This story was saved from the August 23, 1999

GT OnLine

Battling over the mountain

By Brian Eule/The Gazette
Story editor Jim O'Connell; headline by Mike Spence

Nobody was surprised to see defending champion Matt Carpenter at Sunday's Pikes Peak Marathon, even though he rode his bike in circles by the finish line while the other runners attacked the mountain he loves so much.

Nobody questioned why Carpenter sat on a white folding chair by the side of the road, talking with friends, while the other runners began their descent from the peak.

Nobody needed to hear an explanation. He had made his reasons clear.

One of the world's best high-altitude runners, Carpenter made a loud statement by refusing to compete in this year's marathon in protest of the race's lack of respect for elite runners. He said the race he loved so much, currently in the hands of first-year race director Dave Zehrer, was losing its glory and prestige.

Carpenter and Zehrer each represent a side of what has become a heated battle over the future of the marathon, whether it should be for the recreational runner or make special accommodations for elite runners. It is a battle over the race's character.

Zehrer is not open to the idea of paying runners, nor will he help with flights and accommodations for non-local elite runners, like many other marathons do. He also refuses to allow late entries for those competitive runners who could bring new records and a lot of publicity to the event. It would be unfair, Zehrer said, to not treat everybody equally.

In the meantime, a civil war is breaking out between the people who are as much a part of the marathon as the mountain.

"Dave Zehrer has run away all the runners," said Dave Eckley, who finished fourth in Sunday's race. "He's a good organizer but the race is losing its top athletes because of the way he treats the athletes."

Zehrer, on the other hand, claims the amateurs have a right to be treated the same as any elite runners. He sees the marathon's role the same as it's always been - providing good amateur competition.

Carpenter "says I'm picking on the elite runners, but I'm not picking on them at all," Zehrer said. "My point is that everybody should be treated the same."

But while Zehrer emphasizes how the marathon has always been held in an amateur setting, Carpenter stresses the need for change.

"The idea of amateur athletic competition is out of date and represents the kind of no-compromise attitude prevalent throughout much of history," Carpenter said. "Things change and we must respect and appreciate this."

Carpenter argued that because more and more races have been awarding prize money, the best runners are being forced to distinguish between races that offer money and help with accommodations, and those that don't. Without those top runners choosing the Pikes Peak Marathon, he says the quality of the race will diminish yearly.

Zehrer doesn't see it that way.

"All the feedback I am getting is don't change a thing," said Zehrer, who says the complaints are from "a very small, very vocal minority."

But it's not a minority, according to Doug Binder.

Binder is not an elite runner. He has never won a Pikes Peak race. In fact, he only began running five months ago and knows he will never be in Carpenter's league.

And yet, Binder sides with Carpenter.

"I came here to see the elite runners. I love the fact that I am running with them," said Binder, who ran the Ascent for the first time Saturday. "This race will always be for the masses. The elites just make it that much more interesting."

According to Eckley, there won't be many elites left if Zehrer remains in charge.

"He seems to have a very rigid know-it-all attitude," Eckley said. "He is the chairman of the board, only he is on the board and he is the race director. Get some runners on the board and make this the race it should be."

Zehrer, however, is intent on protecting the recreational runner. The race is for the 90 percent that run to finish, as well, not just those that run to win, he said.

It is for the Curtis Bolts of the community.

Bolt completed Sunday's marathon long after Steve Smalzel's first-place finish. But he finished, and that was good enough.

The elite runners should "be in the race because they want to be in the race, not because Pikes Peak is going to buy them into the race," Bolt said.

Zehrer is simply doing things the way he thinks they were intended to be done when this marathon was first run, and the way former race director Carl McDaniel, who is in Pikes Peak Hospice battling cancer, wanted them done.

"We are a citizens' race. We don't cater to professional runners," McDaniel said.

Some elite runners know that very well.

Brian Eule may be reached at 636-0232.

Copyright © 1998-1999, The Gazette
Back to the Press Archives