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August 27, 2007

Peak Redux

I have a few administrative notes before introduction of today’s post. Starting with …

I’m going to keep the sidebar mp3 player up indefinitely, and change the song as conditions warrant. It won’t ever play automatically, so you don’t have to worry about getting in trouble if you’re reading this at work (you know who you are). Sometimes the song will relate to a post I’ve written, but other times, it’s just something that I’ve been spinning a lot on my audio systems lately. That’s the situation today – so if you’re interested, click on the player and enjoy the Silversun Pickups.

Secondly … this wasn’t my scheduled post for today. I wrote a whole article last night, but the subject matter is somewhat delicate, and I’m not certain that I expressed exactly what I intended. It’s hard to explain – but I’ll tinker with it for a bit and hopefully post it in the next day or two, and then you’ll see what I’m talking about.

So I was scrambling for something to post today instead, and thought back to a phone conversation I had last week with my father who lives in Colorado Springs. He was telling me details from this month’s
Pikes Peak Marathon, a race he has watched me finish twice.

Until he reminded me, I had forgotten that the race had already happened this year. It got me to wondering … why does Pikes Peak generate so little buzz around the blogosphere? For my money, there isn’t a more beautiful, more challenging, or more captivating event out there. It should be on any serious runner’s short list of must-do events across the country – and it’s on my list of races to revisit one of these summers.

And yet, despite all of the blogs I surf, I didn’t hear one mention of Pikes Peak this year. The race sells out in less than 24 hours, so it isn’t a question of the race being unpopular. I guess it’s just one of those freak things where I saw two very similar subgroups, and just assumed they would overlap – like when Fox News broadcasters keep taking jobs with the Bush Administration.

Except in this case, there wasn’t any overlap – so that’s what I’m doing today. I revisited my race report from my first trip to Pikes Peak in the year 2003 B.B. (before blog), and decided I could post it here as a space filler for the week until I hammer out the kinks in my other post.

In other words … yes, it’s a repeat. But it might be one you haven’t seen. And there are worse ways you could spend your next five minutes. I’ll be back later this week with new stuff.

Three Minutes at the Top of the Stairs

Approximately 500 vertical feet below the 14,115’ summit of Pikes Peak stands a sign that says “16 Golden Stairs” – which is both a welcome and foreboding sight for weary runners.

The term refers to the final 32 switchbacks (a stair is one pair of switchbacks) before reaching the summit. Fred Barr, the main developer of the trail that bears his name, chose the Biblical allusion for this final, steepest portion of the ascent, symbolizing a golden stairway that climbs to heaven.

After climbing for over 3 hours and 7300’ to reach the signpost, I faced about 20 more minutes of struggle before reaching the summit that is the turnaround point of the Pikes Peak Marathon.

All of the course descriptions I read in preparation for the race gave similar advice about what to do after reaching the summit: get out of there fast. Spend as little time in the thin air as possible, so your body doesn’t become too oxygen-starved for the second half of the run. Get your bib marked, fill your water bottle, and start quickly back down the mountain.

But I had trained for too long, traveled too far, and worked too hard in the race to reach this point. I couldn’t simply turn and leave the summit behind without taking its proper measure. So after clicking my watch at 3 hours, 40 minutes, I moved off to one side and stood quietly, taking in as much of the scene as my aching, dizzy, lethargic brain could absorb.

For some people, the vantage point of tremendous height opens the mind and stimulates creative passion. Ancient philosophers and gifted artists have wiled away hours atop high mountains, seeking inspiration or enlightenment. The songwriter (not the actress) Katherine Bates wrote the lyrics to “America the Beautiful” on the summit of Pikes Peak, probably very close to the spot upon which I now stood.

From this perspective, it was easy to see that God did indeed shed His grace on this majestic purple mountain. The vastness of the splendor all around me was overwhelming, and I gazed in awe of the surroundings, whispering the word “beautiful” more times than I can remember.

In typical fashion, as I contemplated all of these lofty ideas, my thoughts eventually turned more inward and introspective. I couldn’t help but ponder all of the gifts in my life that helped me reach this point.

I have been blessed with a body that is capable of running (well, mostly running…I needed some walking breaks) up the grueling trail, despite my frequent neglect of its basic needs like good nutrition and adequate rest. I thought of my wife, and all of the years she has patiently supported my obsession with running, and my constant pursuit of newer, more time-consuming challenges. I pictured my young children, hoped for a day when they feel the happiness and satisfaction I felt at that moment, and wished there was some way I could capture a small measure of this experience for their limited comprehension. I thought of all of my training partners who have encouraged me as I prepared for this day.

I concluded that there is great beauty to be found within my own life, comparable to the natural beauty of the mountain, but more intimate. It was there with me all along my journey, and burst into the open like a song at the top of the hill.

The summit of Pikes Peak is possibly the closest I’ll ever come to glimpsing Heaven while standing on Earth. Before leaving, I vowed that I would have to return there someday, lest the vision ever diminishes. I filled my water bottle, asked a volunteer to take my picture, and picked up two rocks to carry down the hill with me- one for each of my kids’ rock collections. I clicked my watch, noted the elapsed time- 2 minutes, 48 seconds - and started my long descent of the mountain.

Despite the thin air, despite the increasing pain in my legs and feet, and despite the creeping exhaustion of mind and body, I smiled nearly all the way down.


Phoenix 8/27/07, 12:00 PM  

Almost makes me want to do this race. Note that I said almost.

Beautiful report.

Spokane Al 8/27/07, 3:27 PM  

As postings go it may be an oldie, but it is definitely a goody.

It was absolutely beautifully written and makes me wonder why so many of us, as endurance athletes, miss the views and the moments of beauty on our runs and bikes as we push to gain an extra second or two. What are we missing in the big picture?

As with a number of your other posts, you have once again caused me to add another race to my list.

rick 8/27/07, 5:26 PM  

I like the Silversun pickups. Wonder if it's on iTunes, pretty sure it is.

I've heard of Pikes Peak marathon (talk about it in hushed tones and silent reverence) but I hardly travel for marathon races any more. If I'm going to travel out of state for a race I'd choose one of the ultras. Just more challenge and work for the buck. Although I did hear that Pikes Peak Marathon may be longer than the standard 26.2. On the ultra list it hardly registers. Everyone's preoccupied with Hardrock and Leadville 100.

Addy 8/27/07, 5:54 PM  

Thanks for sharing your old race report. Those kinds of achievements and views are why a lot of us do these kinds of races, and it really does add so much to just take a few minutes to enjoy the accomplishment and take in the surroundings.

Anne 8/27/07, 7:33 PM  

That song is my favorite from the summer. Interesting story about how the band got its name too. Have you heard it?

Just hearing the mention of Pikes Peak leaves me gasping for air.

Sarah 8/27/07, 8:52 PM  

The Pikes Peak marathon is definitely on my wish list, but just one of many so who know whether I'll ever get there. I ran a 50k earlier this year with a woman who entertained us with her stories of running that one. Thanks for the oldie but goodie. :)

Matt 8/28/07, 6:20 AM  

Reading your post reminded me of a question I had for you. I'm looking to pick up a couple of marathons next year. I'd like to do one out West and make a vacation out of it as well. Other than Pike's Peak and Big Sur, do you have any "must do" marathons in mind? crewdthoughts@gmail.com if you want to shoot me an email.

Makita 8/28/07, 8:20 AM  

A great song! :)

I love that you picked up rocks during the marathon for your kiddos! You are an awesome dad! :)

BTW - Were they igneous, metamorphic or sedimentary? ...just kidding :)

Deene 8/28/07, 8:23 AM  

my co-worker has run this twice before, she told me to make sure i wear gloves when i get a chance to run it. nothing better than being on mtn peaks esp. in colorado - god's country.

jeff 8/29/07, 9:48 AM  


[great song selection. love me some silversun pickups]

the Dread Pirate Rackham 8/30/07, 12:54 PM  

I feel the same way about my La Luz run - it's a special gift both to be up there, and to have gotten up there on your own power. I think of it as the shorter, less trendy version of the Pike's Peak run (I like my boutique runs - Imogene, La Luz, etc.).

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