Pikes Peak 50k Ultramarathon - By Lindsay R

Trail running is a beast of a hobby. It’s challenging. It’s hard. It pushes you. It’s also rewarding and strengthening and calming. On July 29th, 2023, I showed up in Colorado Springs to run Mad Moose’s Pikes Peak 50k Ultramarathon. This is an ultramarathon that is 32 miles long with 8100 feet of elevation gain starting at 9,000 ft of elevation.  We were given 11 hours to complete it. 

I recently moved to Colorado and though I’ve done ultra’s before, this was my first Colorado Ultra and was twice the altitude I was used to. The elevation gain was very steep the first 18 miles and moderately technical. The miles were long and were on crushed granite. To say I was nervous… would be incredibly accurate. I always am nervous before a race, but this was more. This was fear. My running partner says it looks like someone is holding a gun to my head every time I apporach a starting line. But once I cross that starting line…a smile settles on my face and doesn’t leave until I cross that finish line. This race wasn’t the case, though. This race challenged me.

Runners say the first couple of miles are liars. Aches and pains come. Sinuses act up. Nerves settle in. Self doubt makes an appearance. But once you make it past the first 3-5 miles, it gets easier. Your body settles in for the long trail ahead. It’s different for every runner, but I struggle with my sinuses and I become a mouth breather in those first few miles. This is hard when you’re trying to get as much air as possible, but eventually everything is knocked loose and I am able to breath through my nose again around mile 3. This race was no different. But I made it through the first aid station with minimal complaints. 

When I hit mile 12, hip pain I haven’t experienced in years showed up. I could barely lift my feet higher than 6 inches. This was devastating. I have been training for months for this race and this trail was pretty technical. There were a lot of rocks, boulders and trees to navigate. Not being able to lift my feet was a problem. I started getting nervous again. I didn’t want to drop out of this race. 

At mile 13.5, the tears showed up. The pain was so much, radiating from each of my hips. I was sure I was about to DNF (Did Not Finish). My heart was breaking. I knew what times I needed to make to ensure I wasn’t kicked out of the race and looking ahead, I was sure I wasn’t going to make those times. I tried to make a plan with my running partner, so he could leave me behind and finish. He refused to listen to my “nonsense”. 

At mile 15.5, I was somehow still going. I pushed through the pain. I kept moving my feet. I focused solely on the foot in front of me. I had decided the only way I was quiting this race, was being kicked off the trail by the race director. We were working on summiting Mount Rosa at this point and when we got to where the treeline was disappearing, the pelting hail showed up. We had to shelter in place a few times to avoid being slaughtered by ice, but being above the tree line, we didn’t have much shelter. The rain caused the salty sweat from my forehead to momentarily blind my right eye. This is when I learned how important hats are. I thought this was the nail in my “finish” coffin. I didn’t think we were going to make the next cut off time. 

At mile 16.5, the thunder and lightening showed up. Loud and strong. Directly above us. We tossed down our hiking sticks, as it didn’t seem wise to carry lightening poles to the top of the mountain. We tried ducking between what little trees there were. And ultimately at mile 18.5, we ended up summiting a mountain in the middle of a ligehtning storm. No, this was not smart. This was dangerous. And I didn’t want to do it. But I still had to take the chance for some reason. That’s probably something I should work out in therapy. 

We reached the next aid station at 21.5 miles and I got renewed faith that I would finish this race. I had the hardest part behind me. Single digits left. And I still had 2.5 hours until the next cutoff time and that was only 5 miles away. We passed through this aid station without stopping and continued on to what was known as the easiest part of the race, as it was all downhill.  

At mile 26, the last aid station came into view and my pride showed up. Not only had I powered through my pain, I got my hips to cooperate a bit more at this point, but I was going to finish this race strong. I only had 1000 feet of climb & 5 miles of downhill left. And I had over 2 hours to achieve this. It was challenging trying to run downhill for 5 miles with hip pain, but I was able to pull off a bit more running than I thought I was capable of. I often joke that I climb mountains, so I can run down them. Running down a mountain feels so similar to flying down a mountain. It’s exhilarating. 

At mile 32, I crossed the finish line. I still can’t believe we made it happen. I spent a good 20 miles of that race positive I wouldn’t finish. That I’d be swept with not enough time. That my hip would lock up and I would unable to continue. But the human body is incredible and I was able to persevere. My body is capable. My body is strong. I had officially completed my first CO ultramarathon with time to spare. 

It has taken me some time to recover, not only physically, but mentally. I didn’t do as well as I wanted to. I wonder how much of my struggles were mental and how much were physical. I wish I had taken time to empty pebbles out of my shoes to avoid a few blisters. I wish I had nutriontioned better. I wish I downloaded a playlist to help me power through. I wish I had a better attitude on the trail. I am notriously hard on myself, but I think this was also a turning point for me. I did it. No matter how many problems I had on the trail, I powered through and got my medal. I think my next ultramarathon will be easier. I won’t be so hard on myself. I know that my body is capable at this altitude, or any altitude for that matter. 

I think with every run, you can learn so much… as long as you’re listening. 

Are you a trail runner? Are you interested in doing this trail ultramarathon next year? I promise it’s a lot of work, but so worth it. 

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