On Saturday, I accomplished the most daunting physical feat I've ever attempted: the Pikes Peak Challenge!
For those of you who are new to the blog, the Pikes Peak Challenge is an annual fundraising event for the Colorado Brain Injury Association. Hikers pledge to raise funds for brain injury awareness and prevention, and a 6-week training plan is recommended for conditioning in anticipation of the rough and varied terrain of the trail. The hike consists of a 13.5 mile jaunt up the Barr Trail, gaining 7,400 vertical feet to reach the summit of Pikes Peak. The elevation at the top? A paltry 14,110 feet above sea level :-) Pikes Peak is not the tallest '14er' mountain in Colorado, however the Barr Trail is considered to be the most challenging in terms of vertical gain and distance.
Why did I decide to participate? My sister Annie lives in Colorado Springs, where she is earning her PhD in clinical psychology. In 2009 she completed the Pikes Peak Challenge, and this year she inspired me to register and train for the event.
So, being from Milwaukee (aka 634 feet above sea level), how did I train for the elevation? There was really no way to anticipate 1) how I would react to it... altitude sickness strikes randomly, and 2) without arriving 3 weeks early to fully acclimate, I would just have to prepare the best I could, cardiovascularly. Enter 6+ weeks of jogging, long walks, leg strengthening exercise and horseback riding as cross-training. I bought a Camelbak and some other gear to get prepared, and before I knew it I was the plane to Colorado, nervous as can be.
The Day Before the Hike
The morning after I arrived, I headed outdoors for a 3-hour long horseback ride through Garden of the Gods. This was a most enjoyable activity, but spending the time outside helped to acclimate me to the climate and varied terrain. When traveling to a higher elevation location, frequent hydration is key, so I chugged water before, during and after the ride. Later, Annie and I walked about 1.5 miles to the pre-hike rally, which helped get the circulation going again in our legs and more fresh mountain air flowing through our lungs.
The Pre-Hike Rally at the Olympic Training Center
What a great location to get all of the hikers motivated for the main event! After picking up our race packets - which included a Cambelbak water bottle, t-shirt and some other items - Annie and I met up with our fellow teammates.
Joe, Allison, Annie, Kristin
We enjoyed the provided dinner - pasta and salad (no vegetarian protein item - wahhh), before the short program began. Speakers included Chad Holliday, a who was the first TBI survivor to 'win' the Challenge, and chairwoman Alison Dunlap, a 2-Time Olympian and World / National Champion cyclist. Both had inspiring stories and practical advice, and Alison even recommended celebrating with the donuts at the summit house (ha!).
After the rally, our group took advantage of some photo opportunities before parting ways for the night.
Annie, Moi, Allison, Joe, Kristin.
To the far right is Alison Dunlap, the Olympian... we wish she was on our team!
Annie and I continued to chug water and caught up on blog reading, and hit the hay around 9PM. We wanted to get to sleep, but both of us were up for at least another hour. With the alarm clock set for 3:45, our restlessness turned into anxiety... once asleep, I dreamt of nothing.
The Wee Hours, Pre-Hike
Fast forward to a few hours later! We woke up at 3:45, put on our gear, checked our packs and grabbed some breakfast. It was totally surreal to be up so early.
At about 4:15, we left Annie's apartment and headed to the rendezvous spot to carpool. While waiting for our teammates, we chugged water and nervously sang along with the radio. Once everyone arrived, we headed to Manitou Springs to register. The volunteers were cheerful and pleasant despite the cold, dark morning.
After signing in and pinning on our numbers, we headed to the transportation line. After a short van ride, we were dropped off at the Barr Trail trailhead. Upon taking in the view, I became totally freaked out... all that I could see were the lights from the hikers' headlamps, hundreds of them bobbling up the trail's steep switchbacks ... basically as high up the mountain as you could see. It was definitely a sight to behold!
After another group photo, we switched on our headlamps and joined the others on the trail... TO BE CONTINUED.