Since the first time I ran an ultra in the Marin Headlands the nature there became very special to me. Living in Los Angeles, which is a desert with a little water, the coast north of the Golden Gate in contrast is lush and moist, the vistas are terrific and the trails are well maintained.
I like to run two ultras there: the North Face Endurance Challenge (NFEC) in December and Miwok 100k in May. I didn’t report on the last NFEC last December – the weather was harsh (it rained so much – sometimes by the ocean it felt like receiving buckets of water in the face. I ran a sub 10 though and that’s a Western States 100 qualifier!). It was still a fun adventure.
After Miwok this year I was looking forward to running Pikes Peak Marathon but I was also looking for an opportunity to accumulate the points to qualify for the Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) in Chamonix, France, in 2013. I wanted to run the AC100 but it was sold out very early and they don’t seem to want too many runners on the course since they don’t have a waiting list. It’s already sold out for 2013 by the way…
A friend told me that the Rio del Lago 100 miler was a qualifier (I had to get 3 or more points before the end of the year and I would rather run in California). 2011 NFCE gave me 2 points, Miwok also two points (which seems abnormal but that is an issue that I will examine later) and a runner needs to accumulate 7 points in 3 races. Too afraid that it would sell out I registered right away. According to the web site it looked like a very feasible 100 mi run with reasonable elevation gain (2700m I think) and a generous cut-off time (34 hrs: what could go wrong? I could probably walk the whole thing and qualify for UTMB). The scenery looked nice and I heard that the course shares some trails with the WS100… legendary stuff right?
I have been wanting to run Pikes Peak Marathon since I heard about it which must have been for at least the last five years! The problem is that, unlike those road/city marathons where they will sign up 25,000 people or more, there are only limited slots at Pikes Peak (for the same reasons WS100, Miwok and all the cool trail races have a limited amount of spots: the park and forest service doesn’t let hordes of runners ruin the wilderness and it’s great that way). Most limited edition races have lotteries but Pikes Peak doesn’t which mean that one has to be clicking on the online registration when it opens and before the servers get congested. I have tried to register for Pikes Peak for 5 years and I never had any luck.
So on March 15 at 12pm PST I was at my desk – clicking, clicking, clicking. The first two attempts led me to an active.com overload page but I tried a third time and BINGO! I got in. I paid my fee and all I had to do was show them that I was a sub 3:30 marathoner and I was in! I was ecstatic! A dream come true! Pikes Peak here I come!
The Course + The Conditions
The course is considered *challenging* although I didn’t find it so. Elevation gain (start to summit) is 7,815′ (2,382 meters); the start is at 6,300′ (1,920m) and the summit is 14,115′ (4,302m). The marathon turnaround is at approximately 14,050′. The average percent grade is 11%. So that is a steep 13.1mi (going down the same way) but nothing to agonize over. I was steaming with excitement over the downhill (I love running downhill and I’m also pretty fast… and reckless. It’s a lot like skiing).