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August 19, 2000

Ascent and marathon PIKES PEAK ASCENT: 7 a.m. today


Big races' winner is Manitou Springs

By Todd Burgess/The Gazette

When the gun goes off early this morning, 1,800 competitors will start their ascent of Pikes Peak. But that's just a fraction of the people who will descend upon Manitou Springs this weekend, tripling the city's population and bringing in $70,000 in revenues for restaurants, shops and innkeepers.

The Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce and Business Bureau estimates that 15,000 visitors will be in town for the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon, which takes place today and Sunday.

Sharon Smith, co-owner of the Two Sisters Inn in downtown Manitou Springs, said her rooms fill up a year in advance for race weekend, and most of her patrons are repeat customers.

"The marathon is one of our benchmarks during the year," said Smith. "This is one event that is always jampacked."

Smith said race fever hits her as hard as it hits the runners. She even takes her duties as host to an extreme: "Heck, we're down there when the gun goes off cheering our people on," she said. "And we're at the finish line, too, and I don't care if it's eight hours later."

This year, all of Smith's customers will be racers: Staying at the inn are two brothers and a sister, from Michigan and Fort Collins, who have been coming for the past 10 years. And there's a family of four from Ohio that has been coming for five years.

The runners come from every state and quite a few foreign countries, said Dave Zehrer, the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon race director. Today, about 1,800 people will run up the mountain (the Ascent); on Sunday, about 800 will race up and down (the Marathon).

Zehrer said many of the participants arrive as much as a week early to enjoy the area and get acclimated.

"This is a destination vacation for a lot of them. They come and they bring their families," he said.

Doug Lewis, co-owner of Spice of Life, a coffee/gourmet food shop on Manitou Avenue, started to feel the rush Friday morning.

A steady stream of customers made its way into his shop at 10 a.m. for a cup of joe. Lewis bustled behind the counter, serving coffee and offering up maps of the city.

"We keep seeing the same people coming back year after year. ... It means a lot to me when runners from years past come back and say, 'We're so glad you're still here,'" Lewis said.

In addition to the money generated by weekend visitors, the race itself will be putting money back into the community. Zehrer said the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon will pump about $24,000 into the area through gas purchases, van rentals, tents and other expenses related to operating the race.

Copyright 1999-2000, The Gazette, a Freedom Communications, Inc. Company. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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