Pikes Peak is literally a thing of beauty. People have been inspired by this massive 14er for hundreds of years. One of the great ascents took place in 1893. Among its climbers that year was one Katharine Lee Bates. For those that didn’t know, the summit of Pikes Peak helped form the voluptuous verse we know as “America the Beautiful.” For a particularly spectacular mountain running venue like Pikes Peak, certainly God shed His grace on thee. Let’s get ready to rumble.
The Ascent starts Saturday at 7:00am (mountain standard time), and the Marathon the following day sets its runners free at 7:00am, as well. 2011 marks the 56th running of America’s Ultimate Challenge (Question: what is the races’ moniker?). Please visit the website or Matt Carpenter’s website for much more information about this anthem of American mountain running.
Inside Trail, like so many thousands of runners and running fans (and artists and poets alike), can’t wait for these races to get underway. There is a lot of anticipation surrounding the Ascent, which is actually the 5th race of the Sky Runner Worlds Series (hopefully you enjoyed our coverage of the 4th race that took place in the Swiss Alps last weekend, between the towns of Sierre and Zinal). So staying with our theme of great mountain racing, who do we see out front, hoping to claim this prestigious win? The race website is quite helpful with these types of race projections (try this link).
Thank goodness we waited to publish this race preview since we have just learned (from the link above) that along with the kind of Ascent depth that includes Mario Macias, Rickey Gates, Tommy Manning, Josh Eberly, Xavier Martinez, Chris Seimers, Peter Maksimow, Max King, Jordi Ginesta, Jason Delaney, Scott Gall, Alex Nichols, and Simon Gutierrez, we can happily add to that the defending Ascent champ Glenn Randall who is fresh off of a gemstone 8th at Sierre-Zinal. This is incredible news. With that addition, Inside Trail loves Macias (coming off of a 62 minute half marathon just last weekend, according to George Zack) to do furious battle with the steep-ascent-ready Randall. No question the field is loaded, but King’s lingering cold from last week and the sense that anyone of those favorites like Gates or Manning probably has to run considerable PRs, it’s safe to assume Macias’ Mt. Evans win in June and his Colorado half marathon (read high altitude) record makes him a great choice to go with Randall when the runners hit the giant climb to the summit. Inside Trail likes Randall for the win.
The women’s favorite looks like Kim Dobson. There’s word that she might have a high 2:30 ascent (record is 2:33) in her bag of tricks, which would indeed be rarified air. With Brandy Erholtz not racing the Ascent, last year’s 2nd place finisher (Dobson) indeed looks like a tough one not to pick for the win.
In the women’s marathon, Inside Trail is sticking to its insider’s tip that the race will be won by one Maria Petzold. Feel free to complicate that picture. We’re keeping it simple (and fairly light on that particular race. We hope you understand).
The men’s marathon will be won by Matt Carpenter or father time. Inside Trail had the luxury of spending a little time with George Zack recently to get some insight on the race and it’s legendary commander-in-chief. Carpenter has thoroughly dominated the race over the past 18 or so years. The records are his. His 2:01 Ascent during the 1993 Marathon (3:16) is, safe to say, untouchable. In 2007 he doubled at the age of 43 (won both the
Ascent and the Marathon). He hasn’t lost since 1992. Really, go look at his Pikes results page.
Be that as it may, Zack points-out that Carpenter’s legacy is more than the results. Zack summed this up by saying, “the worst thing you can do is beat him (once), and then try to beat him again.” Having followed Carpenter for only the last five or so years, I was still able to relate to this. I missed following Carpenter’s incredible Leadville story that included the big meltdown of 2004, followed by his insane 2005 result, one that included this description: “He was not just leading the pack in the 100-mile mountain race last weekend. He was so far ahead that race officials had to scramble to open aid
stations for him and get the finish line ready in time” (Ramsey). In 2005 Leadville he finished in daylight, smashing the old course record by 1hr 33min. He was beaten once, and came back to destroy his antagonist. This same kind of redemption has happened at Pikes. He follows a less spectacular year with some kind of career highlight. I did happen to witness a more recent case study of Carpenter’s incredible competitive nature. After losing to Uli Steidl at the North Face 50 San Francisco in 2007, he came back and set the course record in 2008, again going head-to-head with Steidl. These kinds of stories transcend running. He is one of the fiercest competitors any sports fan can recall, if they have had the chance to learn about this man’s truly legendary career. There is so much more about his running accomplishments, but this is Pikes. How we’ve digressed.
Pikes is about guys like George Zack, too. How did he stumble upon the peak? His running efforts brought him from a Connecticut track and cross-country background to Colorado with his college sweetheart. Having strayed from the foot race during his Airforce service, in Colorado he was told he was too old to play ultimate Frisbee. So he got himself in shape to figure into some time with the Boulder Road Runners. In 2005, feeling more and more comfortable in this “church of running” that is Colorado, he happened upon the The Imogene Pass Run. Rick Trujillo, a multiple winner of the Pikes Peak Marathon (including a 2:01:47 ascent during his win in 1973; Carpenter bested that with a 2:01:06 exactly 20 years later) organized the Imogene Pass as a training run for Pikes Peak. The run from Ouray to Telluride includes the 13,000ft. pass. In 2005 Zack finished 16th at Imogene. He ran Pikes the following August leading into Imogene, September 2006. He finished 12th overall in the Ascent (2:37), the Imogene run was derailed by weather, and the rest is history. “The Pikes culture was just awesome. I felt right at home from the beginning.”
George Zack and Matt Carpenter toe the line this weekend, along with hundreds more with similar and very different stories. Look for some great battles to once again hatch on the slopes of Pikes Peak. 13.3 miles to the top from in front of City Hall in downtown Manitou Springs, the runners will climb over 7700ft (2347m) and top out at 14,115ft (4300m). Marathoners will, of course, make the return trip, part of a brutal up and down sequence. They will muster all of their courage to take-on this challenging thin-air assault. It’s America’s Ultimate Challenge and their efforts, regardless of time and place (but in fact because of this time and place) will be undimmed by human tears.