How a Flatlander Trains to Run at 14,115 ft

Pikes Peak, Ascent, Mountain Running, Trail Running, 14,115 ft

Countdown to the Pike’s Peak Ascent
5 days!

Well, it’s the final week before the Pike’s Peak Ascent. We’ve made it. It’s been a long and tough training cycle. The whole thing seems kind of surreal. You know that feeling when you’ve been planning something for so long, then it finally arrives? 

As I write this I feel super calm. I’ve done the work. I’ve put in the effort. The only thing I can do these final days leading up to the Ascent is drink lots of water and keep the primary focus on my nutrition. 

In Part II of my Pike’s Peak Ascent experience I will share how Nick and I {flatlanders from Maryland!} trained to run a race, not only at altitude, but summiting 14,115 ft.  

You can check out Part I Pike’s Peak Ascent – Goals, Expectations and Fears here. And I hope you’ll return next week for Part III Pike’s Peak Ascent Race Report.

So, What’s the Pike’s Peak Ascent Again?

Pike’s Peak Ascent is a 13.3-ish mile run up Pike’s Peak mountain in Colorado. The journey begins in Manitou Springs at an elevation of 6,300 ft and ends at the Pike’s Peak summit at an elevation of 14,115 ft. That’s an elevation gain of 7,815 ft with the average grade being 11%.

Early Stages of Training

Nick and I have been training for the Pike’s Peak Ascent since April. This phase of training consisted mainly of weekly hill workouts of 1 hour or less. Once in April and once in May we were able to travel to Gambrill State Park to run some trail hill repeats on part of the Appalachian Trail. Being from Maryland, there are not many options to simulate elevation gain.

I had originally put together a loose training plan that had us running our long runs based on time instead of mileage. The plan included weekly hill workouts, as well as cross training, strength, and recovery. Our anticipated finish time for the Ascent is roughly 5 hours– and 5 hours of flatland running for me {and especially Nick} is more than a full marathon. My plan was that we would run some predetermined time outside and then use the treadmill to include some incline running to {hopefully} make training more realistic. The plan had us starting with 2 hours 45 minutes and completing our training at 5 hours.

News from Pike’s Peak! 

In June, after the SMECO 75 Mile Bike Ride, we got more serious about our training. It was at this time that we got news from the Pike’s Peak crew that mountain running legend, Simon Gutierrez, would be providing Ascent runners with a 10-week training program. 

I don’t typically follow training plans sent out by races, but with there being so many unknowns with Pike’s Peak, Nick and I decided it would be a good idea to follow and semi-modify Simon’s plan. 

Great Minds Think Alike

I was happy to see in Week 1 {and was confirmed as the weeks progressed} that I was on the right track with my original training plan. Simon’s philosophy was all about practicing progressive uphill running. His weekly training plan included a mid-week quality run, easy days, recovery days, and of course the progressive uphill long run. 

Sounds pretty similar to what I was aiming for 🙂 But it was great to have some guidance on the nitty gritty details.  

Mid-Week Quality Run

The mid-week quality runs were, in my opinion, the best part of this training cycle. They were long enough to make you feel strong {and badass!} but short enough that you could recover pretty quickly. The first half of the training program recommended running the quality runs at 6-8% incline and the second half bumped the incline up to 10-12%. 

There were two types of quality runs– the steady run and the modified Fartlek. The steady runs generally included a 20 minute warm-up {0% incline}, 20 minutes of steady uphill running {6-8% or 10-12%}, and a cool down {slowly decreasing the incline}. The modified Fartlek runs generally included a 20 minute warm-up {0% incline}, 20 minutes of Fartlek running {6-8% or 10-12%}, and a cool down {slowly decreasing the incline}. 

The Fartlek portion was broken down as follows:

Run 90 seconds fast, 90 seconds easy jog, 90 seconds fast, 90 seconds easy jog, 60 seconds fast, 60 seconds easy jog, 60 seconds fast, 60 seconds easy jog, 60 seconds fast, and 60 seconds easy jog. Run the remaining 6 minutes as well as you can. The modified Fartlek should be run with an effort such that you could do 10 more minutes if required.

I’m kind of OCD and tended to follow the same pattern the entire training cycle with how I increased my incline. For the quality runs I worked in blocks of 4 minutes {e.g. 4 min at 6%, 4 min at 6.5%, 4 min at 7%, 4 min at 7.5%, 4 min at 8%}. For the progressive uphill runs I worked in blocks of either 5 or 6 minutes where minutes 5 and 6 were walk breaks. 

Here’s a summary of the mid-week quality runs:

  • Week 1: 4.5 miles, 53 minutes, 6-8% incline. This was my “testing the waters” workout. I wasn’t sure exactly where I would fall with speed and my process for the workout. I did some weird stuff that would be confusing to write out 🙂 
  • Week 2: 4.5 miles, 55 minutes, 7-9% incline, 1,066 ft climb, steady uphill
  • Week 3: 4 miles, 49 minutes, 6-8% incline, 734 ft climb, modified uphill Fartlek
  • Week 4: 4 miles, 52 minutes, 10-12% incline, 1,053 ft climb, steady uphill
  • Week 5: 4.6 miles, 60 minutes, 10-12% incline, 1,226 ft climb, steady uphill
  • Week 6: 4 miles, 48 minutes, 6-8% incline, modified uphill Fartlek
  • Week 7: 4 miles, 49 minutes, 6-8% incline, 587 ft climb, modified uphill Fartlek 
  • Week 8: 4 miles, 51 minutes, 6-8% incline, 684 ft climb, steady uphill
  • Week 9: 4 miles, 50 minutes, 6-8% incline, 608 ft climb, steady uphill

Progressive Uphill Run
The progressive uphill run is the core of the Ascent training program. This run is intended to simulate, as close as possible, what Ascent day will be like. Simon recommends performing this run consistently on the same day of the week {preferably Saturday because the Ascent is on a Saturday} and at the same time of day. He recommends fueling the way you would on Ascent morning and during the race. And as you near the end of the training cycle, to also wear the clothes you anticipate wearing on Ascent day. The key message here is consistency.
The workout is called “progressive” because the percent grade and distance gradually increased over the 10 week training program. The pace for the progressive runs was intended to be comfortable.
For the first few weeks of the training program we modified these runs slightly. Simon started his program at 45-60 minutes which was significantly less than we wanted to start our training at. We modified these runs by taking the total time we planned to run, subtracting Simon’s recommended time {always the higher end}, running the difference outside, then finishing up with Simon’s recommended time on the treadmill at an incline.
As the weeks progressed our progressive uphill runs were done completely on the treadmill. This means we actually had to fuel while in the gym at the treadmills. People probably thought we were weirdos. By the time we were at 3+ hours on the treadmill I was eating a quarter square of PB&J every hour. I got a few awkward glances. Oh well 🙂
Here’s a summary of the progressive uphill runs:

  • Week 1: 14.73 miles, 2 hours 45 minutes total {135 minutes outside & 30 minutes treadmill}, treadmill incline 6-8%
  • Week 2:15.75 miles, 3 hours {110 minutes outside & 70 minutes treadmill}, treadmill incline 6-8%, 1,678 ft climb
  • Week 3: 17.98 miles, 3 hours 30 minutes total {80 minutes outside, 50 minutes elliptical, & 80 minutes treadmill}, treadmill incline 6-8%
  • Week 4: 19.73 miles, 4 hours {150 minutes outside & 90 minutes treadmill}, treadmill incline 10-12%, 2,801 ft climb
  • Week 5: Rest Week {I was out of town}
  • Week 6: 12.6 miles, 3 hours 45 minutes {all treadmill}, 10-12% incline, 7,138 ft climb
  • Week 7: Not able to do normal long run, so we broke it up into two back-to-back days. Friday– 5.1 miles, 90 minutes {treadmill}, 10-12% incline, 2,847 ft climb. Saturday– 11.8 miles, 135 minutes {trail run} 
  • Week 8: 13.45 miles, 4 hours {treadmill}, 10-12% incline, 7,656 ft climb
  • Week 9: Taper week! 5 miles, 90 minutes {treadmill}, 10-12% incline, 2,795 ft climb

Everything Else

The rest of the training days were pretty normal. Every week I rested, had shorter maintenance runs, did strength training or HIIT. There were some bike rides. I did some yoga. Lots of stretching and form rolling. 

Let’s Go!

Like I said at the beginning– it’s been a tough training cycle. But for a race like Pike’s Peak Ascent, there’s no winging it, at least for us flatlanders. We’ve put in the miles. We’ve put in the minutes. We’ve put in the elevation. 

Weeks 6 and 8 made me feel super confident for race day. I finished those progressive uphill runs feeling tired {as expected} but not “dead”. I felt that the distance covered and elevation gained was representative of what to expect race day. 

As we head into this final week I’d love any positive thoughts and vibes you want to send my way 🙂 And please, please, please– don’t bring up the altitude {see my expected reaction here}! 

Your turn! What are you training for right now? What is your favorite mantra for when things get tough? 

This post is linked up with #TheFitDish and Tuesday’s on the Run. Stop by and check ’em out 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s