in plenty of time to get my “sweat bag” checked in, go to the bathroom, meet up with friends, and get pretty close to the front of the pack for the race start.
As the gun went off, I picked a pretty fast pace at the start as planned because the pavement was smooth and well groomed for the race. At one point I was the third fastest runner. Once we turned uphill onto Ruxton, I pulled back a little (but not much) and several other runners passed me on the way up to the trail. My feet felt great and I was excited for what felt like would be a great race. It was nice to have most of the runners behind me as we started grinding up Barr Trail. My feet were in great shape and I felt like they were coasting up the horrible gravel trail road.
As we turned the first switchback, I was talking to someone (turns out people were very talkative to barefoot runners in this race) and wasn’t paying attention KICK! My left big toe made full contact with a rock. It didn’t feel is if I had broken any bones, but I peeled a small sliver of skin off of the front of my toe. Bummer! Not the way I wanted to start this race…only 12 miles to go on gravel with an already bleeding foot. It was just blood though and I continued on unfazed and was able to ignore it most of the time.
Most of the rest of the trip up to Barr Camp (a little over halfway) was pretty uneventful. My feet felt great. I knew my times were better than my training run. I was back on track…until a little under a mile from Barr Camp I kicked another really big rock with the very same toe (obviously my left side needs some strength training so I can pick up my feet more). This time it was much harder and more direct. I peeled most of the skin from the front of my toe and it felt like it might be broken. I decided to still ignore it and see what happened. I guess it worked because I didn’t really feel it much until after the race. However, I tried to be a little more careful the rest of the way up the mountain.
I made it to Barr Camp in 1:55 which was a few minutes faster than my training run. I was pumped. My feet felt great. My body felt great and I was already 10 minutes ahead of last year’s pace. I had also been eating and drinking well so I had no plans to bonk this time.
Above Barr Camp I realised that I must have been pretty out of it in 2010 when I bonked. I don’t remember much of the terrain and it definintely didn’t seem so bad in my memory. However, it is definitely the worst gravel of the course. The good part was my feet were still feeling phenomenal and I was making relatively good time. No worries. I did kick one more rock with that very same toe during this portion, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the other times. Did I mention I need some strength training for my left leg?! Ugh!
As I approached A-Frame 2:50ish, I still felt good and was about to start a pre-finish celebration because my pace was still very fast. On the other hand, the last mile before A-Frame took me quite a while. But I figured it was just the really steep, gnarly trail I had just come up. I assumed I’d be back to 20-25 minute miles for the duration. Instead, it turns out the long mile was omens of bad things to come.
Still feeling great in nutrition and feet, I made my way up past A-Frame. It was kind of eerie to be feeling that good that far into the race. I felt like Superman or something. It felt like nothing could stop me. My 4 hour finish time seemed easily in my sights.
But somehow, each mile took longer and longer. I kept eating and drinking trying to figure out how to kick my body into a higher gear, but it just wouldn’t go. The last few miles were misery, not from a physical sense, but because I couldn’t do anything about my slowing times. Within the first mile after A-Frame I could see my 4 hour goal was going to be a miss, but the 4:15 first wave cut off still seemed OK.
Then, about a mile and a half from the finish my feet started giving out and they went downhill very fast. They were hurting, and hurting pretty badly. My race had somehow come undone. There’s a saying among Pikes Peak runners that “the race doesn’t start ’til A-Frame.” Now I finally internalised the meaning and knew how those last three miles could break my race. And it broke badly. By the Sixteen Golden Stairs, I knew that the first wave cut off time was also out of reach. I gave up.
I was so disappointed and frustrated. How could something starting out so good end so badly? I have to say that I even shed a few disbelieving tears during those last few switchbacks. Especially when I saw my cheering wife at the top supporting me through my misery.
Unlike last year, I hobbled up the stairs and slowly across the finish line. Not this year, maybe another year. What a failure that was so close to amazing success! Have I mentioned how frustrated I was…am…will be! @#$%^&!
Well, on a more positive note, I have to say I enjoyed all of the comments and questions from fellow runners much more this year. I think it probably was because I felt so much better for most of the race. I didn’t really keep track, but I’m pretty sure I’m at least a dozen people’s “hero”. For at least a couple guys, I’m “more of a man than they’ll ever be.” I guess this year I’ll have to be happy that most of the race went so well, that I’m doing it at about the average male finishing time, and I was still the only one barefoot!
Actually, that’s not necessarily true. I heard (but didn’t see) that there was a woman with bare feet (but taped toes…which is still cheating in my book) that started this year’s race. I, nor my family and friends, ever saw her cross the finish line while we were up at the top for about an hour before and after I finished. I hope she made it though (If you read this, good for your for trying! Stick with it!).
Better luck next time for both of us!
Shoes Are Cheating…Slow Or Not, I’m a barBAREyun!
ps. Will be adding a couple pics later, just haven’t gotten my act together to get them off my camera.