Pike's Peak Ascent/Marathon

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  • #9065

    I’m an East Coast, flatlander that enjoys the challenge of the Pikes Peak races (Ascent and Marathon) in August. I’ve done both a few times since 2014 and doubled last year. I’m a mediocre runner (3:14 marathon PR) but tend to do better in climbing and/or trail races but I’ve been just out of range for an Age Group win at PP each time I’ve gone. I think I’m getting the most out of my training (I do some appalachian mountain running as much as is feasible, but mostly it’s treadmill work) but obviously I am at a major handicap when it comes to altitude acclimatization. Sure enough, the guys placing in the AG at PPA and PPM are the ones from high altitude locations out west.

    Also, PP record holder Matt Carpenter has a relatively famous pace-chart that he recommends for the race, but it’s suggested only for those that are acclimatized to altitude, so I have never used it. Typically I do the lower-elevation miles of the race much harder/faster than he recommends…purely because I know I am going to lose time up top when I’m struggling for O2. Still, I’m tempted to try his method but afraid of risking an even slower time than I’ve typically done.

    Does anyone have any suggestions on training methods or how best to race this course? I’m especially curious if anyone has tried Carpenter’s pacing methods too. Thanks in advance for the discussion.

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    Colin Simon on #9085

    How early do you typically show up in CO? What does your acclimatization strategy look like when you do show up?

    briguy on #9090

    Hi Colin – Unfortunately I have never been able to optimize my arrival in CO to properly acclimatize, I typically fly in on Thursday before the Saturday/Sunday races. My understanding is that if you can’t get there 2 weeks before then you may as well arrive the day before. I definitely can’t do 2 weeks before unfortunately.

    When I arrive, I just try to rest, eat properly and hydrate to try to minimize the stress of being at 6400′. I have typically make a (driving) trip to the summit either the day before or 2 days before the race. I’m not sure if that helps or hurts (my instinct tells me it hurts) but I usually do it just for tourism purposes with friends/family.

    Mfoote396 on #9091

    Hi BriGuy. It sounds to me like it might be worth starting a bit more conservative in the early miles this year and see what you have in the tank on the final high altitude section. The race strategy of going really hard at lower altitude still sounds like it will leave you too tired and blown to race your best race at high altitude. The best thing you can do is work on your fitness the best you can in your preparation for the event and then to run a smart race. Just my two cents. Good luck! ~Mike Foote

    Colin Simon on #9097

    Every single day earlier you show up, the better. There are some adaptations that take a long time, but would you rather be halfway adapted or not at all?

    Driving up the day before might not be that helpful, but if you drove up the Tuesday before a Saturday race that’d be huge, especially if you had a long time to lounge around. That’d give you several nights down around 5000-6500 to let the body do its magic. If the race is early in the AM then you might not count the night before as “recovery”. You could also find some intermediate elevations, for example sleep in a backcountry hut or just in the woods somewhere around 10-11,000.

    I just hosted a couple friends from out-of-town who did the Grand Traverse ski race together. One guy showed up a week early and was skiing and sleeping high and then sleeping low. His teammate of similar fitness showed up Thursday night, and by mile 8 of 33, Teammate #2 was feeling horrible and getting towed. Teammate #1 was still cracking jokes.

    You wouldn’t be “completely” acclimatized either way, but wouldn’t it be nice to board the pain train around mile 20 instead of mile 10?

    briguy on #9101

    Thank you both for the feedback.

    Mfoote – I wouldn’t characterize my lower elevation miles in the race as “really hard”…e.g. I usually pace by HR and shoot for a range roughly equivalent to my marathon pace HR with an upper max of that range as my ultimate limiter. This has worked well for me when compared to my east-coast peers (i.e. I usually trail behind them early but catch them in the last 1/3rd of the ascnet – usually around the tree line), but has frustratingly kept me just on the outside edge of the AG recognition.

    Colin – Good suggestions. Frankly the “better to show up the day before unless you can get there 2 weeks before” theory is purely anecdotal and is thrown around by Pikes Peak racers as gospel but I haven’t seen any actual science behind it. The theory is that you’re body is still on a downward cycle after 5-10 days of being at altitude and it’s better to be just 1-2 days into that downward cycle than 5-10, with 2 weeks being the point that you bounce back “up.” Again, there’s simply no way I can go out there 2 weeks early but at least this year circumstances have me there on Wednesday night instead of Thursday so that’s one day extra I’ll have.

    Incidentally, last year, when I doubled (the Ascent on Saturday and the Marathon on Sunday), I arrived Thursday, tourist-summitted on Friday, then raced Saturday/Sunday. I have never felt worse at the upper elevations than I did on Saturday in the Ascent. But that was my A race that year, with an A race effort, whereas sunday’s effort was much more restrained (and of course I felt much better). No way to know if it was the shortened arrival-to-race time or my effort-level or what combination of both there.

    Again I appreciate the discussion!

    briguy on #16325

    Circling back on this thread. Last year I ended up injured shortly after making that post and I missed both PP races, and the rest of the year to boot. I’m only just now starting to come back in rehab.

    Anyway, I’m hoping to get back to PP this year and I have a followup question. Where I live on the East Coast, I’m at about 300′ above sea level but within a few hours drive I can get to 6400’+. Is there any advantage to making visits to that elevation in the weeks/months leading to the race? I could conceivably even camp up there so the exposure could be for 12+ hours at a time potentially. I just haven’t found any literature saying it would be worth the time/effort either way.


    Anonymous on #16330


    Sleeping at 6400 will help…..up to 6400. It will have minimal impact on your performance at 10k and above though. To race well at altitude you MUST live and train there. If performance is your goal I suggest you find races at lower elevations where your fitness will be the limitation and not the altitude.


    Colin Simon on #16452

    Scott, do I have this correct?

    Athlete 1 lives at sea level and trains optimally for their event. Lots of hills, just not high altitude.

    Athlete 2 lives at 1500-2000m and frequently trains at 3000-4000m, but training is not quite optimal. Done with good principles, just not 100% accurate.

    Event 1 is a race like the pike’s peak ascent or another race with a lot of time at 3000-4000m in North America or Europe… Athlete 2 is likely to win despite suboptimal training.

    Event 2 is a climb of a 6000m peak or higher. Athlete 1 is likely to perform better, because neither athlete can really prepare perfectly for 6000m, or 7000m, or higher. Athlete 2 may feel better acclimatizing to 4000m, but above that, genetics and fitness play a larger role.

    Anonymous on #16636

    Of course there will be some potential wide variations in individual response to altitude due to genetics, but, all other things held the same I would say that YES I agree with your propositions.

    I will try to re-state your proposal in a more general sense.

    Living and training (even sub optimally) at the elevation of your event will give you a significant advantage to your genetic twin who trains perfectly at low or sea level elevations.

    When at high to extreme altitudes (>6000m) the person well acclimated to 4000m will still have a significant advantage over the sea level dweller. The acclimatization process will be easier and shorter for the altitude dweller allowing them to maintain high fitness on the climb. The uber fit sea level dweller will still need weeks to properly acclimate from sea level. During this prolonged acclimatization process his or her activity level (certainly intensity and probably volume) will be much lower then when they were at home to avoid exhaustion. As a consequence of this prolonged lower training load his or her fitness will decay.

    These are the reason we suggest training to a very high level prior to undertaking major climbs at high altitude. Better to start with a very high fitness level so that after a month of rather lower activity your fitness is still sufficient for the task.

    In cases like yours: living a low elevation but wanting to compete at moderate elevations only a short time after arriving at altitude is where sleeping in an hypoxic tent can have tangible benefits. They also work well for those looking to boost the oxygen carrying capacity of your blood to the levels of altitude dwellers while training with the speed and intensity possible only at low elevations. This relies on the well tested principles suggested by Dr Jim Stray-Gunderson of “Sleep high Train low” that is commonly practiced by endurance athletes.


    briguy on #23333

    Hey Scott and Colin and Mike – Circling back on this old thread. I appreciate all the discussion.

    I’m experimenting this year with going out a day earlier than I’ve ever done before (Tuesday before the Saturday Ascent). And I intend on driving up to the summit on Wednesday and do a little low HR work on the Manitou Incline that day as well. Outside of that I’ll just be lounging and enjoying the great (dry) Colorado weather (South Carolina is a hot/humid mess that time of year).

    Outside of that, is it even worth my time to try to spend the night at 6000’+ in the weeks leading up to the event? Pike’s Peak Ascent starts at around 6400′ so it would only be preparing me for the days leading up to the race at that elevation. I’m not ready to go full-bore with a $2000+ altitude tent system just yet so this is about all I have as an option as far as I can tell.

    I’ve done this race 3 times already (including the double Ascent/Marathon in 2017) so just tinkering with ways I can maximize my performance.

    Colin Simon on #23373

    I think if you do both of those things, sleeping at 6,000+ and then showing up early and visiting 14k, that will have a dramatic positive effect on your performance.

    briguy on #23425

    Great, thanks Colin. Not to overthink it, but is this one of those situations where less is maybe more? Meaning specifically in reference to going up to 14K. I plan on doing that Wednesday after my arrival, but some of my other travelers are coming later in the week and I know they’ll want to go up there as well on either Thursday or Friday (I race Saturday). Am I better off just doing Wednesday and then allowing recovery after that?

    Colin Simon on #23427

    I would stay away from almost all stress Friday except from “walking the dog” or stress-relieving recovery activities. And just stay at Springs elevation.

    The other question is how well you sleep Weds night. Hopefully after visiting 14k that day you get to bed early and sleep well. If you feel good Thursday, you could go for an easy jog around Crystal Reservoir or some other area in the 9k-11k range. Have a picnic up there too. Then you’ll still have Thurs and Fri nights to adapt.

    The effect of this should be that you’ll feel like crap higher than previously, hopefully not til 13,000+.

    briguy on #23508

    Makes sense. I hadn’t thought of going up to a mid-point on the climb and Crystal Reservoir is a pretty spot for a short jog and picnic lunch. Thanks for the suggestions.

    briguy on #27443

    Update – I followed the above strategy at PPA this weekend and have never struggled more than I did above A-Frame.

    It’s not apples to apples of course as in my previous years attempts my training was different/better, but wow I was really suffering in the last few miles, particularly the last mile where my split was 5 minutes slower than ever before.

    The advice I have always gotten previously was that if you can’t get there 2 weeks before, then it’s better to arrive the day before. That seems to be my experience now after 4 trips but as mentioned above they’re all apples to oranges based on training/fitness/age.

    This is a puzzle I can’t seem to solve.

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