This One’s for You, Grammie

I was looking forward to the trip down Pikes Peak being easy peasy compared to the climb, challenging yet enjoyable just like last year. Like a few things from that past week, the next two miles were not exactly what I had in mind. With every step, the bottoms of both feet hurt. No, they ACHED. I don’t know if I can do this for a half marathon.

Luckily, I didn’t have to. The pain that I’m sure inevitably slowed me down began to subside as I reached tree line for the second time that day. I felt better just in time to hit the steep, gnarly stuff again. I passed one, two, three, a few more runners. Here’s where I can make up for lost time.

And, for a while, I thought I did just that. Once the crowd still fighting its way up the mountain faded, I found myself nearly alone – minus a runner or two in my sights just ahead – again. Then, I caught one runner. . .then another. I have to be going faster downhill than last year! I was starting to feel really good. PR good.

Eyes locked on the technical trail ahead, breathing steady and rhythmic with my steps, arms relaxed and helping to propel me down the mountain, I soon found myself at the Barr Camp aid station. Just over seven and a half miles to go.

I lifted my head from the sustenance spread – grapes, pretzels, energy gels, etc. – and was surprised to see Ben – who, just the other day, assured me that I did, indeed, scream very close to his ear when that demon of a cramp stabbed my hamstring with the sharpest of staffs – taking a minute at the aid station.

“Hey! How’s it going?” I asked between breaths. “I can’t walk.” “What?” “I can’t walk. I rolled both ankles. Now I can’t walk.” “Dude! You’d better have someone look at them! Stop if you can’t walk! It’s not worth the risk of injury!” “I’ll make it, there’s no way off the mountain but to go down it.”

Convinced he was all right on his own, I started off again. I was on a mission, had my mind on my PR and my PR on my mind. Could I still do it? I was cutting it close and frantically glanced at my watch a few times that next mile or so, trying to calculate the pace I’d need to hit for the remainder of the race to best my previous time.

Then, suddenly, my blatant lack of momentary mathematical savvy stopped in its tracks. There she was, the next runner I would pick off: Pinky. Pink tank top, pink compression socks, pink shoes. A whirlwind of pink flying down the descent just ahead. Yep.

I slowly started to gain on her, got right on her heels but didn’t yet have the energy to make my move. Then, just as quickly as I caught up, she darted off, increasing the distance between us again. Damnit! Keep her in sight.

And so, I did just that. I saw her, kept at the same pace just a bit behind her, and kept her in my sight at a perfect distance to see her trip, fall, and roll down the trail. Woah! I caught up and asked, “Hey, are you OK?” “Yeah,” she said, standing to her feet. “That’s what I get for taking my eyes off the trail to get water.”

We both took off again, Pinky ahead. Again.

Then, she fell. . .again. Only this time, she was airborne, turned ninety degrees while in the air and landed in what had to be a much more painful stop on a large rock. WOAH! I caught up a second time, and the runner just ahead of her stopped to turn up the trail to check on her as well.

“Oh wow, are you OK?!” This time, it took her a minute to get up. “Yeah, it’s just frustrating. This is like the third time he’s seen me fall” she said, nudging her head in the direction of the second runner that stopped.

After I knew she was OK, I headed off down the mountain again. Back to my broken math. At this point, my race strategy would typically be to run as hard as possible until the finish line. After seeing Pinky hit the trail twice within a few miles, though, I took my trip down the remainder of the Ws a tad more conservatively.

Just about the time I was ready to be off the trail and onto more stable ground, I hit the pavement – just a mile and a quarter until the finish. I was excited to see a few guys up ahead that I opted not to try to catch on the last part of the trail. Now was my chance.

A spectator saw me working to gain on the first guy ahead and offered encouragement. “Go get those boys, girl!” And so, I did just that. Ah, I love the energy of the cheerleaders at the Pikes Peak Marathon finish!

Not long after this, I saw JD along the course. “Come on, Melissa, almost there!” I didn’t realize it until after the race, but he ran behind me for a short ways at this point, just as Dakin did last year. The race photographer got a great shot of me in mid-stride, both feet off the ground, arms pumping, JD in the background.

Everybody should have friends like mine!

A sharp-left hand turn and about one hundred fifty meters later, I crossed the finish line. . .four minutes, thirty-two seconds faster than last year. It wasn’t anywhere near the margin I wanted but still a PR nonetheless – stabbing pain of the cramps near the summit, brief respites to ensure fellow runners were OK, and all.

Little did I know, the biggest and best part of the day was yet to come.

Settled in the staging area for the awards ceremony following the race, Ben’s ankles wrapped and on ice – both sprained, the left more severely than the right, x-rays recommended – a sandwich, brownie, and a beer padding my gut; trail shoes replaced with flip flops; I spied the official results posted on the side of the building just ten feet away.

“I’m going to go look at the results really quick,” I told JD as I stiffly shuffled toward the coveted paperwork. I found my name on the list and was immediately confused at the line directly underneath it: ‘Award Winner: Age-Group.’ Huh? No, no, wait. I must have looked at the wrong line.

Wait, wait. . .WHAAAA?!

Wait, wait. . .WHAAAA?!

I looked at the list again, finger tracing the line for my results twice more to be sure I read it correctly. WOAH! Of all races in all the world I would ever run, the Pikes Peak Marathon is THE one for which I’d never dare to dream of – but most badly want – a podium finish. Not at all what I had in mind, but I’ll take it!

I took a few steps in JD’s direction and called out, “JD! I finished second in my age group!” “What?” “I finished second in my age group!”

And just when I thought the rest of the afternoon couldn’t possibly get any better, I learned that Liz and our friend Julia had also placed and would be called up to the stage.

I heard my name, stood, walked over toward the stairs to the stage and shook Arlene Pieper‘s hand, did my best to walk up the few stairs normally while grunting in pain under my breath to accept my award from race director Ron Ilgen, then joined he, the other age group award finishers, and Bart Yasso on stage.

I must have had the biggest smile on my face when I shook Ron’s hand. “I never ever thought this would be possible. Thank you so much!” “Congratulations!” he smiled back. It was and will always remain one of my proudest and most surreal running moments:

Somebody, pinch me, please!

Somebody, pinch me, please!

What’s that, you ask? A new goal to reach podium status at a future Pikes Peak Marathon? YUUUUUP! But would I be disappointed if it never happens again? It’d be nice, but, nah.

As long as I can return to Pikes Peak, I will and will run as hard and smart as I can. I’ll love some of those miles and hate others, but I’d never trade a single one of them for the world, no matter what the race outcome.

Another amazing Pikes Peakend in the books, we soon left beautiful Manitou Springs to rejoin the real world. My award and new blue and yellow Pikes Peak Marathon shirt rested on the passenger seat, I headed south rather than north back to Denver, smiling to myself. This one’s for you, Grammie.

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy and practice at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

1 comment… add one
  • greg November 17, 2014, 12:04 am

    Nice blog post! I didnt know you placed! CONGRATS!

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