Morning beams of laser sunlight ignite the tips of the massive rock spires in the Garden of the Gods, setting each ablaze like so many birthday candles. The rock faces reflect the light onto a landscape that has attracted people for thousands of years.
It’s a dramatic scene that local runners know well—especially those taking part in the Garden of the Gods 10 Mile Run & 10K. For them, the grounds are hallowed, home to arguably the most beautiful running race in the country, a place to build tough legs, and a tougher spirit.
It’s that kind of event.
And while the 10-miler and the 10K are doable by any reasonably fit athlete, race veterans will tell you to be prepared. The Garden can dish out some pain. Of course, that’s the way they like it. And they love to spread the pain around. But fear not—it’s a good pain.
With the 41st Garden 10 set for June 11, three runners experienced at negotiating that challenging landscape provided some insider info on preparing for this iconic road race.
“Hills, hills, hills,” says David Mulligan, 56, fresh off a training run on the 10-mile course. “There is no substitute for all the hills you’re going to hit in the Garden.”
But how to prepare? And what is the mental game plan for a tougher race? The runners say there is always time to squeeze in a couple of good hill workouts. But don’t be too aggressive if you’re new to runs with lots of up and down.
“Ideally, you would do hill repeats,” Mulligan says “I try to get in a rhythm, find that metronome in your head, to get the legs going.”
Richard Park, 64, has 12 finishes in the Garden of the Gods. He says the best training is running in the Garden. The course curls its way from the east entrance, near the Garden of the Gods Visitor Center, to Balanced Rock. It then doubles back on itself to end in Rock Ledge Ranch.
Park agrees that hills are the challenge. He says a training run or two on any of the park roads will prove beneficial. But he warns that training for the downhill portions is also important.
“The downhills take a toll, the pounding of the quads,” he says. “Good tempo runs—race pace or close to it—help to get you used to running fast downhill.”
Park runs about 60 miles a week, but he’ll cut his mileage to 15 or less during the week before the race. “And a lot of that is real easy running or power hiking. I just try to keep the legs moving.”
Danielle Spivey, 47, had never run farther than 5K when she signed up for her first Garden of the Gods 10 Mile Run. “My first impression … it was hard,” she says. “But I was hooked. It’s my favorite run.”
She says there is no better way to train for the Garden of the Gods races than to lace ‘em up and run there.
“I think the key is running in the Garden over and over again,” she says.
And when the grind becomes difficult, Spivey allows her imagination to play among the rocks.
“I always look for patterns in the rocks, animals or people’s faces,” she says.
Ready to Go for a Run?
Weekly Group Runs
The Pikes Peak Road Runners meet at 6 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday through June 8 in the Garden of the Gods. The run starts at the main parking lot on the north side of the park, about a mile from the east entrance on 30th Street. The runs generally last about an hour and all are welcome.
“The Tuesday and Thursday runs are probably the best thing going,” Mulligan says. “Groups keep you honest. They get you out the door and motivate you. And it’s always good to run with people who are a little faster than you.”
Race Dress Rehearsal
The Road Runners will also hold a dress rehearsal on Saturday, May 27, with runners completing the 10-mile and 10K courses. Meet at the Garden of the Gods Visitor Center, 1805 N. 30th Street, at 6:30 a.m. For more information, check out pprrun.org/garden-training-runs.
Garden Run Fest
The finish in Rock Ledge Ranch promises to be fun for all as the course twists among the barns and farm animals. Runners will cross the finish line in the middle of the first Garden Run Fest, with live music, beer, and plenty of food and activities for kids and adults.
Run the Race
Find all the details and registration for the Garden of the Gods 10-Miler and 10K at gardentenmile.com.
Note: Author Tim Bergsten is serving as race director for this year’s Garden of the Gods 10 Mile Run & 10K.