My final ascent...
for a while at least

By Jill Gainer

This year’s Pike Peak Ascent had lots of challenges for me. For one, I was doing the Ascent alone. Yes, there were hundreds of other runners, but no one right next to me pushing me and helping me. The past two years, both for the Ascent and Marathon I have had Laura Nye right next to me or right behind me or right ahead of me. We helped each other along the way. Another was I figured this could possibly be one of the last trips to this mountain, for awhile at least. Another was I wanted to complete the Ascent in close to 5 hours. My PR is 5:36. I had taken up cycling in the past year and continued running so I was even better trained than in the past years. Or at least I told myself so. And, finally, I had dedicated this race to Laura and Hazel Russell, who has been my roomie for the past two years, but as most of you know, moved away and couldn’t be here this year.

So, I had to get to the top and fast! So, in the weeks prior to the trip, in a further effort to leave a mark on the mountain, I collected a lock of hair from myself, Laura and Hazel to send off into the wind up at the top. Raul and I arrived in Manitou Springs on Thursday, relaxed and Friday we did some sightseeing and that night went to the pasta dinner, and of course, had the annual hot tub party. Prior to the nights sleep I had a really good mental coaching from Raul. I can do this and I am ready!

So, as always, Saturday morning came, the temperature was close to 60 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, the marathoner’s came out to cheer us on in their pajama’s, we all took lots of pictures, the gun went off and off I went. To say it’s an uphill start sounding silly, but it is. My game plan this year was to run as far as possible to the trail head, move quickly the entire time and NOT make the rest stops permanent residences for me. So I ran comfortably to the entrance of the trail, where it slows to a single file or double wide fit. The first three miles and the last three miles are the toughest, as you gain the most elevation within there. Knowing this, I paced, moved steadily and drank my Gatorade. I got out of the three miles of switchbacks and that is where the trail becomes a bit more level and easier to run. So, when I could, I did. I started to notice that my heart accelerated more and I got tired much easier when I ran, and it took me longer to get back to where I could breath comfortably, so I ditched the running idea and just moved quickly.

Finally I reached Barr Camp. Barr Camp, I believe, is considered the half way point. It’s a big water stop, medics, grapes, and just the place to stop and take a load off. So, I did. But I could still hear Raul telling me NOT to make the rest stops my new home. Can’t I just enjoy it for a few minutes??? Yes, darn it I can. So I did. Not long, as guilt set in, but I ate my Power Bar, drank, ate grapes and dawdled as long as I could. Gave myself another mental exercise and left Barr Camp.

Sometime after I left Barr Camp I met three girls, one of whom became my life support (here is where the over dramatic side of me begins). The three girls ended up being weeded out and which left me with Brigid, a strong 43 year old with 6 kids. We compared this grueling event to child birth a lot!

Once you get to a certain point on the mountain, you can see through the forest of trees and see the peak. It just takes your breath away. Once I started my climb up the top three miles I was at 4:12. I guess altitude and I are never going to be friends. I was already feeling dizzy and slightly nauseated, and my heart was beating too fast, but all of this I expected. Brigid was feeling about the same and as we got closer to the top we must have stopped every 100 yards. We broke all of the rules about stopping during this race. The rule is don’t stop. It won’t make you feel any better and there aren’t any comfy places to sit. Wrong! Actually, when we stopped, it was for a minute or two, to let the dizziness, queasiness and heartbeat pass and/or get back to a normal high pace.

For me, the top three miles was totally a mental challenge for me. I must have said “one foot in front of the other” over 1000 times. It was slow, my back hurt, my knee hurt and I felt sick, but I knew, if I kept moving, despite my pace, I would get to the top. When I reached the last water stop which is 1.5 miles from the top, (I had named all of the water stops. This one was the Four Seasons. It had a comfy bed (i.e. rocks and a flat place to lay down) and more grapes.) I literally had to convince myself not to just turn around and go back down, as I knew the worst was yet to come.

I knew Raul was waiting at the top for me and I looked at my watch I think it read 5:40. I had already known I wouldn’t make it by 5 hours, but I knew Raul wanted to get off of the mountain and not be on there for very long as his race day was the next day and in my over confidence I made sure to ask him to start looking for me around 4:30. So, he’d been up there a bit. Guilt kept me moving upwards. At least something did.

Now, for a weather report: Just after Barr Camp, I became chilly. And once I got to the top three miles, I was downright freezing. It was very windy this year and I later learned it was 35 degrees at the top and 18 degrees wind chill in the widny top three miles. I had a jacket and gloves which did the trick for the most part. Two days before the race it had snowed at the top. There were several snow patches in the last mile and a few small streams where the snow was melting.

That was pretty. Back to the race. Brigid and I moved and stopped. We moved, we stopped. Continue this for about another hour. And with the clear skies, you could hear the announcer down below Barr Camp. I knew that at some point the people at the top could make out the runners and FINALLY I hear JILL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Raul and Diana. Tears formed in my eyes for the umteamth time and I knew I wasn’t close enough to dash to the stop but I waved energetically and then had to rest. Again.

So since Diana was there, there meant Robert was there, probably perched on a rock with his camera. Finally I reached him and he said “You’ve got about 4 minutes until the cut off". So Brigid and I tried to move quicker. Stopped again. Rested, then moved. Robert got in between us and vocally prodded me along. Raul, I saw with the camera, joined in and encouraged me up and around that last turn and it was all I could do to cross the finish line and grab (perhaps a bit too roughly) my finisher’s medal, to finish in 6:27.

I had already started crying when I saw Raul and was borderline hysterical, but found out that it made me sicker to mess up my breathing, so I immediately sat down on a rock and told (perhaps, again to roughly) Raul that I wanted off of this mountain. Now. So we grabbed the clothes I had sent up, went to the van and down we went. With my eyes closed, of course.

Now, follow me back to Barr Camp, when I started feeling bad. That is when I vowed that I will never ever be coming back. The other chant that I had was “I’m never coming back.” So why did I re-book my room for next year? Also, if you kept up this far with my story you will notice the hair locks never were scattered. I wasn’t thinking about anything except getting off of the mountain, and I remembered halfway down the mountain that I hadn’t scattered them. That night Robert told me he would take them up with him and scatter them. So, in essence, Hazel and Laura went up the mountain twice in once weekend. For people like me, who are not the speediest of the bunch, there shouldn’t be a clock involved. I feel really great about the accomplishment that I did and I do recognize that I just climbed a mountain!

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