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Springtime training in the Rockies: How five Pikes Peak runners make it work

Here is an old saying that we just made up (or maybe we heard this somewhere): If you want lots of money, seek advice from a wealthy person. If you want to have successful relationships, gain insight from people who have successful relationships. See the pattern? So how about this? If you want to run fast in the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon, why not go straight to the pros?

We've made it easy for you. Pikes Peak veterans and Team Colorado members Kim Dobson, Brandy Erholtz, Peter Maksimow and Andy Wacker, plus newcomer Kristina Mascarenas, offer up the goods on training in the spring for the big race in August.

It's springtime in the Rockies (almost) and the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon are less than six months away. What does your springtime training entail? 

Kim: Springtime! This is a welcomed change after the past cold, snowy winter months in Eagle.  My February and March training will focus on building a solid base of miles and incorporating some informal hilly tempo and long runs.  In March, I will also hop on the treadmill for a weekly 8-12 percent tempo grind.  April will mark the addition of weekly uphill intervals, usually four to six repetitions lasting about four minutes, done at close to a maximum effort level.  I get nervous just thinking about those intervals!

Peter: Well, my training plan has been sort of unorthodox because my pesky achilles decided to stop working. Lately, it involves a lot of biking, pool running and beer drinking, but normally this would be the time where the base work was being laid for the rest of the year. Getting out and running miles without organized workouts makes for enjoyable outdoor time. Winter can be tough with snow to trudge through and bitter temps to deal with, but if you get out there and put in the miles, the rest of your running year will thank you greatly.

(Photos: Top, by Bryan Oller; all others by Tim Bergsten/PikesPeakSports.us)

Brandy: Winter/early spring training for me is building a huge aerobic base as I like to race a lot during the summer months. I've found the bigger base I build in the winter, the faster I can run in the summer. This includes a weekly long run 2 1/2-3 hours on hilly terrain - usually trails if they allow.  I also include a weekly tempo run - usually about an hour in length - I vary this on uphill, hilly and road terrain. The rest of the week is primarily easy/steady running.

Andy: Spring training, isn't that when baseball players go to Florida and Arizona to enjoy the warm, sunny weather, and slowly ease into practice? Spring running is exactly the opposite of that. Trudging through deep snow, 100-plus mile weeks, chinook winds, stout beer, doubles in the dark, muddy snow-melt trails, juxtaposed by sunshine and 70s, spiked-up runs, on the track, rust-busters, crisp, clean mornings: spring makes us ready for anything.

Kristina: It feels like summer in the Rockies right now making it easier to train outdoors. I am currently training for a road marathon. Unfortunately, this isn’t much help in regards to training for the Pikes Peak Marathon with the exception of working on turnover. Typically I run about six days a week. I do two days of speed-work, one long run on the roads, and the other days are slow miles to work out the lactic acid.

After April I will start hitting the trail in preparation for the Pikes Peak Marathon! The format for my training will be the same but the scenery will be much better than it is on my road runs. I will run my long runs on Barr Trail or on trails around the Pikes Peak area. I plan on running for two to three hours on those days. My speed work will be the same for one of the days but the second day will be hill repeats.

At some point, your weekly efforts must get more intense. When do you start to ramp it up and what does that look like?

Kim: For me, April signifies when the real work begins as I start to work on uphill speed. In late June (after Mount Washington), I shift towards more high altitude runs with as much elevation gain as I can find.

Peter: The "Mountain Season” starts to get going in April and May when the weather becomes warmer and the trails lose their icy sheen. The Cheyenne Mountain 25K is a key race to start to the season for me. It shows me where I am, fitness-wise, and gets the mind ready for the faster workouts and intense climbs and descents of the mountains. More organized workouts replace longer, slower runs and the white skin begins to get that mountain tan.

Brandy: This depends on what my goal races for the season are. Often times I will start to do some specific hill work (repeats) at the end of March, or the beginning of April, and then eventually focus on shorter, faster runs as I get closer to my goal races while still incorporating a weekly long run.

Andy: Pike's is all about the altitude. Intense workouts above treeline. Being able to scrape and scramble your way to the top. When the snow melts on the peak, we'll be there. And if by the 4th of July the snow hasn't melted, we'll be there ... in the snow.

Kristina: My training plan is to start off easy in April and May and slowly start to build up the intensity of my workouts. It is important to not over-train and cause injuries. My training should peak during mid June and stay high through July. Hopefully, the trail conditions will clear up and I can start summiting in early July. I would like to train at altitude twice a week and summit once every other week. One example of an
altitude workout I like to use is a 3,2,1. In this workout you start at the summit of the peak and run down three miles, then back up, then down two miles, and back up, then down one and back up. In August I will try and back off a bit and decrease my mileage, but keep the same intensity during my workouts.

What races do you include in your buildup to Pikes Peak, and why?

Kim: I enjoy doing a mix of uphill, trail, and road races in the spring.  This year, I hope to do the Platte River Half Marathon, the Greenland Trail race, and the Black Canyon Ascent.  Once summer begins, I run only trail/mountain races.  I prefer races that have a significant net elevation gain.  Races on my summer radar this year include The Mt. Evans Ascent, Mount Washington, the Vail Hill Climb, the U.S. Mountain Running Championships, the Barr Trail Mountain Race, Berry Picker, and the Audi Vertical K. I will obviously have to pick and choose from that spectacular list!

Peter: Important races to prepare for Pikes Peak are those that mimic the altitude and grade of the ascent or marathon. Mt. Evans Ascent, Mount Washington Road Race and, most importantly, the Barr Trail Mountain Race, get the mind and body ready for the the grind that you put yourself through in mid-August. Besides races, getting up to the top of the peak and doing workouts or running from the bottom to the top are the best way to acclimatize your body and mind for America’s Mountain. Races are a great way to prepare, but getting out on the course of an important race is sometimes more important.

Brandy: I love all uphill races. Oftentimes, my first "goal" race of the season is the Mount Washington Road Race, which is 7.6 miles all uphill at a 12-percent grade. This requires a combination of strength, speed and endurance. As a tune-up for Mount Washington, I will usually run the Black Canyon Ascent as it is a six-mile all uphill race in the San Juans - not nearly as steep as Mount Washington but still a good rust buster/fitness check. These are also great early tune-up's for Pikes Peak as they are all uphill.

Next, I usually run the U.S. Mountain Running Championships which is a goal race in which I need to peak for - this does somewhat disrupt the training for Pikes Peak. However, I've found it worth it as you only get so many opportunities in a career to represent the U.S. at a world championship race. The mountain team qualifiers are much shorter/faster than Pikes Peak, so sometimes I'll include some shorter races and even one or tworoad 5K's as tune-ups for this.
Barr Trail is an awesome tune-up for Pikes Peak as you are on the Barr Trail and get to run up to Barr Camp and back down.
I've actually never just focused on Pikes Peak for a summer. I think to truly reach one's potential on the mountain, you need to spend time on the course (as demonstrated by Matt Carpenter) and also spend as much time above 12,000 feet as you can leading up to Pikes in training. (Ideally two-three times a week - I think this is what Kim did when she set her record.)

Andy: While I race like a fiend, the Barr Trail Mountain Race, and the Mt. Evans Ascent are the most important for my preparation for the Pike's Peak Ascent. Barr is a chance to race on the mountain, on the race course, about a month out, and is a great way to judge goal pace fitness. Mt. Evans is a high-altitude test to get that hypoxic feeling, and get inspired by mountain goats.

Kristina: Last year I did not have a qualifying time for the ascent so I signed up for the Triple Crown. This included the Garden of the Gods 10-miler, and a 12K through Bear Creek Park. The race that helped me prepare the most for the ascent was the Barr Trail Mountain Race. This is a race up to Barr Camp and back down. The BTMR was a great way to judge how hard I could push on my way up to Barr Camp. As an added bonus, I had so much fun running back down that it made me want to try the Pikes Peak Marathon instead of the ascent this year! I plan on signing up for a few ultra marathons this year prior to the August. I think getting more exposure to long trail races will help exponentially.

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