Twice the fun but wait ’till you’re done


The Pikes Peak Marathon, dubbed America’s Ultimate Challenge, is seeing a new twist. In 1991, twenty-seven people competed in both the Ascent and Round Trip compared to only twelve in 1990. But this is only half the story. When comparing each runner’s Ascent time to their time on the ascent portion of the marathon something unexpected was found — the twenty-seven runners’ average two-day ascent times were nearly identical. In fact the average was only 1/3 of a second slower on day two!

From personal experience I did not find this too hard to believe. Although both my attempts at doubles resulted in ascent times a good bit slower (5m35s and 12m37s) the second day, I found a pattern even then. My time from Barr Camp to the top was the same or faster on the second day. After talking with 3 of the people who doubled that year we all came to the conclusion that the top half of the course felt easier on the second day.

This apparent success on day two I attribute to the acclimatization factor, both in altitude and attitude. I believe on day two the body is better adjusted to breathing and therefore exercising at high altitude. Notice I say exercising for even the winners don’t really consider their pace running (about 11 mins/mile for the top half). As far as attitude, I think day two produces a smarter approach to the run. One person I spoke with after the race summed it up best when he said, “I went out too fast and died during the Ascent, for the Marathon I went out easy and had fun.” He ended up third overall and ran 3:26 faster for the ascent portion of his race than the day before.

Though I am not saying the best way to get a PR in the Ascent is to do the double, I think that if we all took a smarter approach to our races we might see some impressive results. If you are looking for a PR on the Pikes Peak (or in any race) or if you do not want to feel as dead as you usually do after a race, you might consider some of the things that those that do the double take for granted (or more truthfully, learn by accident).

  • Act like if you mess up, things can get real ugly. Always think of how far you have to go and ask yourself if you know you can do it. Although I can not think of too many people who do not go out too fast on day one, I can not think of anyone that goes out too fast on day two.

  • Know what you are in for. Part of why day two might go so well is we learned what to expect on day one.

  • Relax. The best races come from relaxed bodies and minds.

  • Rest and Recovery. Do everything possible to give yourself every advantage possible. Someone once asked me if I got better by training and I said yes. He replied, “No you get better by resting from training.”

  • Drink lots of water before, during, and after the race with none being more important than the other. On day two I found myself stopping at each water station and drinking one and sometimes two cups of water, (this is just as important on the way down).
I don’t run the Peak let alone do doubles, what has this got to do with me? We are talking attitude here. How often do we burn through the first half of a workout only to be upset by the last half? How often are we upset by the first half of a run and do not even bother to find out about the second half? Ever wish you felt a little better the day after that speed workout? Ever wonder why the run that was so great last week is killing you this week? If we want to succeed at running no matter how we define that success we must learn to think of all of our running as doubles. Each day recovering from the last preparing for the next.

This article was updated in 2001 after doing a more thorough analysis of the double which can be found here. [PPA/M results moved to in 2015] In the original version I had not found some of the doublers and that resulted in an average time that was 1m19s faster on day two. The point of the story remains the same.

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