This story has been archived from the Tuesday, August 19, 2008, News-Sentinel - Fort Wayne, Indiana

He reaches summit, makes it down too

Local runner: Pikes Peak Marathon “just incredible.”

By Brett Hess For The News-Sentinel

Like many new runners, Fort Wayne’s Todd Sullivan quickly wanted to tackle the marathon. And, again, like many first-time marathoners, he was “addicted” and had to do another. But that is where Sullivan’s path as a marathoner veers off course.

“I was looking at this book about marathons, and I saw the Pikes Peak Marathon,” Sullivan said. “And right away I knew I had to do it. I just had to.”

This was 10 years ago. On Sunday, Sullivan finally accomplished his goal of running in, and most importantly, completing, the Pikes Peak Marathon.

“It was a dream come true,” Sullivan said by phone from Manitou Springs, Colo., on Sunday evening. “It was everything I hoped for. It was just incredible.” Sullivan finished in a respectable 7 hours, 31 minutes, 34 seconds. He was 349th out of 631 runners.

Before we get to Sullivan’s training, there is an aspect to the Pikes Peak that a runner cannot prepare for, especially a runner from Indiana. It is blizzard-like conditions in mid-August. Again, Sullivan’s philosophy is certainly along the road less traveled.

“I wanted the full experience,” Sullivan said. “I secretly hoped for terrible weather, something crazy.”

Sullivan got it in the form of a snowstorm near the summit, which is 14,115 feet above sea level. In fact, it was almost too “crazy” and he was worried that runners would be forced to turn back before reaching the summit.

“I haven’t run in 30-degree weather in a long time,” Sullivan said, referring to temperatures near the summit.

From 60 degrees and pleasant at Manitou Springs, Sullivan and the rest of the field methodically paced their way through the first 10 miles, carrying them to 12,000 feet above sea level. At that point, the 34-year-old physical therapist was thankful for his training.

“I did hill workouts on the treadmill at 12 percent grade,” Sullivan said. “I started with 2-mile runs and added a mile a week. My hardest workout was 11 miles at 12 percent, and then I went straight outside for another 11 miles.”

Sullivan even did incline workouts with up to six pounds on his back.

But none of this really prepared him for the last two-plus miles of the ascent. Runners gain 2,000 feet in altitude in that part, and, yes, Sullivan’s legs were tired. But that wasn’t the issue.

“Once you get above the tree line, or 10-12,000 feet, the air is so thin. My lungs were burning. I got dizzy, light-headed. I got a real headache,” Sullivan said. “I had to keep my head down and keep moving. If I stopped and looked up, I thought I’d pass out.”

Tired and dizzy is no way to navigate the rocky terrain, which was covered in three inches of snow. Sullivan estimates it took him 30 minutes to complete the final uphill mile.

It wasn’t until after getting below the tree line, around 10,000 feet, that Sullivan knew he was home free.

“The more I came down, the better I felt,” Sullivan said. “When I finished, I wasn’t that fried. It’s like a lot of marathons in that when you finish, you just feel like you accomplished something great. You set a goal, work at it and then accomplish it.”

Quote line:
“This redefined running. When it’s flat, you worry about pace, tempo. But a lot of this was just speed walking, really.”

- Fort Wayne’s Todd Sullivan, who completed the Pikes Peak Marathon on Sunday.

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