STORM PUSHES MANY DOWN
Race director makes call to cut off event for some
By KATE CRANDALL
For most who ran the Pikes Peak Ascent on Saturday, the coveted moment of completion never came.
Some saw the forecast for rain at the start and snow on the summit and never began.
Of the 1,972 registered participants who dragged themselves out of bed for an endurance test of epic proportions, only 760 crossed the slush-covered finish line, many of them exhibiting symptoms of hypothermia, some shivering and staggering into the medical hut for IVs and thermal blankets.
The rest turned back or were turned back at or before A-Frame, a point on the 13.32-mile trek that lies about 3 miles from the top.
Just after 10 a.m., the weather forecast forced race director Ron Ilgens hand. The threat of lightning, along with intensifying wind and swirling graupel, couldnt be ignored any longer. At 10:10 a.m., Ilgen told volunteers and search and rescue workers to cut off runners at AFrame, ending the race more than an hour early for Wave 1 runners and more than 90 minutes early for Wave 2 runners.
In a way, its a no-brainer, but I still agonize over these decisions, said Ilgen, his voice cracked with emotional exhaustion. This is my third close of the course and I just feel for all of those people who are on time and planning to make it. They trained all summer, in some cases all year. They come from miles away and Im so sorry they got that far and had to go back down. It really hurts.
Two people traveled down in an ambulance and were transported to Memorial Hospital. One was an unidentified female runner with possible cerebral edema, said Dr. Robert Hamilton, who headed medical care at the summit. The other was Paul Melcher, who finished his fourth Ascent in 4 hours, 24 minutes, and with chest pain resulting from hypothermia.
I thought Id prepared a lot, said Melcher, of Colorado Springs. It just whupped my tail. I underestimated the conditions. ... In nature, there is no forgiveness in there. In some cases, there is no room for error. It was bad for everybody.
Melcher started the day in shorts, but one of the search and rescue officers had to pull a trash bag over his head to keep him dry.
The main thing is to keep people moving up or down, he said. The longer theyre out there, the more exposure theyll have to the elements.
For some, like first-time runner Donna Rode of Bellingham, Wash., the race morphed into an unexpected near-marathon. Told to turn around at A-Frame, Rode tramped down 10.2 miles, bringing her total to 20.4 for the day.
Some of the runners coming down toward us told us the race had been called, she said. When I heard there was ice, I was ready to go back. I really didnt think ice and slippery, steep terrain were a good idea. ... Im not mad or anything like that. They have no control over the weather, and I think they had to keep safety in mind.
Some waiting back in Memorial Park on Saturday afternoon werent so forgiving as they waited for their clothes bags to be delivered from the summit.
There had been people warning us that we should go back since around Barr Camp the midway point but we really wanted to keep going, said Teri Beck of Overland Park, Kan. They told us the race was over when we got to A-Frame, which made me really mad since I really wanted to finish.
Ilgen said those who present their bibs will be given a finisher shirt and medal.
Some put in as much as 22 to 23 miles today, he said. Thats a finish.
Reporter Katy booth contributed to this story
Copyright 2008, The Gazette, a division of Freedom Colorado Information. All rights reserved. Used with permission.