This story was saved from the August 23, 1999

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Runner alone on the peak

By Luke DeCock/The Gazette

As she turned around atop Pikes Peak, someone told Erica Larson she was the second woman to get there.

This sounded wrong to Larson, who had been hearing she was first all the way up the mountain and didn't remember anyone passing her.

But she felt pretty good so she pushed herself a little harder on the downhill, just in case there really was someone to catch down the trail.

Whether the bystander was mistaken or Larson heard it wrong, it didn't matter. There was no one ahead of her.

Larson was the top woman in the Pikes Peak Marathon by a gigantic margin Sunday. Her time of 4 hours, 46 minutes, 1 second put her 17th overall and well ahead of both second-place finisher Petra Pirc and her target time.

"I just wanted to do around 5 hours," Larson said. "That was about my main goal. I wanted to try to get to the top in about the same time I did the Ascent last year."

That run of 3:05:06 in the 1997 Ascent had a lot to do with Larson even running the marathon. The 28-year-old from Los Alamos, N.M., has only been living and training at altitude for a year and a half.

While training in Lawrence, Kan., Larson ran 27th in the Ascent in 1994. After running in the mountains of New Mexico, she finished sixth last year and felt so good at the finish that she thought she might try the other half this year.

"I thought, if I could just do that again then I know you're supposed to feel better when you come down," Larson said.

Larson passed Pirc at about mile4 and never trailed again. Pirc's time of 4:51:36 was about 6 minutes faster than when she finished second last year, and she thought that would have given her a good chance to win.

"If you had told me that last year, yes," said Pirc, who was registered under her former married name of Rainey. "But it would have taken a lot. She ran a really good race."

When Larson got to the top, she felt even better than she expected. And her first trip downhill was quite an experience. Her surprise was that the little uphills interspersed throughout the trail threw her off.

But they didn't by much. Without split times to shoot for or experience to measure against, she just ran as fast as she could and "hammered."

Of course, she thought she was playing catch-up.

"I knew I was in first," Larson said. "People had been telling me that all the way up. When I got to the turnaround, I heard somebody say, 'Way to go, second woman.' Sometimes people were saying 'first woman' to me and it sounded like second, so I don't know if that's what I was hearing."

"I thought there could be somebody right there, but I felt good so I just pushed downhill."

There was no one to catch. The only thing Larson beat on the way down was her goal, by 15 minutes.

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