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Want to run Pikes Peak? Experts offer training tips

March 20, 2008
photo - There is almost no downhill in the Pikes Peak Ascent, just varying degrees of up. Runners have to train to be ready for hours of steep climbing. Photo by (GAZETTE FILE PHOTOS)
There is almost no downhill in the Pikes Peak Ascent, just varying degrees of up. Runners have to train to be ready for hours of steep climbing. Photo by (GAZETTE FILE PHOTOS) 

"I started training for the race way too early. Next time, I'll put it off until July."

"I spent too much time getting used to the high altitude. What a waste."

"I ran the first part of the race too slowly, so I had too much energy at the top."

These are words you're unlikely to hear right after the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon. They are races, experts say, that reward preparation, practice and patience.

"You might be able to fake a 10K, but this race is too tough. You need to prepare," said Jim Freim, who co-authored "Training for the Ascent and Marathon on Pikes Peak" with race record-holder Matt Carpenter.

Runners of these races more often say things such as, "Wish I'd done more total mileage and more high-altitude mileage in the last four months," or "Did most of my training by myself, which made the workouts unnecessarily taxing," or "Found out the day of race that gel packs upset my stomach, had to stop a couple times."

If you're registered for the region's most popular races, you have five months to prepare for the 7,815-foot climb up 13 miles of steep, rocky trail on Pikes Peak - and for some, the run down.

Experts say making a smart Pikes Peak training plan now, with a mix of hill climbs and long runs, and sticking to a schedule can boost your chances of a successful race.

Use the following advice to make the best of your entry fee. If you didn't get into either race, these tips work for the other world-class Colorado trail runs.


The average Pikes Peak Ascent runner is 41.5 years old, has done the race before, and reaches the top in four hours, 25 minutes - a pace of about 3 mph. An overwhelming majority of racers hail from Colorado, with Kansas a distant second, followed closely by California.


Jim Freim, veteran Ascent runner, co-author of "Training for the Ascent and Marathon on Pikes Peak" with Matt Carpenter.

Killer workout: Show up for the Incline Club's Sunday runs. It's a great group of people of all abilities, so you're bound to find someone who is doing your pace.

Stick with training: Train with a group of friends. It's easy to skip when it's just you. When other people are meeting you, you're committed.

Peak advice: Ignore the mile splits runners in flatland races use to gauge their pace. Your pace will change dramatically throughout the race. Instead, use your breathing to measure effort. Try to keep it steady. Don't rev too high.

On race day: Ninety-nine percent of people go out too fast. You only have to do a 12-minute-per-mile pace to finish in the top 50. Start slow; people may pass you, but you'll pass them later.

Jack Daniels, head distance coach at the Center for High Altitude Training in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Killer workout: Once a week run a minute uphill, then rest a minute. Do this for 30 minutes. If you can do it on a trail, even better. The uneven surface will build different muscles and improve your balance.

Stick with training: Ease into your training slowly. A good rule of thumb is not to increase your running distance more than 10 percent per week. You should eventually try to work up to runs that last at least two hours, 30 minutes. It's better to train less and suffer a bit on race day than overtrain and hurt yourself so you're not able to compete.

Peak advice: If you can't run for long distances uphill, don't sweat it. Try building in regular rest intervals. For example, run three minutes and walk two. Try different ratios of running and walking in training to find what's right for you.

On race day: Take a small drink every few minutes to stay hydrated. It will increase your performance.

George Dallam, elite triathlete coach, professor of physiology at Colorado State University at Pueblo.

Killer workout: On the trail, practice running your goal pace or slightly faster for short periods of only a few minutes. This teaches your muscles to run faster without wearing you out.

Stick with training: Measure progress through a training log or GPS watch. If you can see improvements, you're more likely to keep working.

Peak advice: Get your body used to the altitude. Go up intermittently for three or four hours in the month leading up to the race. Do some light jogging on the trail so when you reach the top on race day your body isn't in shock.

On race day: Don't do anything in the race that you haven't perfected in training. Don't wear clothes or shoes you haven't worn on a long run. Don't eat anything you haven't eaten on a long run. This is no time for surprises. Lisa Rainsberger, personal trainer, winner of the Boston Marathon and owner of the local coaching Web site

Killer workout: Spend as much time on the mountain as possible. Schedule weekly Barr Trail runs or Incline workouts for leg strength. The rest of the week work on overall fitness.

Stick with training: Create a detailed training plan and organize your day so that you are able to devote time to train. There are training schedules you can download, or you can hire a coach.

Peak advice: Set a goal race time. You can change it if you need to, but for starters all your training will be based on that goal. (A good place to set a goal time is, which has average times and a pace calculator.)

On race day: Don't forget sunglasses and sunscreen.


Collegiate Peaks Trail Run - 25 or 50 miles May 3, Buena Vista
• A rolling course through the foothills up to 9,400 feet.

Mount Evans Ascent - 14.5 miles June 21, Idaho Springs
• Climb 4,000 vertical feet to the summit of 14,264-foot Mount Evans.

Leadville Trail Marathon July 5, Leadville
• A steady climb up old mining roads to 13,188-foot Mosquito Pass.

Vail HillClimb - 7.5 miles July 6, Vail
• Run 2,200 vertical feet from the base of Vail Mountain to the summit.

Summer Roundup - 7.4 miles July 6, Colorado Springs
• A great local race to test yourself for bigger things.

Barr Mountain Race July 13, Manitou Springs
• A preview of the Pikes Peak Ascent, running 3,630 vertical feet to Barr Camp and back.

Breck Crest Marathon - full and half Aug. 31, Breckenridge
• Run the crest of the scenic Tenmile Range with two passes over 12,000 feet and over 5,000 feet of climbing. Half marathon, too.

Creede Mountain Runs - 12 or 22 miles Aug. 30, Creede
• 1-719-658-1101

Imogene Pass Run - 17 miles Sept. 6, Ouray
• This classic trail run from Ouray to Telluride climbs 13,120-foot Imogene Pass.

Pony Express Run - 15 miles Sept. 20, Woodland Park
• Run around Rampart Reservoir.


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