Pikes Peak Ascent

THE Toughest 13.1 Mile Race in the World

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How Challenging is Pikes Peak?

What does it take to run a race straight up 14,115 feet to the top of Pikes Peak mountain in Colorado? Although the average grade of slope is 11%, oxygen levels drop progressively as altitude rises, further compounding the uphill ordeal. The nature of the run (dirt trails, rock, and other natural obstacles) and the high altitude makes this race much more difficult than your standard 13.1 miles.

I thought I knew what was in front of me, but I had no clue. I heard tons of stories about how difficult this race was from fellow runners, and to be candid, I was very nervous I wouldn’t finish. One story seven years ago stuck in my mind from a running couple at the Great Wall of China Marathon, “We ran 50 half marathons in all 50 states, but failed to summit at Pike’s Peak. We missed the final cut-off and the trail was as tough as they come and the altitude was brutal.”

While I have completed every race to date, this one was giving me serious pause. I wasn’t 100% confident I would meet the cut-off times or cross the finish line. Despite running marathons all over the world, I was experiencing  major internal anxiety.

The Ascent (or ascent portion of the Marathon) can take as long, or longer, than a full flatland marathon. In fact, many flatlanders find that it can take much longer! On the other hand, if you have trained in high altitude, it is possible to go a little faster than your flatland marathon time during the Ascent.

Since I don’t train, I assumed I would be running for 30 mins longer than my normal marathon time…

3 miles in as the altitude was kicking my behind

What should you know about the Pikes Peak Ascent?

1. Registration – If you want a shot at running this race, you must send the race director one of two official finishing times from a race that you completed within the last two years. You can submit either a full marathon time (6 hours or less) OR a half marathon time (2 hours and 30 minutes or less).

They are extremely strict about this rule and it’s non-negotiable .

2. Packet Pick Up You must get your own packet and bring your own photo ID. For those of you who enjoy receiving swag giveaways from various companies, well, you will be in for quite a shock because you literally get your bib, a business card, and well, nothing else. While I normally toss out most of the swag I receive besides the running T-shirt, many people do enjoy all of these extras. The real swag is given when you cross the finish line. More on this shortly…

3. Wave Start and Cut-Off Times – a total of 1,800 people run the half and/or full marathon. You better stay in your corral, because if you cross the start line earlier than your scheduled gun time, you will be disqualified. I heard stories from people who had this happen in the past. In order to help alleviate course crowding, both the Ascent and the Marathon utilize a rolling wave start. Runners have been seeded into starting waves based on their qualifying times. The runners bib number defines the wave with bib numbers 1 through 199 in wave one, bibs 200 to 299 in wave two, bibs 300 to 399 in wave 3, etc. For example bib number 645 will start at 7:06, bib number 1347 will start at 7:13.

For the Ascent and Marathon, the on-course cut-off times are as follows:

In order to receive a finishers jacket and be listed as a finisher, Ascent runners must complete the entire course in under 6 hours 30 minutes; Marathon runners must complete the course in under 10 hours. These cutoffs are determined by your chip time (start time -> finish time).

Here is a link to answer any more FAQ’s

4. Race Day – you can feel the nervousness and excitement hanging around the start line. As I said above, I was anxious. More anxious than I can remember in recent time. Maybe it’s because I am getting older, or maybe it’s because I know what it takes on any given race day to sum up the mental and physical energy to run from A to B. I knew this mountain was going to be extremely difficult to conquer.

Elevation 9,500 feet. Hoping to reach Pikes Peak (not shown: insides in knots!)

The elevation gain (start to summit) is 7,815 feet. Take a minute to fully process that fact.

The start is at 6,300 feet and the summit is 14,115. The Ascent has very few stretches which are not going uphill. Thankfully, there are no exposed ledges, so there is little danger of falling off the trail!

The course and elevation breakdown.

This race was by far the toughest half marathon I ever ran (in the USA, if not the world). The altitude was harsh, the terrain was challenging, and the internal mental battle was constant throughout the entire race. Due to poor weather conditions, runners were turned around at Barr Camp, but I continued pushing forward with a few other runners. Sidenote: we should’ve just turned around like everyone else. We managed to reach the A-frame right near the tree lines, but we didn’t want to risk going any further. Like everyone else (eventually), we turned around and ended up running about 20 miles in total.

5. The bling and coveted finisher’s jacket – for a half marathon race, this bling is outstanding and every runner should want this medal in his or her collection! You can slide the runner on the medal back and forth and just knowing you made it to the top (unless you had our weather conditions) is worth every step.

In order to get your race pullover, you must make it to the top of the mountain. Although the threat of hail and lightning prevented us from summiting, finishers who completed the race under the cut-off time were able to receive this comfy pullover. To be fair, I wear it all the time when I travel.

Sweet justice, this puppy is comfy!

 

Back of the bling and jacket

In spite of the weather, I am left with an itch to return. Yes, it is always nice to accumulate new bling and sport a great pullover, nothing can actually replace crossing the actual intended finish line and summiting Pikes Peak.

I might have to book my flight again next year and go for round two.

Any takers?

2018 Tokyo Marathon

Running Full Circle – Sixth and Final World Major Marathon

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Tokyo, here we come!

In the marathon world, there are six majors: Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York City and Tokyo. Until recently, I ran five of these six races. Tokyo has been on my radar for the last five years and finishing this race will check off a major (pun intended) bucket list item on my journey to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s.

The Tokyo Marathon course symbolizes the past, present, and future of Tokyo. This year, over 35,000 runners from Japan and around the world wound their way from Tokyo’s famous Metropolitan Government complex in Shinjuku on the city’s western side, to Tokyo Station on the east, running past scores of cheering fans and several of the city’s beloved landmarks.

Luckily, I was joined by my girlfriend, Carrie, (more on this later), who was nothing short of inspirational throughout the race and beyond (more on that later).

10 Takeaways from the 2018 Tokyo Marathon

1. Registration – Simple supply versus demand mathematics. The Abbott World Marathon Majors demand continues to skyrocket year after year, while the supply remains fairly fixed. Ask any runner what their odds of winning an online lottery entry spot for a major and you will likely hear 7-10%.* For example, over 300,000 runners went online to log-in for the Tokyo marathon…and then prayed for months eagerly waiting a confirmation email or a likely “unfortunately, you did not receive a lottery entry, but we look forward to your application next year.” Why? The Tokyo marathon lottery provides a total of 30,000 spots.  To avoid such chaos and stress, I registered through the “Run with Heart” charity option which opens on July 2 and runs through July 31. Run with Heart accepts 5,000 runners on a first come, first serve basis. In order to obtain a charity runner status, a runner must make a $1,000 contribution to one of twenty-two different charities offered by the race organizer.

*Boston marathoners must qualify for this race or raise $5,000 through one of their partner charities for a spot. 

2. Security is tight – Carrie and I stayed at an Airbnb approximately a 10-minute walk from the start line. On race day, everything was blocked off and we ended scrambling around for over 30 minutes to find an entrance (at an underground train station). At this point in time, we had to separate due to the tight security. Carrie was somehow able to find me before I crossed the start line. Moral of the story: leave yourself, as a runner and a spectator, plenty of time in the morning (easily  30-45 minutes longer than any other race).

3. Average temperature – this year was unusually cold with temperature’s starting in the low 30s! Normally, the temperatures average in the mid to high 40s. This was literally the first time in my life that I wore gloves and a fleece for the first two to three miles of a race (with the exception of Antarctica).

4. The race atmosphere is incredible! – Spectators line the streets for the entire race (similar to the Boston Marathon), and although they were predominantly cheering in Japanese, you can still absorb the amazing vibes even if you don’t speak the local language. I smiled all the way around and soaked up the spirit of the Tokyo Marathon.

One of many stops along the race where spectators showcased their love of Japanese culture. (Photo taken at the Asuka Temple Cannon)

5. KM not miles – there are no mile markers, only kilometer markers that go from 1 km to 42 km.

6. Aid stations every 5 kilometers – once in the corrals, the race is exceptionally well organized with  aid stations every 5 km which provide water, bananas, and even tomatoes!

7. No one drops any litter – it is amazing how many volunteers line the course with trash bags to collect everything from gel wrappers to cups and bottles. Don’t even think about throwing your empty gel or starbursts on the ground. I was too scared to drop even the top bit, so I ended up with a rather sticky pocket! I think this is a great idea; having seen the debris and aftermath of other races, this is something that should be implemented more often.

8. Navigating as a spectator – as a directionally challenged individual, navigating Tokyo on a normal day can give even the most directionally savvy person an anxiety attack. The train system is…the worst! Nothing goes where the map says it will go and people working at the underground stations aren’t that helpful or friendly. With this in mind, on race day, ask questions and follow the crowd. How Carrie was able to find me three times along the way was absolutely mind-blowing! I would have literally been crying away in some corner because you feel like a mouse trapped in a never-ending maze. Kudos to you Carrie Reese!

9. Grab a snapshot of the elites – since the course has a small loop near the halfway point, you might be lucky enough to catch a quick glimpse of the elite runners flying by you at a 5ish per mile pace!

10. Sushi and bling go hand-in-hand! – any bling from a marathon major is worth showing off and keeping safe.

Bottom of my shirt: My favorite supporter —>
Bottom of Carrie’s: <—- My favorite boyfriend

Of course, when you are in the land of sushi, you must celebrate with some freshly cut blue fin tuna!

Photo taken at the Tsujiki Market

SO Now What?

What does one do after running all 6 majors, 7 continents and 12 marathons to date? We decided to make our way west by train to Kyoto, Japan, one of the most beautiful and ancient cities in the entire country. While in Kyoto, we visited the Golden Temple, Bamboo Forest, fed snow monkeys (totally worth the 2 mile hike), ate some of the best sushi and wagyu beef in the world, and most memorably paid a visit to Nara Park. This park, similar in size to Central Park, is known for their bowing deer. Yes, you read that correctly. You bow at them, they bow right back at you.

After walking around the park for over an hour, I decided to pull out my drone in an open space and film some of the deer bowing. I told Carrie to look up at the drone and while she was smiling and dancing away, I said, “I bow to you” (just like we had been doing for the past hour).

Carrie: “I bow to you.”

Me: “Well unlike the deer, I bow to you for life!” And I pulled out an engagement ring.

She screamed. She cried. She screamed some more and in between shouted “Yessssss, yeeeeeesss, yessssssss!!!”

So what now? We will see where the next adventure(s) take us…

And in case you are wondering about the drone footage…yeah, I was a bit nervous and forgot to hit record!

I left the U.S. with a girlfriend and returned with a fiancée!