Like I’ve said before, there’s really only one thing that you need to run a race and that’s motivation. If you want to do it, you’ll be able to do it. But there are a few other things that might come in handy in a running race… like, say for example, shoes.
Instead of pulling our hair out in the hell that is I-25 South on a Friday evening, we decided to go to the movies with friends (we watched Meru… which, incidentally, is probably the best, most authentic mountain film I’ve ever seen. Watch it.), get a few hours sleep in our own bed and then shuffle out the door at the ungodly hour of 4AM to get to the Pikes Peak Ascent starting line in Manitou Springs for the race start at 7AM. It felt like quite a relief not to have to pack a bag full of gear like we usually do for ultras. No running packs, no changes of clothes, no extra pairs of socks and shoes, no headlamps, no cooler full of food. None of that “what am I forgetting?” anxiety. All I really needed was what I would be wearing plus a light jacket to tie around my waist in case the weather got spicy above treeline, a Simple Hydration bottle pre-filled with CarboPro, and my trail running shoes.
By around 6AM we found a decent parking spot near the starting line and I got out of the car to go sign-in and pick up my race bib. I slipped out of my comfy (and ugly) Oofos clogs, put on my favorite pair of Feetures merino socks, and grabbed my La Sportiva Helios SR trail shoes. These lightweight, nimble and grippy shoes would be perfect for a quick uphill dash up the mountain. As I began to slip my right foot into the right shoe I got a sinking feeling. Oh. My. God. This was not the right shoe!
They were Ryan’s shoes. Disbelief was followed by anger was followed by uncontrollable laughter. How on earth could I have confused my small shoes for Ryan’s giant ones?! I put the pair on, synched’em down as tightly as they would go and I jogged up and down the street. I wasn’t going to not run the race so I was going to have to run it in clown shoes. My punishment for being such a bozo. At least I didn’t have to run down the mountain in them.
Meanwhile, Ryan began texting everyone we knew who lived in the area or who we knew was going to be at the race. A stab in the dark to see if anyone happened to have a spare pair of women’s size 7 running shoes at the ready… in the next 45 minutes before the gun went off.
Not 5 minutes later Team Colorado teammate Peter Maksimow pings us back: “we have lots of options!”
15 minutes later I was at his house trying on a selection of Brooks women’s running shoes. I felt like Cinderella.
I could finally relax and enjoy the energy of the starting line with the summit of the majestic Pikes Peak glowing brightly in the morning sun ahead 7,815 vertical feet above and 13.3 miles away.
And then I spotted a personal hero of mine. Here’s a neat story on Arlene Piper – a true feminist. She ran the marathon way back in 1959 & in doing so became the first woman ever to run a marathon. However, she did not run it to make a stink about women’s rights or to prove that a woman’s uterus would not fall out. She ran it because she wanted to do it for herself. Just because no one had ever done it before didn’t mean she couldn’t do it. Just because women weren’t supposed to do something like that didn’t mean she didn’t want to do it. So she did. And without even knowing it, she became a fountain of empowerment, a role model and an inspiration. 56 years later, we are still working on empowering women but I’m so honored and proud to get to stand at the starting line of a historic race with such an incredible person. And I am grateful to her.
And with that, it was time to run. The first quick mile through the town of Manitou Springs is deceptively steep from the get go. I was already breathing hard. I hated this part the first time I ran the race in 2013. Last year I was too distracted & entertained trying to catch as many of the Mountain Running World Championship runners as I could. But this year, the fast start through town felt intensely familiar to each of the 8 starts of the TransAlpine Run last year. It doesn’t matter what lies ahead – European races start fast and furious! I settled into my uphill groove once we hit the trail and I plowed on up the mountain. Ryan’s words of advice kept ringing in my ear (as did the image of him shaking his head at me in disbelief about my shoe blunder):
You should never feel comfortable.
So I did my best to give it a little surge whenever I felt like I was settling into a rhythm. Run, run, run. There are very few sections of the course that are too steep to run. I told myself to save the power hiking for the final push where the air thins and the trail gets rockier and steeper. That was my strategy last year and it got me within 11 seconds of breaking the coveted 3 hour barrier. That was my goal for this year. And I had Team CO teammate, Amy O’Connell’s husband Dan behind me pushing me forward also trying to get that sub 3 finish. Coming into A-frame I knew our time would be tight to break 3 hours. This was the part of the race where you switched into survival mode. Run hard, breath later! You’re at the mercy of the mountain here. I could hear Ryan and Amy shouting from the summit and I could hear the announcers and crowds celebrating the top male and female finishers ahead. I couldn’t see any women close ahead or behind me so I focused on picking off the men one by one to the sound of spectators blowing kazoos to the tune of the Rocky theme song. Grunting, drooling, sweating. I wasn’t a pretty sight! As I passed by Ryan on a tight switchback he yelled:
“She’s 60 seconds up! Close the gap! Get her! And pass all these guys! Pass’em! Pass’em!”
I passed 3 guys in one fell swoop and almost instantaneously felt every ounce of oxygen in my body vanish. I gasped. I couldn’t lift my eyes from the ground. I kept on pushing hard. I rounded a corner and, just like I did last year, grabbed a small dixie cup of beer from a group of roaring spectators at the base of the Golden Stairs. I downed it without interrupting my stride and fist pumped in the air as they celebrated that I was the first woman of the day to grab a beer from them. Steep steep steep. Steps steps steps. Push push push. Finish!
Come up for air.
Not a PR today but I had a damn good time running up the mountain and I was thrilled that I was able to run at all! The fact that I somehow managed to snag 5th and break into the top 50 overall (out of nearly 2,000 runners) was more than I could have imagined earlier in the morning as I jogged up and down the street in clown shoes.
I was proud to wear my RMR green and represent Team Colorado too (which had 3 men and 3 women in the Top 5 too! Including 1st & 2nd female!). I’m looking forward to next year’s race already! Next year I will be sure to stick around for the awards ceremony so I can join this impressive line up of Top 10 women! Next year I’ll try again to snag a PR and sub-3 hour mountain run. And, next year, I promise not to forget my shoes.
But most of all, next year, I look forward to seeing Arlene Piper at the starting line again.