I am slow.
I can’t help it, it’s just the way I am.
|Wacker (169) eyeing Gute (3)...wins stink-eye contest! photo: PikesPeakSports.us
But let us disregard my punctuality on race write-ups and talk about running uphill with some of the top mountain runners in the world, shall we?
The 2014 Pikes Peak Ascent doubled at the WMRA World Long Course Challenge and 20 countries were represented, making it an Olympic-atmosphere feel full of colorful kits and comical communication barriers. My race preparation consisted of spending the week in Detroit--don’t ask, I’m trying to forget about that part of my training. Upon my return to Manitou Springs, my legs felt like pixy sticks from running along the river with a nice southern view of Canada (yes, southern!) and my head felt like it had been punched by the very large fist statue of Joe Louis himself.
|That's a big fist, Joe!
I arrived back in time for the pre-race press conference, which was chocked full of foreign athletes, which race MC, Bart Yasso, taunted in the nicest of ways and attempted to get all the English he could out of them. It’s the American way: making people feel uncomfortable in the most comfortable way possible.
|Wacker, not just a name...nor a pretty face
The grandioseness of the weekend did not set in until I began to see all the uniforms: South Africa, Wales (just one), Eritrea (it looked like a 2:10 marathon uniform, and it was worn by four-time WMRA Long Course runner up and 2012 & 2013 WMRA Grand Prix Champ, Azerya Teklay), Ukraine, Italia (that’s how they spell it on their jersey), Norway, Slovenia, Mexico, Australia, Germany, Japan (another solo), Romania (the Romantic Romanian Runner Ionut Zinca) and many more. Even Kansas! I finally met fellow Inov-8 teammate and obstacle racer-extraordinaire, Cody Moat—it’s difficult to miss a bright red jersey with a foot as an 8 on it. I searched for another Inov-8 team member, friend and all-around good guy, Scott Dunlap, but he was somewhere gathering his strength for the Ascent/Marathon Double and knew that he had to partake in our now-traditional celebratory beer on the Peak after the race. Team Colorado was well represented with Stevie "Sunshine" Kremer, Brandy "Mile-A-Minute" Erholtz, Donna "Gar-Gute" Garcia, Amy "Chef l'équipe" Perez, Simon "Gute" Gutierrez, Sage "The Rage" Canaday, Neil "Big McD" McDonagh, and myself, Le Prez, as they say in France.
|A few Team Coloradans under the lined and one circle-spangled banners.
|Quick! Look right!
The start line looked intimidating with all the cleanly shaven legs (except for Team USA’s Zach Miller, you need to join the club, Zach!) and intense looks. My ego wouldn’t fit on the front line, so it was pushed back to the second row of the start line. It was, by far, the most competitive race the Pikes Peak Ascent has ever assembled, but I knew that the race was not won in the first mile so I had to run smart and know if I did I would deserve that beer at the top.
|Zach: refusing to join the club. Wacker: doing his best chicken leg impression. photo: Eddie Metro
The starting cannon detonated and either gave you an additional shot of adrenaline or stopped your heart momentarily. I did not fall down so I guess I received the former. There goes fellow Team Coloradan and 3 X Ascent Champion, Simon “Gute” Gutierrez, to the front in his patented lead-out sprint. Oh, what’s this!? The guy with the freshly shorn legs and pretty hair, Andy Wacker, goes by Gute at an even faster cadence. It is times like these that I wish auctioneers would commentate on races in the lead vehicle. Now that would be entertainment!
|Watch that elbow! photo: OutThereColorado.com
The next section, the Ws, is one of the toughest sections of the race, in my opinion, with its long and steep switchbacks that appear as Ws on an aerial map. It seemed I wasn’t moving fast enough because the entire Italian contingent went by me in a matter of about 10 seconds, each one saying “sorry” to me as they passed. They were so nice in their competitiveness. I think the English translation would have been, “get out of my way you American with a fairly decent mustache!” Next a Mexican went by me, then others that I didn’t recognize because all I witnessed was their asses. That’s what happens with steep grades, you get right on someone’s shoulder but really you are face to ass with them.
|Brandy talks as fast as she runs! photo: PikesPeakSports.us
After the Ws did a good job of stringing out the field, I found my self running with Thomas Cornthwaite of England. I only understood half of what he said with his thick accent, but I appreciated every word as it took my mind off the hard uphill grind. We fed off each other like a proper English breakfast and pushed the pace when it began to slow. Every time I went by him it was, “You look crackers!” or “Bloody Good, mate!” My encouragement was usually a slap on the ass and some American words that he hopefully couldn’t understand…just so we could be on the same page. It was working! We were gradually catching and passing runners who had underestimated what wrath the mountain could impose.
|Zach Miller likes to chomp bananas!
The next couple of miles was like purgatory, it had to be done to breach treeline and face the most difficult section of the course, A-Frame to the summit (3 miles) aka the surface of the moon, where you are either struggling or have already turned into a zombie. We spotted more runners up ahead! As Thomas and I approached, he stated who the runner was (Emanuele Manzi of Italy) and excitedly exclaimed “Maaaanzi, gooud runnah!” (That’s the best New Castle accent I can hope to impart in written word). I knew the field was world class and everyone we came in contact with now held an impressive resume, so I seemed to be acquiring 1UPs with every person I passed. One more person and I would have the ability to throw fireballs! Well, I already had so much red on I looked like I was on fire: racecar red Inov-8 jersey and hat, razzel red Swiftwick Aspire 4 socks and the new rad red, ectoplasm green and black TrailRoc 245 (next season’s color, keep an eye out, you can’t miss them…they're bright!).
|Gute and Gar-Gute, a couple of youngster! photo: Gar-Gute
|Marco Sturm: elite mountain runner, cat sitter.
|Stevie "Sunshine" Kremer shows that mountain who's boss! photo: PikesPeakSports.us
|Neil, exorcizing the demons! photo: PikesPeakSports.us
1 mile to go. I couldn’t tell who the black singlet belonged to until I passed him, Stefan Hubert, Germany’s top runner.The front side of the German uniform is red, that's a sneaky trick! One foot in front of the other, the senses are getting blurred now. Struggling runners. I am struggling, but I am still passing them. How!?!? With a half mile to go, you encounter the crippling rock scramble which is lovingly referred to as the 16 Golden Stairs. As the name indicates, 16 tightly weaved switchbacks over boulders make 15 meters seem like 800. For lack of better terms, a real kick in the balls! Zinca is slowing to a crawl, am I really going to pass him!? I hear someone yell “10th place!” Are they referring to me or someone else? Halfway through the stairs Zinca willingly moves over and allows me to crawl by. BluhBluhBluup--1UP! I needed that extra life!
|Zinca trying to catch me to say sorry
|Holding hands with RD Ron Ilgen at the finish, and Nora, the First Lady quick to hold me up so I don't fall over.
I was very proud to be part of it.
|There is an "US" in Team USA! Congrats on the gold medal Sage Canaday, Andy Wacker, Eric Blake, Joe Gray and Zach Miller. photo: The Prez
The best part of the event, and reason why I love the sport so much, is celebrating with the amazing people after the hard effort is over. In this case, we had the Team World Pool Party at a little watering hole called La Piscina (thanks Brandon, how do you always seem to miss your own party!?), where 50+ people from all over the world turned it into the “Official (Unofficial) Post Race Party.” Because, in the long run, becoming famous is not all that important…but it definitely does help your popularity at the after party!
|Team World Pool Party! Amy Perez (not pictured) taking picture.
|There's Amy! This is equivalent of being photoshopped into the above photo.
photo: Not Amy this time but, you guessed it, PikesPeakSports.us
|The smallest and largest participant at the Pikes Peak Ascent. Allie McLaughlin would have been very popular if she had been at the after party. photo: PikesPeakSports.us
|There's Thomas Cornthwaite! Bloody thumbs up, mate! photo: OutThereColorado.com
Chest bump to Manitou Springs: http://www.koaa.com/videos/runners-race-to-the-top-of-pikes-peak/