Tim Bergsten created this Ning Network.

First things first. I ascended Saturday. The weather was beautiful, the scenery was beautiful, and the finish line was beautiful.

What made the day truly unforgettable for me, though, was people, not places. 

If you can, forgive the sequential synopsis and the unabashed name-dropping. My mile markers for the race of lifetime were the people who impacted it, some in small ways, some in big.

Okay, rewind to March, when Tim Bergsten convinced me to run the Triple Crown and introduced me to some of the greatest runners I'll ever have the pleasure to know: Ryan Johnson, Megan Kunkel, David Mulligan, Vanessa Shawver, Jon Tiesher, and Mel Watson. Rewind to meeting the incredible Ron Ilgen, whose organization inspires me so much.

No. Scratch that. Let's begin at the beginning, with Christi-Marie, who ran more than a few excruciating 11-minute miles with me when I started running and gave me advice, dismantling some of my crazy ideas about running. Begin with Josh, Jennifer, Kelly, Ramsey, Dave, Katie, Julian, Matt & Rebecca, and other early Attack Packers who arose every Tuesday and Thursday for 6am runs year-round. Oh, and Dave Sorenson, who organized those runs for us at first.Yes, that's a good place to start.

Fast forward through five or six years of running and racing. See fifty or more finish lines, many of them bustling with family or friends waiting to cheer me on or run me in.  See my colleagues and bosses arranging meetings to create space for my training runs. See Melinda at Peak Performance nursing me through injuries, and John and Kathy getting me an appointment with her in the first place. See a full recovery, see me coming back stronger, faster, better, and more in love with running than I imagined possible.

Fast forward again to Saturday morning. I awoke and I was already feeling grateful, even before the texts of support from Erin and Amber. Shawna & Lisa both posted messages of inspiration on my Facebook page, and several other well-wishers expressed their support.  I packed a day-bag for Rich, who took my dog for a hike while I was running. I drove over to Christi-Marie and Derek's house, where I parked easily. I jogged to the start line with 10 minutes to spare. 

I saw a few friends at the start line: Mel, Ryan, Meghan and Josh. After the gun went off, true to form, I chatted with other runners, many of them Peak veterans who shared their wisdom and calmed my nerves. I ran into Sharon, Brianne, and Kelly all within that first mile.I also saw Tim and Debbie Swanson, who spent the entire day volunteering at the race.

At about mile 2, Kelly and Daniel passed me, wishing me luck.  At about mile 3, I started chatting with a woman named Melissa from Broomfield, and we stayed together for over 5 miles. She lifted my spirits and picked me up when I fell (literally. who falls running UP the mountain?). Meghan and Ramsey passed at about mile 4 and 5 (respectively), and I jogged some of the flatter terrain with Ramsey to extend our time together - that was nice. At Barr camp, there were oranges. ORANGES. Those who know me well know that I don't like oranges in real life, but during a race, they're my favorite thing ever.

Some people say that the toughest miles are at the start or end of the race. That wasn't true for me. Just after Barr, I hit a slump. I had my first negative thought at 8.34 miles and those thoughts kept coming until just before the treeline.

As I emerged from A-Frame, I felt strong. There was sunshine, and I could see a clear route to the top, thanks in no small part to the line of people ahead of me. When my watch died at just over 11 miles, I thought briefly of Tim and I counted. I locked my eyes on my feet and my mind on a strong finish.

Those who have read my blog before know that I always, always cry at the top of the Peak.  About a mile out, my internal dialogue was evenly divided between dedicating every last but of energy to that final stretch and convincing myself that it was too soon to cry.  I passed several people in that last mile, and when I heard my name, I choked up and started running.

It was the heroic finish I always wanted and never had, but when I crossed the finish line, all I wanted was to see someone I knew, and preferably someone I loved. After a few seconds, I spotted my stepmom, and later, my father. My stepmom was ten steps away, and I marched directly over and collapsed into her hug, sobbing with happiness. We had a tiny family celebration right there on top of Pikes Peak. We shared joy with Jeremy, a childhood chum I hadn't seen in a decade but who had finished several minutes before me, and his family: Jennifer and Linda.  I ran into Bill, who was volunteering at the top of the mountain, and Daniel, who had managed his own strong finish several minutes ahead of me.

The van driver back to the parking lot, who gave up her entire day to volunteer, was an acquaintance from several years before about whom I thought frequently and fondly, and I was thrilled at the chance to tell her so. In the brake-check zone, I stopped for snacks and ran into Brett, a friend from grade school.

At the bottom, I stopped at Memorial Hall and found Debbie, Brianne, Jill. I walked back to my car and visited with Christi-Marie and Derek. I checked my phone and found messages from Amanda, Jamie, Steve and Rich. I had a debrief phone conversation with Ryan, Mel, and Shawna, and exchanged messages with Catherine about the race.

All day,all weekend, I felt incredibly supported and loved. I was positively glowing with gratitude.

My appreciation for the journey? It was all about people, not places.

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Comment by Megan Kunkel on August 20, 2013 at 8:38pm

Oh and that makes 3 of us that fell running up the mountain! (I agree, I don't know how we manage that) :)

Comment by Megan Kunkel on August 20, 2013 at 8:36pm

Awesome job, Kristy!!! You nailed it on the head, it is truly about the people. It was so great meeting and running with you this summer!

Comment by Melvin Watson on August 20, 2013 at 11:19am

Thank you Kristy!!! Great work throughout the entire Triple Crown!

Comment by Debbie Swanson on August 20, 2013 at 9:11am

You're our hero, Kristy - now it was your turn to find out what a hero you are to yourself!

The Pikes Peak Ascent gave me confidence and courage in areas in my life that I never would have gained without it. Once you've done it, your can say to any trial or tribulation "hey! I've run the Ascent! This is nothing!"

I can't wait to see what your new-found courage and confidence will bring you in the weeks and years to come!

Comment by David Mulligan on August 19, 2013 at 11:06am

Great Series Kristy!  You have been an inspiration to all of us.  And yes, I did fall uphill as well during the Ascent.

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