The Pike's Peak Ascent starts at an elevation of 6,295 feet and peaks at 14,110 feet (7,815 feet of vertical gain), culminating in the final insult of the 16 Golden Stairs, 1/3 mile from the summit. Matt Carpenter has won the Pikes Peak Ascent 5 times, and the Pike's Peak Marathon 6 times, pulling off the double victory in 2001, winning both races on the same weekend. He currently holds the records for both the ascent (2:01:06) and the marathon (3:16:39).
What does your training consist of when preparing for the Pikes Peak Marathon?
MC: When I am really going after it I try not to have any running days under 2 hours a day. For the most part this is broken up into 2X a day running. Last year I went 5 months straight with no days under 2 hours. Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays are in the hills and the other days are running flat - usually pushing a babyjogger. Tuesdays and Thursdays are when I do the workouts required to do more than just finish the race. I am also pretty consistent about hitting the weights and sit-ups etc. on M/W/F
- Monday - recovery from Sunday. Usually 1.5 hour easy in the morning and .5 hour easy at night.
- Tuesday - .5 hour easy in the morning. Evening 1.5 hours: Flat speed work or flat tempo run. Winter treadmill, summer track
- Wednesday - recovery from Tuesday. Usually 1.5 easy in the morning and .5 easy at night.
- Thursday - .5 hour easy in the morning. Evening 1.5 hours: hill speed work or hill tempo run. Winter treadmill, summer Barr Trail
- Friday - recovery from Thursday. Usually 1.5 easy in the morning and .5 easy at night.
- Saturday - explore new trails day. Usually 2 hours.
- Sunday - 2.5-4 hours long in the mountains.
But I really don't get how knowing my training can help others that do not have the same set of circumstances. Indeed, I did things a little different when I was not spending so much time behind a babyjogger. You have to adapt your training based on what you want to accomplish and what your set of circumstances are.
What advice would you give someone preparing for a difficult mountain race for the first time?
MC: First, get on the trails to get used to the footing. Also jump in some trail races even if they are flat to get used to the crowding and to single track running. Next, if you have mountains, train in them. If you don't, get on a treadmill! There is no substitute for sustained uphill running. Yes, repeats on an overpass are good but they don't give you the whole picture. Also, watch out for running steps. Yes, they will work you good but they don't put your foot at the same incline as a hill and you may find your calves cry uncle come race day! Look, if someone is really serious about training for the peak they should check out http://www.skyrunner.com/guide yes, this is an obvious plug but the guide was put together to address these sort of questions.
Does Pikes Peak still intimidate you? How has your impression of the mountain changed since your first race?
MC: No, not really. This is why for the most part I have moved on to other races. I used to lose sleep over it like I do all my races. But starting in the mid 90s the race started filling and they no longer actively sought to make the event competitive. They stopped bringing in good runners and took away the course record bonuses. In fact, once the race started filling faster they even started shutting out faster runners and the times got down right pathetic. Fortunately, they now hold spots based on bio but otherwise they don't do much to attract the top runners. Bottom line, it is a great event but for the most part it is run like a local 5k and is not much of a race. Just compare today's winning times to the 80s or 90s. True, most major races have slowed down - just look at the average times. The difference is that most races have managed to not only keep their top end but grow it! Boston, Chicago and New York are all classic examples. 2006 could be a good year for Pikes as it has been designated world long course championship status but I fear for '07 and beyond if some changes are not made.
How is the mountain running scene different than road running?
MC: There is this perception that the mountain/trail/ultra running scene is more laid back. Frankly, I don't see it in the people I hang out with. Competitive people are competitive in all venues. Sure there is a smaller feel to the off-road scene but that is just a function of them being, well, smaller... There are still all types of people at these races - some more laid back than others.
Is there anyway to prepare for the altitude of a mountain race while living 20 feet above sea level, or am I totally screwed?
MC: Some great races have come from flatlanders. The boys from Kansas used to kick some serious butt. However, and to be fair, they would come out and spend some time in the altitude. Therefore, short of buying an altitude tent the best way to combat the effects of altitude is to get in the best shape you can. From there it really depends on how your body reacts to the altitude. If you don't know, it is best to come out either 2 weeks or more before or 3 days or less before the race. In the middle can really mess with some people!
Thanks again to Matt for his time.
I think I need a copy of that guide.