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Peaking for Pikes Peak

Carpenter: "In the few days before the race, avoid eating at places you normally wouldn't and getting food poisoning. Also, stay away from sick people."
Voice in the crowd: "We're sick people!"
Carpenter (serious): "I mean physically sick people."

This exchange took place just before the season ending run of the Incline Club, and I think it really "captures the spirit of the thing".

I've been in Colorado Springs since last Wednesday, trying to acclimate to higher altitude in preparation for the Pikes Peak Marathon on Sunday. I followed a similar plan last year when I ran the Ascent. Mostly, I try to do some moderate running and get out to some higher elevation a couple of times.

And like last year, I ran a 10K race last Saturday in Woodland Park, some 30 minutes away. Not only is it good aerobic training, I find that race is the quintessential summer 10K. Small and cheap ($20), it features a small loop + an out-and-back to get in all the distance. I ran the race hard, but at 8,500', hard is relative. Although my first mile was in the 6:20 range, it was downhill, and a corresponding return mile took me 8:00! In the end I finished within seconds of my 2008 time, picking off two runners near the finish and placing 1st in my age group. As soon as I stopped, I was coughing for a good minute and thought I was going to puke and/or pass out. Aerobic exercise is tough without oxygen!

After the race, I stuck around for a music festival. Sitting in the grass, folk band in the foreground and mountains in the background, drinking beer out of plastic cups, it struck me that this exact moment would become my primary association with summer 2009. The Band played "America the Beautiful" as its finale, and I left Woodland Park with a sunburn and some good memories.

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The next day, I got up early to run with the Incline Club, a training group co-founded by elite runner Matt Carpenter to prepare people for the Ascent and marathon. I carpooled up Pikes Peak with them and did the two miles down from the summit - and then back up. I spent another two hours or so just hanging out at altitude, picking people's brains on the course and the race.

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On Tuesday, I then went back to the summit by myself, again descending the Barr Trail, but three miles this time. On my way up, I tried to work 80-90% as hard as I would on race day. Those three miles still took me a little over an hour! And by the time I got back down to Colorado Springs, I felt like death warmed up. The high altitude can really take a toll on a person.

Yesterday, the Incline Club did its last little run, a "time check", and I went out to get a feel again for the first mile or so of the course. It really is a motley group, a bunch of nutters who think running up a 14,000' mountain is a good way to exercise.

My race number is picked up, my preparation complete now. Two days to go to the big race. Unfortunately, the weather has turned sour again, but I am hopeful it won't be as horrible as last year (it couldn't be worse). At least this year I have more winter gear. With luck, I can better my ascent time and not blow out my joints on the 13 mile descent from the summit.

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