Aaron Pike races in the marathon at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. (Photo: Getty Images)
In May, Aaron Pike noticed other wheelchair racers as he made his way onto the track prior to a race in Mesa, Arizona.
Like the other racers, Pike wanted to do laps around the track to warm up before his race. However, he soon realized he was older than many of the other athletes on the track with him.
He had celebrated his 36th birthday only a couple weeks earlier.
“All of a sudden, each (racer) keeps jumping off the track, one by one,” Pike said. “I’m like the last one on there, and I’m doing like three more miles after they’ve gotten off just to get to the point where I feel I’m more warmed up and better.”
After competing in six consecutive Summer and Winter Paralympics since 2012, Pike knows how to take care of his body so he can handle the grind of racing throughout the year.
The native of Park Rapids, Minnesota, has made adjustments to his training plan and sleep schedule, allowing him to compete in track and field in the summer and Nordic skiing in the winter.
While Pike has always been good at watching his diet, he said he now gets more sleep and needs more time to warm up than when he was younger. He also isn’t afraid to take a day off from training if necessary.
“I can usually tell early on in a workout if whatever is prescribed is going to be something that’s going to put me in a hole or if it’s something that’s going to be productive. I can identify that,” Pike said.
“Or if it says there’s six or seven sets (for a workout) and I get to five sets and I have a really good understanding that that was enough for today, the coaches are pretty respectful of my knowledge of that. They take my word for it.”
Pike trains for track and field in Champaign, Illinois, where he lives with his longtime girlfriend, 17-time Paralympic medalist Oksana Masters. When he’s there, he usually practices six days a week, from Monday through Saturday.
Sunday is always his day off.
“But if you show up to practice and there’s like something prescribed and you’re just really tired, then that’s going to be a day I’ll just back off,” Pike said. “I might jump in with a group that I normally wouldn’t be with and go with a slower group.”
In the winter, he transitions from track and field to Nordic skiing.
Pike said he tries to spend as much time as possible on snow if he’s at a training camp with U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing in a foreign country, such as Slovenia. In those instances, he could train 7-8 days in a row and then get 2-3 consecutive days off.
Over the years, Pike has gotten better at taking time to rest.
“I’m really good at going to bed early now because I can see the benefits,” Pike said. “I’m not a guy who can run on like six or seven hours of sleep. I need a solid eight hours of sleep.”
Pike said wheelchair racing is like cycling in that athletes can cover a lot of miles without getting as tired as they might running. Still, the mental toll of competing in races can affect him over time.
Pike recently wrapped up a particularly grueling stretch. He raced last summer at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 and then again six months later at the Winter Paralympic Games Beijing 2022.
As if that weren’t enough, he decided to take part in a three-marathon challenge in October 2021. He pushed his body and mind to the limits while traveling across the globe to complete all three races over a nine-day stretch.
Fresh off competing in Tokyo, Pike raced in the London Marathon on Oct. 3 and then flew back to the United States in time to compete in the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 10 and the Boston Marathon the next morning.
“That was all new to me,” Pike said. “That was something that had never happened before, so that was just taking the challenge for what it was, especially the two (marathons) in there when they were back-to-back.
“And I was just kind of taking a risk and just seeing what I can handle, but I just also knew I was in the same boat as a bunch of other racers out there. That was kind of a one-off.”
After all that, Pike said he decided to not enter as many track and field races this season. He’s skipping several races that he has entered in the past.
“I would just rather be at home because of how much this past year has been. Not traveling, just relax (and) skip the competitions,” he said. “I’m still at the point where I could do a full race schedule, and I’d be fine. I’m still recovering really well from what I’ve seen so far.”