Barr Trail Run

Yesterday I made it down to Manitou Springs to meet with the Incline Club, a self-professed “group of nuts who meet most of the year for Sunday long runs on and around Pikes Peak.” I was lucky to meet up with Mike and James, who weren’t running the scheduled “Double” with the group, they were ‘just’ doing the Barr Trail run. I decided to tag along.

Mike has run the Pikes Peak Marathon or Ascent for the past 10 years, whereas James was training for his first ascent. I said I was planning on the marathon, but was a wee bit worried about my target time: 5hrs. Mike was gracious, though, and asked what my marathon time was.

Pikes Peak is considered by many to be one of the toughest marathons in the country. The formula Mike shared with me is that you add about a half hour to your marathon time.. to get your time for the ascent! Then add about 2/3rds of that for the entire race. So he was kind to say that if I hit the summit at 3:30 – 4 hrs, and took another 2-2:30 to come back down, I could possibly expect to finish in about 6 hours. Even with this logic, I still think he was being kind!

Pikes Peak Marathon Finish Times - from

So the secret of trail running? It appears to be NOT to run! We did a fair amount of walking. But when you’re at 8000ft and headed up an aggressive incline, even walking elevates the heartrate and leaves you gasping for air.

Heading up with Mike and James was fun, as Mike played tour guide. He showed us where the Incline met the trail we were on, and we stood a moment watching folks heading up. Evidently a decent workout is to climb the incline to the point where it intersects the Barr Trail (the one we were on), then head down the BT.



I hadn’t paid too much attention to the descriptions of the marathon course, so I didn’t even really realize we were doing much of the first part of the course. Today we ran as far as Barr Camp on Matt Carpenter’s Course description (we also started a bit further away from the start of the race).

As we ran, it was Mike first, then me, then James. James just ran a race yesterday, and he mentioned some problems with shinsplints. I did my best to keep up with Mike, which made me feel pretty good. It was funny that we would get to undulating parts of the trail, and he would announce “this is flat – we should run”.

Barr CampI forgot to stop my watch a few times when we’d slow to wait for James, and we arrived at Barr Camp in 2:03 (distance: 7.77miles). We went into the Camp, which is manned by Neal and Teresa. They showed James and I around the camp, where they have visitors stay overnight almost every day of the year. They had rocks warming on the stove for us to warm our hands, and a little canteen selling various supplies. Mike had brought money for a snickers bar – yum! After perhaps a half hour visiting, we set on back down the trail.

Mike bounded down the familiar trails, and I followed not too far behind. James was taking it easy, a bit sore from the day before. We waited for him at the 7.8 sign, where Mike told us that it had taken us 29 minutes from that point up to Barr Camp, and only 14 (or 16, I don’t quite remember) down! We barrelled down the trails, and I felt pretty comfortable other than the patches of snow that still littered the trails in some places. My legs were holding up quite well as we bounded down the trail. I smiled to think of my last name and wonder if I was pre-disposed to do this sort of thing.

At one point Mike really pulled away from me and was tearing down the trail. Then I saw him do an awkward pitch forward a bit and catch himself. I shouted out “good recovery” and then pulled up to see him hopping on one foot; he’d twisted his ankle. He grimaced and tied his shoe tighter. There was nothing to do but keep heading back down. He said he’d just half to walk/run it off, and soon enough he wasn’t even favoring his ankle as he continued the flight down the mountain. I lost track of him, and wondered how fast he’d be going if he weren’t hurt!

The trail is pretty straight-forward; there is one turn on the way down. By the time I arrived at it; Mike was out of site. I asked another runner if he knew which way to go, and he pointed to the switchback and said that was the way to the parking lot. I headed in that direction, only to find myself NOT at the point we’d entered the trail. Whoops! I didn’t particularly feel like going back to that point, so I simply headed back to the car: we’d parked a bit over a mile away at the park.

As I ran down the sidewalk on the homestretch, my legs kicked into “road runner” mode. I didn’t feel like I was trying particularly hard, and glanced at my watch: a 7:05 pace! As I neared the park I realized that my wrong turn on the trail had made the run short, so I decided to stop my watch when it hit an even 15 miles. My last full mile was a strong 7:36mm.

I arrived at the park and did some light stretching. My watch said 3:33, but I knew that was with the half hour break we took at the camp. Reviewing my Garmin stats at home, as far as I can tell our entire run time (well, run and gawk a bit) was just shy of 3 hours: let’s say 2:58. So yes, 2:03 for 7.75 miles up, 55 minutes for 7.25 miles down. Hmmm…

I think any 3 hour run is a good one, particularly when you consider there was 5714 ft elevation gain in half that distance! It was a gorgeous run, one of those that just makes you thankful that running is your sport.

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