The 2007 Pikes Peak Marathon was better than expected. Even though this was by far the toughest marathon I had done, it's in my top two favorites. I loved the change of running a trail marathon vs. your typical road marathon through city streets. The course consists of a half marathon to the top of Pikes Peak, then another half marathon back down to Manitou Springs. The elevation gain is 7,815 feet with the start at 6,300 feet above sea level and the peak at 14,115 feet. A detailed course description can be found at www.pikespeakmarathon.com.
The weather was perfect with a clear sky and low 60 degree temps as we started through the streets of Manitou Springs. After a mile or so of slow uphill jogging with about 1000 other runners, we arrived at the trail that would take us to the top of the mountain. Here, the route narrowed considerably and most everyone began walking. About 90% of the uphill could be considered more of a hike than a jog/run, at least for most middle-of-the-pack folks like me. The aid stations were spaced well and were staffed with extremely friendly volunteers who gave out the usual water & Gatorade, as well as snacks like grapes, M&M's, pretzels, oranges, and other salty/sweet foods. The trail had a lot of loose gravel, rocks, and tree roots, and I almost fell three times - once on the way up, and twice on the way down. Fortunately I caught myself each time, but I saw others who weren't so lucky.
After mile 10 on the way up (above treeline), the air got noticeably thinner, and many people were stopping to sit on rocks or just standing to drink and try to catch their breath. The final mile on the ascent was tough as you climb up quite a few large rocks called the 16 golden stairs. The views from up here are spectacular as it seems as though you can see forever.
Going downhill was much easier and it felt like you were getting more oxygen with every step you took. Normally in marathons I'm pretty well spent as I run the last couple of miles, but in this race, it felt like I had an oxygen mask on. I surprised myself by running (sometimes sprinting when I couldn't stop myself on some steep downhills) the last five miles. It was probably all the walking during the rest of the race that had helped save up some energy for the end. My quads were screaming at me, but seemed to hold up well through all the pounding.
The last mile finds you back on pavement and off of the soft trails. It seemed to go on forever as the traffic cones wound around one corner after the next. Finally, you start seeing more and more spectators and you hear your name and race number announced just prior to finishing. It's a great feeling to finish what is considered one of America's toughest marathons!