Go Big on Pikes Peak With 3 Bucket List Challenges

Expert tips for setting a new personal record or simply checking off the bucket list.

There’s a good chance you have at least one of these three definitive Colorado Springs challenges on your active outdoor bucket list: the Manitou Incline, the Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb and the Pikes Peak Ascent. After all, if you want to go big, go uphill. And everything begins at the base of America’s Mountain. We caught up with three of the best local athletes to get their insider information, so you can crush it—or simply survive.

Manitou Incline

Bragging Rights: One of the most famous workouts in the country delivers 2,000 feet of elevation gain in about one mile.

The Expert: Roger Austin completed a staggering, record-breaking 1,719 Incline ascents in 2015.

Pro Tips: “I think a lot of folks who go the first time try to go too fast,” he says. “It’s more fun if you take your time, talk with people there and enjoy yourself.”

  • Hike in the morning before midday sun makes for a miserable slog. Bring plenty of water. Austin says a full liter is preferable.
  • Bring a snack. A climb to the Incline’s summit and back takes two hours or longer for most hikers.
  • A good pair of trail-running shoes is perfect for summer hikes. Hiking boots are fine, but the added weight can be burdensome.

Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb

Bragging Rights: Pedal 4,700 vertical feet to reach the thin air at 14,115 on the same course as the national championship. The Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb includes a race, but most mosey along and enjoy the views. Aug. 13, coloradospringssports.org

The Expert: Pro cyclist LeRoy Popowski has multiple victories on the peak.

Pro Tips: “It’s important to stay within yourself,” Popowski says. “Whether you’re using a power meter or a heart rate monitor, it’s good to know where your zones are.”

  • Even in the summer, Pikes Peak can produce face-numbing windchill. Bring two layers of long sleeves, an outer shell, gloves and leg warmers. Event organizers will transport extra clothes to the summit, which you’ll want for the ride down. “I’ve always shivered on the way down,” Popowski says. And he wears a thermal jacket on the descent.
  • Begin hydrating days in advance. Good hydration can help minimize the dizzying effects of thin air, and lead to more power to the pedals when it counts.
  • High winds can be a problem. Leave the deep carbon wheels at home. Ride something with minimal profile. “I’ve ridden the center line and nearly been blown off the road,” Popowski says.

Pikes Peak Ascent

Bragging Rights: The mountain-running classic gains 8,000 feet over 13.32 miles. This year’s is full, but it’s never too late to start training. Aug. 20, pikespeakmarathon.org

The Expert: Simon Gutierrez is a three-time winner of the Ascent.

Pro Tips: You can’t defeat the mountain’s altitude. “The harder you fight it, the more it’s going to fight back,” Gutierrez says.

  • Increase your aerobic endurance, and prepare for an uphill grind at an average grade of 12 percent. Replicate the effort on a treadmill if need be.
  • Run at altitude, or climb some 14ers. Gutierrez runs the entire Pikes Peak course once a week for six weeks prior to the ascent.
  • “You should feel well within yourself over the first half of the race,” Gutierrez says. And there is no shame in hiking. The best runners in the world often walk above timberline.

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