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August 20, 2001

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Meri-Jo Borzilleri may be reached at 636-0259 or merijo @ gazette . com
Three-peat with a downhill feat

Santa Fe runner comes down on top

By Meri-Jo Borzilleri/The Gazette

Erica Larson somehow gets more out of gravity than the average person.

Larson, a 30-year-old from Santa Fe, N.M., won her third Pikes Peak Marathon in three tries Sunday in Manitou Springs with a time of 4 hours, 49 minutes, 10 seconds.

She's just the second woman in the 45-year history of the race to win three straight, joining Danelle Ballengee of Evergreen who won four straight (1994-97).

Andrea Wiegand, 20, of Lincoln, Neb., was second in 5:03:25 and Colorado Springs' ConniLee Walter, 28, was third in 5:05:12.

"I'm better at the longer distances," Larson said. "I can last a long time."

It's not just the long distances. It's the downhill in which Larson excels. When she first started running Pikes Peak, she raced the Ascent -- the 13.1-mile run from base to summit. Then Larson made a discovery. Nothing like a Newton apple to the noggin, but useful nonetheless.

"My Ascent time isn't much faster," she said. "So I might as well do the round trip."

Runners on Barr Trail on Sunday couldn't help but notice Larson. Not just because she led practically the whole way but how she was running down the mountain.

"I shook her hand because I know how hard it was to come down that hard," said Yvonne Carpenter, who finished 10th in a time of 5:28:31. "She's a better downhill runner than she is uphill."

Larson, a chemist at the Los Alamos Laboratory, trained at Barr Camp in July. But her routine is to grab some scientist colleagues for a run at lunchtime.

"We're at 7,000 feet, on the east side of the mountains," she said. "It's always cooler than Santa Fe."

It wasn't cool on Pikes Peak on Sunday. Not even for winners like Larson, who finished earlier than most. She said it was the hottest race she can remember.

"As soon as we got below treeline, it felt like we were baking," Larson said.

Larson, who ran in high school and for Marquette University, took the lead early. Spectators told her she was first at No-Name Creek, about 4 miles into the race. Determined to run at a pace that wouldn't burn her out, Larson kept waiting for someone to overtake her.

"I'm surprised," she said. "I was really tired on the downhill. I thought I was going to get passed."

Soon after the race, Larson already knew how she'd celebrate. She had spent the morning running up a mountain in 90-degree heat -- but a hot-fudge sundae was going to taste just about perfect.

Copyright 1999-2001, The Gazette, a Freedom Communications, Inc. Company. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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