This story was saved from the August 23, 1999

GT OnLine

Marathon Crowd enjoys thrill of the race

Group of 100 waits at top to cheer on weary runners

By Lee Jenkins/The Gazette
Story editor Jim O’Connell; headline by Sherida Warner

At the corner of El Paso Boulevard and Manitou Avenue, Rex Mortensen raised the roof.

He was tired from a 6 a.m. wake-up call, late for Sunday church and bothered by arthritis in both feet.

“But when they crank the music, I get in the spirit,” he said.

So Mortensen boogied around his balcony, gyrating in front of more than 1,000 people to kick off the 44th Pikes Peak Marathon.

“I like to raise the roof before them,” said Mortensen, who has seen the last eight commence outside his front door.

As he thrust his arms into the early morning air, approximately 800 gluttons for punishment flew up the mountain, over the clouds, 14,100 feet above the sea.

At the top of Pikes Peak, Laural Fanelli and her husband, Paul, settled into their rock, the mountaintop seat they’ve claimed for the past eight years, encouraging runners who’ve reached the summit to keep going.

“They always say to us, ‘It’s easy going down,’” Laural said.

“They’re all smiles. You don’t think they can go a step farther. And all of a sudden, they’re bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.”

This is after running half a marathon directly uphill — twisting ankles, climbing rocks, fearing lightning. When it’s all done, the runners are only halfway there.

“It’s absolutely crazy,” said Tim Joyce, peering through binoculars for wife Katarina Zarlengo.

“This is the toughest, no doubt. Just the ascent is the equivalent of a marathon. Up and down is torture.”

He watched a slow stream of runners seemingly crawl through a ravine below and wondered whether his wife would be getting back to Manitou by Car.

Harve and Dixie Wilson, a few rocks over, used to watch sun Brett run Cross-country meets in high school.

This time, the parents were providing something more practical than support — an extra pair of shoes.

Or a fresh shirt. A square meal. A trip home. Family and friends all had something for their favorite runners, many of whom weren’t around long enough to listen.

Most of the contenders don’t even feel the 35-degree temperature drop, much less the blisters, the seat, the pain.

When runner Steve Smalzel reached the Peak’s peak, 2 hours and 21 minutes after he started the crowd of about 100 erupted like it was homecoming.

In his tank top and shorts Smalzel waved to fans dressed for skiing. They offered water, grapes and a view just a little prettier than his running shoes. Then they shooed him away.

“Maybe the slackers in 20th place take a look, but I don’t,” said Smalzel, who was too busy winning the men’s side of the marathon, while Erica Larson took the women’s title.

Smalzel did pause a moment at the top, sneaking himself a short peek at the range below, a postcard of a course.

“I’ve never been in a marathon where the midpoint is so dramatic,” he said.

However, it wasn’t enough to keep his attention. Smalzel turned and wobbled down the mountain, through the boulders, his legs shaking as though he’d never taken a step.

Runners say it’s tougher on the “brakes” to get down the hill. Going up is simply murder.

“It’s so good when you get to the top to see people,” said Yvonne Franceschini, who cheered on 30 running friends.

“It’s like, ‘oh, yes,’ but then you have to go downhill.”

Not her. Not any of them. Bob Seger blared from a speaker in the background. Hot chocolate and blankets fought the chill. The only climb that turned any of these doughnut-filled stomachs was the ride up.

“Being here with great people, the atmosphere, the beautiful scenery — in my opinion, it’s the best in the world,” said race official Vern Duncan.

“It’s family.”

They come back every year for one of the most magnificent half time shows in sport. This crowd is right in the race without making a move.

For 17 years of marathons, Duncan ran up Pikes Peak and turned right back down again, a mountainous exercise in willpower. Now he lives up to the Scottish meaning of his last name.

Hill Chief.

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