A bit of background on who I am before we get into the race recap. My name is Tucker Saye, I’m 29 years old, and I live in Loveland, Colorado. From the age of 10 to 25 racing motocross was my passion. I dreamed of racing against the best in the world and for years that was my sole focus. Everything I did was to benefit that end goal. I never considered myself a runner, in fact I never ran more that 4 or 5 miles in a single day until last year. In 2014, after racing at the professional level for five years and reaching every goal I had set for myself, I decided to step away from motocross as a career and pursue other life goals. A year after I made that decision I was living in San Diego and working, racing on weekends purely for enjoyment. On Memorial Day weekend in 2015 I went out for morning practice at an exhibition race, a fun 4 lap event at the pro national with nothing on the line but a good time. Shortly after getting on the track I made a mistake, overshot a jump, and landed with force that I had never, and have not since experienced. To keep this brief, I broke both of my heels and may humorous in the crash and spent the next 2 months in a wheelchair. I remained positive and immensely grateful my injuries were not worse, but that day changed my life.
Anytime I have ever been injured before my first thought was when can I get back on the bike? How long will it be before I can ride again? But this time was different. All I wanted to do was run. I’m not sure why, maybe because my basic ability to walk and be on my feet that I had taken for granted for so long was now gone? I knew that I would walk again, so why did running suddenly seem so important? Regardless of the answer I set a goal to run a race once I was back on my feet, something I thought would happen within a couple months. That process proved a lot more difficult. 2 months later I was walking, but barely. The bones were healed but there was substantial soft tissue damage in both of my ankles. I kept going to physical therapy but the process was slow. A year later I still had trouble walking and couldn’t run without pain.
I was living with it but I knew things could be better. This brings me to last year, 2018. 3 years since my injury and I was still having pain anytime I laced up my running shoes, and getting out of bed every morning was much worse. I knew this was as good as it was going to get unless I made some changes. I decided to sign up for a trail marathon. I figured if I could suffer through the 4-month training program and finish the race, I would be able to enjoy the occasional 5k or evening jog. Logical, right? I signed up, completed the training, and finished the race 4 months later. None of it was very pretty, and there were days when I questioned everything from the decision to the execution. But I stuck with it and got through it. I had moments that were good, but most of the training I dreaded and was the happiest when it was finished. Another funny thing happened though, after I finished the race all I wanted to do was keep running. Four months of training and all I thought about was what I was going to do when it was over, but now all I wanted to do was keep going. My plan had worked and my ankles felt better than ever. Sure, I still have my days when they hurt, and mornings are not what they were before the injury. But I can do a 15-mile training run and continue with my day instead of being glued to the couch and the ice pack for the next 2 days. I got everything I was hoping for when I signed up for that race in 2018, but now I was addicted.
Fast forward to this year and I still don’t consider myself a very competitive runner, a very competent runner, or a very experienced runner. I didn’t run track or cross country in high school, and I never ran for fun aside from sprints and the occasional run that I used for motocross training. I’ve owned more pairs of running shoes in the past year than in the 28 years prior. So, when I signed up for the Pikes Peak Marathon it is safe to say I was intimidated, but that was the point.
The race starts at 6,300ft elevation in Manitou Springs and climbs to 14,115ft at the summit of Pikes peak for the half way point. Runners then turn around and backtrack down the trail to the finish in Manitou. The first and last mile are on the road, but the rest of the race is on single track trail. A total elevation gain of 7,815ft combined with very thin air up high and hot August temperatures down low make this race one of the toughest marathons out there. My finishing time from the 2018 race was just fast enough to pass as a qualifier, so I signed up for the challenge in January to see if I could handle it and how far I could push myself.
Training went exceptionally well for the 9 months leading up to the race. I completed another race at the Leadville Trail marathon, all above 10,200ft. I focused on climbing and descending at high altitude, and I mixed in heat training down low as the summer got hotter. I also practiced nutrition and hydration more than ever before as that was my biggest downfall in my first event. Except for a couple weeks with a mild hamstring injury I stayed healthy and came into race weekend feeling like I did everything I could to prepare. Mentally I no longer questioned my ability to finish the race, so I was looking forward to putting my best foot forward and pushing my limits to see what I was capable of. I didn’t set a time goal, just to run a smart race and execute to the best of my abilities on that given day.
With a high temperature on race day of 95 degrees I knew the finish would be tough, but the morning was perfect for the 7am start. Because of my qualifying race time I was seeded 887thout of the close to 1000 runners signed up to compete. The elite group consisting of the top 200 would start at 7am, then 100 runners would start every minute following based on their bib number. I would start at 7:08am with my qualifying group. I knew with my training I would be faster than that seed time, so I lined up at the front of my group and went out faster than normal to make up as much ground as I could in the beginning.
The first 1.5 miles is open road through town that climbs up towards the base of the mountain. I settled into a comfortably hard pace and focused on passing as many runners as I could before we funneled into the single-track trail and started climbing. When we hit dirt, I looked around and noticed most of the runners around me had bibs in the 500s, so I was happy with that progress as that was the area I felt I could finish. As we started the first big climb I settled into a run/hike pace with the other runners around me. A couple older guys just in front had a solid pace and were making good passes when the opportunities presented themselves, so I did my best to stay on their heels and follow past when I could. We made steady progress up to No Name Creek (8,800ft) at mile 4.3. I was better at that aid station than the other guys and was able to pass them as well. Heading up from there are a couple of miles that are more runnable. A lot of people were still hiking, but I knew I needed to take advantage of the flatter trails and the oxygen before we got to high, so I continued to push and run more than my body wanted to. I was surprised at how many people I was still passing, but continued to move forward since my heart rate was still at a manageable level. Soon after I hit Barr Camp (10,200) aid station at mile 7.6 the trail became a lot more technical and hiking took over as the majority. I was still able to run small segments and make passes until A-frame aid station located at Treeline (11,950ft) 10.2 miles from the start. From there it was all I could do to keep up a good hiking pace. By this point the lead runners had already hit the summit and were on the return trip. Race etiquette states that climbers must yield to downhill runners, so progress started to get slower as the pack condensed higher up. The next 3 miles seemed to take forever. Since we were above tree line we could see the summit and it seemed to stay just out of reach. The higher we went the tighter the pack got and the more runners we had to move over for that were heading back down. It was a bit frustrating to be held back by the pack and not my own pace, but I kept reminding myself that we weren’t even half way yet and this would help me conserve energy for the final miles. I also used the PNG gel I had brought since it is one of the only gel products that my stomach will tolerate when I get up into the higher elevations. Finally, after what seemed like forever I reached the summit in a time just over 4 hours. My family was there which gave me a boost of energy as I refilled my bottles at the aid station.
Without spending much time other than a quick hello and a glance at the stunning views I headed back down the mountain. Going was still slow with all the other runners on trial, but it was much easier to be on the descending end. I did my best to hold a steady pace but as the pack started to clear out I started having a shooting pain from my right ankle. A familiar pain, it is the same one that I have when I start a recovery run after a long run the day before. I slowed down and did my best to manage the pain, hoping it would improve as time went on. Thankfully it did and about 2 miles down from the summit I could relax and settle into a solid descending pace. About a mile later I reached Teeline and noticed I was suddenly alone on the trail. The back of the pack was above me still climbing, and there was not another runner in sight in either direction. I welcomed the silence and checked my watch, 9 miles to go. I also began to realize that all the congestion and other runners had been a distraction to how tired I was. Now it was just me and my thoughts for the remaining miles. I checked in with myself and realized that other than overall fatigue I was feeling good. I didn’t have any cramping, I wasn’t low on energy, and nothing felt better or worse than anything else. I also started to catch glimpses of a few runner up ahead and set my sights on catching them. Slowly I started to reel them in one at a time, passing a couple runners per mile for the next few miles. It also started to get noticeably hotter with each passing step. By the time I hit No Name Creek aid station with 4 miles to go it was everything I could do to stay on top of my hydration and stay cool. I would pour my bottles on my head at each stop before refilling them, and I settled into a bit more of a conservative pace. I also switched my nutrition to strictly PNG gels and stopped using aid station snacks since it is the easiest to digest in the later stages and the heat. My progress slowed as well and I wasn’t catching anyone like before, but I knew if I didn’t ease up in the heat I may start losing positions I had already made up after already being out for 5+ hours. The last few miles clicked off even slower than those approaching the summit. They are exposed to the sun, so the heat was its toughest all day. I had a few rocks in my shoes that were causing some pain, but I was so close I decided to just block it out instead of stopping to remove them. With a mile to go I hit the road section and mentally I was done. All I wanted to do was to stop and walk. My legs, back, and even my arms were screaming at me to slow down. Just then I came around a corner and saw a lady watering her garden. She looked up and asked if I wanted to be sprayed, perfect timing. That cold water gave me everything I needed to push a little farther. Time moved faster and faster as I got closer to the finish line. Spectators became more and more dense, and the cheers louder and louder. All the energy a tired runner could ask for was there for the taking and they pulled me in.
I crossed the line completely exhausted in 6:33:38, good enough for 189thoverall. I was amazed at the number of runners I passed, especially with the difficulty of the course and my lack of experience. I finished feeling like I did everything I could and didn’t make any major mistakes, a huge win in my book. Over the course of the race there were runners dealing with altitude sickness, injuries from falling, cramping, and bonking from nutrition or hydration mistakes. I was thankful that I had avoided any of those issues yet still finished with nothing left in the tank. My only lasting issues a large blister on my heel from the rocks I decided not to remove. But that didn’t matter anymore and I went straight to the creek nearby to finally sit down.
Now a few days later I am more sore than I have ever been, but in a good way. My ankles are sore, but not any more so than my back or my legs. In a way, this feels like the end of dealing with my injury, but also the beginning of a new athletic obsession. I already have my sights set on the ultra-distance races, and have plans to run a 100-mile race in August next year. I have a lot to learn about training, hydrating, and nutrition. But I am happy to know that I have found a good resource in Pinnacle Nutrition Group. Their product has been my go-to during the toughest portions of the race, because I know it keeps my stomach happy and my energy levels consistent.
Thanks for reading
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