This story has been archived from the Sunday, August 14, 2005

Right song part of mental training for Peak Ascent


For this year’s Pikes Peak Ascent, I’m training furiously to beat George Michael, Billy Ray Cyrus and The Kingston Trio.

Of course, serious Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon runners never stop training. Fall is for developing new workouts. Winter is for long lowaltitude endurance runs. Spring and summer are devoted to drills to build speed and red blood cells at ever-increasing altitudes.

I’ve been faithful to each step of training.

Now, two days before the race, I intend to focus my energy on clearing my mind of annoying songs.

This is a crucial skill I’ve paid the price for ignoring.

In 2002, just as I reached the top of the first switchbacks, Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” lodged in my head. (“Prepare yourself, you know it’s a must, gotta have a friend in Jesus, so you know that when you die, he’s gonna recommend you to the spirit in the sky.”)

It echoed through my skull over and over, then somehow fused with the chorus of Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart.”

The horror.

I credit trying to flee this torment for my better-than-expected finish time of 4:56:43.

The next year, bad songs struck again. My brain started with a rousing round of that vapid oldies ditty “Bottle of Wine,” sung by the Kingston Trio. Which wouldn’t have been so horrible if I knew more than two lines.

As it was, “Bottle of wine, fruit of the vine, when you gonna let me get sober?” was skipping through my skull like a scratched record. With all my will, I seared it from my cerebrum, only to have the void flooded by Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go.”

There was no escape.

Exercise is supposed to stimulate complex brain functions. A swift walk around the block gets the blood flowing, delivering oxygen and sugar to the neurons.

But long periods of strenuous exercise — running up Pikes Peak, for example — have the opposite effect.

When a person’s doing something sedentary, such as reading the newspaper, the brain uses as much as 50 percent of available oxygen.

If a person then starts running at a fast pace, priorities change. The muscles pushing up the mountain suck 80 percent of the blood flow. The other organs fight over the rest.

The brain uses its ration to cover basic functions, apparently leaving just enough blood sloshing around in the centers of thought to nurture one or two perpetual lyrics from the bad-music archives.

Last year I decided that if my higher thoughts were going to take a vacation, I would at least get them to leave something good on the message machine. Something invigorating. Something energetic. Something that would propel me to the summit in record time.

The choice was obvious: “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor.

“Risin’ up, back on the street, Did my time, took my chances, Went the distance, now I’m back on my feet, Just a man and his will to survive!"

Inspiring, isn’t it? But it turned out to be too inspiring.

With Survivor pumping in my audio cortex, I went out too fast and was anaerobically punch drunk by the time I reached treeline 10 miles later. I finished 20 minutes slower than my best ascent time.

So this year, I’m browsing through my iPod for the perfect song. It has to be more encouraging than inspiring. It has to be something I can dance to for 13 miles. It has to not involve George Michael or Eminem in any way.

I’m leaning toward “Paths of Victory,” an obscure Bob Dylan tune with a loping piano rhythm that is a dead match with my running pace. The lyrics are a fitting tribute to the 7,815-foot climb up the Barr Trail, too:

“The trail is dusty, and the road it might be rough, but the better roads are waiting, and boys it ain’t far off.

Trails of troubles,

Roads of battles,

Paths of victory,

We shall walk.”

I hope it will push me to the finish line in 2:45.

Check The Gazette’s sports pages Sunday to see if it worked.

Gazette staff writer Dave Philipps is running his fourth ascent this year. Despite his whining, he’s managed to finish in the top 20 three times; he came in 44th out of a field of 1,600 last year.

Copyright 2005, The Gazette, a division of Freedom Colorado Information. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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