A Beginning Runner’s Look at the Pikes Peak Marathon (Not that You Will Run it Yet!)
You know what they say: stick a mountain somewhere and people will be wild enough to want to run up it!
OK, maybe nobody really actually says that, but the runners of the annual Pikes Peak Marathon and Ascent prove our point.
A “standard” marathon is no insignificant feat in itself, but running Pikes Peak is particularly challenging. To even be eligible for these events, you must have proven yourself on the course in the past, or have completed another qualifying event—and even then, you may be classified a “rookie!”
In other words, this is not a race for beginners, and just having run a marathon in the past doesn’t mean you’re anywhere near ready for this one! While a typical “flat” marathon course tends to have winning times a little over 2 hours long, the record for Pikes Peak currently stands at 3:16:39.
That said, aspiring toward such a goal is quite noble, and there’s never any harm in discussing how the particular challenges of Pikes Peak apply to your feet and ankles—and how best to keep them safe. These tips can even be helpful when you strike out upon other events!
So are you ready to go on a fun, fact-finding climb? Let’s go!
The only time you might hear the word “flat” regarding the Pike’s Peak Marathon is when someone says they’re flat-out exhausted!
From the starting line at Manitou Springs City hall to the summit of Pike’s Peak, there is an elevation change of 7,815 feet. That’s nearly 1.5 miles, and almost none of it is even. The average grade is 11%, so your feet will be hitting the course at a number of different angles!
Taking on hills is certainly a challenge to feet, but many people only consider the risks going upward. Don’t forget that the marathon involves turning around and going back down—and this can be just as punishing on your feet and ankles!
Let’s start with going uphill. A beginning instinct is to “lean into” a hill to surmount it, leaning forward at the waist. But this is a form is not correct.
Leaning this way will put more stress on your calves, which can translate to more stress on your Achilles tendon and heel bone. It also restricts your ability to use your knees and provide a healthy push off the ground with your toes.
Instead, stand tall and think of running more as you would on flat land, perpendicular to the ground. This will result in a slight lean forward, which is perfectly fine. This even includes the “16 Golden Stairs” switchbacks near the top.
Now, how about downhill running? As you might surmise, it has the opposite problem of uphill running: leaning too far backward.
Leaning back is an instinct for slowing down on a hill, and you tend to be hitting the ground with your heel in this form. Doing it too much can be very hard on your shins and joints.
This can be challenging, and take some getting used to, but try to keep a perpendicular stance downhill just as you should going uphill. Instead of shifting your balance to adjust, shift your cadence or slightly lengthen your stride instead.
With some confidence, you can take advantage of gravity and increase your downhill speed while still maintaining control. Just don’t start leaning forward, or you risk a tumble!
Hills—up and down—can feel like they may be dangerous shredders to your feet and ankles, but a safe, gradual introduction of them into a running routine makes them something you have to worry little about.
Starting in town and going up peak, you would wisely expect your feet to be hitting different surfaces along the way.
You can expect to go from asphalt, to a mix of dirt and loose gravel, to a few sections of broken rock. And what’s underfoot can matter when taking your approach.
If you are used to running on only one type of surface, you will quickly find that hitting another works your leg muscles in a different way. This can lead to hurt feet, shins, knees, or hips if you push yourself hard without preparation.
Gravel trails, as opposed to asphalt, are better at absorbing forces and reducing impact against your feet. This is a good thing! However, they also force your lower leg muscles to activate in a stabilizing fashion as well, which could lead to pain if you have not acclimated yourself to doing so.
The Pikes Peak trails are well kept, and there’s almost no danger of falling off them, but it would be foolish not to have trained on all different types of running surfaces before taking it on. And even if you primarily stick to paved trails yourself, throwing a softer trail run into the mix once a week will do wonders for your endurance.
Lightning storms sometimes sprout higher up the peak, even if you don’t suspect them to. We don’t have any foot care tips for this; we just thought you should know.
Luckily, weather spotters provide up-to-the-minute checks on conditions so runners can stay safe! Although there’s that one time a woman’s shoes got fried by a near-miss (she was fine!).
When You Can Face Anything, Be Ready for Everything
The Pikes Peak Marathon and Ascent both throw higher challenges to runners than average races, but every run has its own unique qualities to take into consideration.
Likewise, every runner has their own style and needs that can affect their best ways to train and prepare for running, too!
Whether you are just starting out on the trails or a seasoned pro notching up races, foot and ankle problems can put a hamper in your goals. At McVay Foot & Ankle, we not only want to help you when these problems arise, but provide preventative care and advice to help keep them from developing in the first place!
Contact our Colorado Springs office at (719) 266-5000 or use our online contact form to request an appointment.
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