Manitou Incline in Manitou, Colorado is an iconic piece of terrain in the Pikes Peak Region of southern Colorado. The first time you lay eyes on it from your first flight or drive into town you see this open scar or natural terrain like zipper that shoots straight into the sky, for almost a mile, along one of the hills leading up to Pikes Peak. You don’t think much of it, at first, as it could easily be power poles or a fire break for this area of Colorado. An ominous look to it from far away and even more intimidating up close you are naturally drawn to it and curious about it. However, once you hear the stories and tales about it and once you put it all together it becomes something you must see in person and you must try. Or at least that is how it all happened for me. Our office used to do it once a week for physical training. It wasn’t mandatory and really not many people went but when I got bit by the running bug I had to try it. I was probably living in Colorado Springs for almost a year before I went up it. Well it is fair to note six of those months I was over in France suffering and working so hard! So once I tried it the rumors, myths and the lore somewhat was resolved but actually grew into a love affair. So it began one summer day in 2013 me and Incline.
An early morning climb up the Incline thru the snow
I remember the first rumor or story I heard about the Incline and about how Olympian Apollo Ohno had ran up it in 18 minutes. This is a story that made me think it is either not that bad or he is really a freak of nature. However, the story is very true and there have been three super humans to make it up the Incline in sub 20 minutes. The other name you might know as Ultra Runner Matt Carpenter. Then you also hear the story of the people who have to be reduced off the Incline because of death or injury. The incline gets about 20,000+ people a month that attempt to defy odds and prove something deep down inside that they are capable of overcoming this mammoth. With that comes heart ache and heart break. Over the past three or four years there have been about 15 rescues each year and about 4 deaths. So while it is a challenge that can be overcome it poses great risk to some. However, it is this that makes it much more of a pursuit and a climb for some people. For myself it became a challenge of time and a test to see how hard and how far I could push myself to the edge. I don’t wear any fancy heart rate monitors but I know when my chest is about to explode I should slow my pace down. I should mix up my steps with a slight break or even a water stop. I didn’t get that way by mistake I learned the hard way. My first attempt up the Incline was a crush to my soul and spirit. It took me almost 50 minutes and I was close to the back of the pack in our office. I made a vow that day to get better one step or one day at a time. Since that first climb I have been up the Incline about 30 times. Each time the goal is simple; push yourself as much and far as you can but listen to your body and be smart. If I improve my time I do if not, I earned my climb regardless.
Top: Summiting with my Friends Dave (Winter 2016)
Charlie (Summer 2015 2 weeks before Leadville 100)
So unlike any typical love affair you have periods where you cannot get enough of each other and then you have periods of never wanting to see each other. Over the past two years I have used this to my advantage and improved my training for the Leadville 100 Trail Race (LT100). The LT100 is one of the most iconic trail races in the USA and the second oldest 100-mile race behind Western States. Ken Chlouber started the race back in the 80’s to help a depressed town recover from a loss in the mining industry. Since then it has grown and grown to become a true legend. With an average altitude over 10,000 feet and 11,000 feet of climbing and declining you really have to be tuned into the mountains. So if the incline is my love affair and helps me get ready for the LT100 I guess you could say the LT100 is my mistress in the night. Please don’t tell her though she might crush me on the climb next time. So with developing my training plan I wanted to do the Incline once a week but unfortunately it hasn’t happened. I loved it when the Incline was wide open for start times but now you are only able to start at 6am which makes it brought for getting up and down and then to work showered up properly. Regardless I have tried to fit the Incline in at least twice a month while I have been getting my body ready for LT100 and Hopes Pass, the 13,000 foot climb you do twice in the LT100. With any good love affair though I keep coming back.
A view of the incline from a trail across the valley (2015)
Another glorious finishing selfie (2014)
So as I continue to evolve as a runner and grow personally and professionally I like to keep things in my pocket that I know and use them for training and for building upon myself. The Incline is one of those pieces that helps me stay grounded and helps me develop. No matter how good of shape you are in about fifteen feet up the climb you are gasping for air and having to rethink how to breath and trying to pull some yoga tricks out of your hat. Regardless it is that feeling I crave. Knowing you are being broken down only to build yourself up all the way up the almost mile climb. Then when you get to the top and you stop and look back you can smile and enjoy the beauty in what you just did and the beauty in all that surrounds you. if you are ever in Colorado Springs and you need someone to go up the incline with you, I am game!
Push yourself and let the trail come to you!