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August 20, 2002

Race draws criticism for not paying winners

By Tim Bergsten Special to The Gazette

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Tim Bergsten may be reached at 636-0250.

He had won the Pikes Peak Marathon, something that only 46 other men had ever done. He had burned up more energy in four hours than an ironworker does in two days.

He had climbed about 8,000 vertical feet, running most of the way to the 14,110-foot summit of Pikes Peak, then galloped back to the finish line in Manitou Springs.

Jesse Rickert of Gunnison beat 799 other runners to win one of the world's toughest races, but he collected no prize money for it.

In Sunday's Pikes Peak Marathon and the Pikes Peak Ascent, which was held Saturday, runners win medals and other goodies, but they don't take home any money.

"We're a 'people' race," said Ron Ilgen, marathon race director. "Prize money sets a different tone, it would go against the tradition of the race. This race isn't about winning money, this is the individual person versus the mountain."

That format has drawn the criticism of Matt Carpenter, one of the world's best high-altitude runners. Carpenter, of Manitou Springs, won the Ascent for the fifth time on Saturday, but he was disgruntled with the lack of competition. He contends the race could draw top runners if prize money was offered as it was in past years.

Some of the best runners in the world came to Colorado Springs to race up Pikes Peak in the 1980s and early '90s. Carpenter would like to see those days return.

"People think I want to change the race," Carpenter said. "That's not true. I just want to make it what it used to be."

It used to be more competitive. Rickert's winning time on Sunday of four hours, 10 minutes, would not have been competitive a decade ago. Carpenter set - and still holds - the race record of 3:16.39 in 1993.

The problem: There isn't enough money to go around, according to Ilgen, chairman of the Triple Crown of Running board of directors. Ilgen said the Ascent and Marathon, which fall under the non-profit corporate umbrella of the Triple Crown of Running, cost more than $100,000 to put on.

"We discussed it (offering prize money) and the board voted it down," Ilgen said. "That is not to say it's a bad idea. There are good arguments for both sides, but it would change the complexion of the race."

One stumbling block that makes prize money awards difficult is the number of entrants allowed. The Forest Service will allow only 1,800 runners in the Ascent and 800 in the Marathon, Ilgen said.

"Running in this race is the experience of a lifetime," said Ilgen who has raced four times on Pikes Peak. "We want to save that experience for the average person."

Another hurdle is sponsorship, or lack of it. There is plenty of in-kind sponsorship to float the race, but only Runner's Roost offered cash. Ilgen would not say how much cash.

"Runner's Roost has always been a great supporter of this race," he said. "But this year, we lost a sponsor that contributed purely cash. We're not Boston or Chicago here, we don't have ESPN coverage.

"Prize money might change the look of the event. But then again, that's not necessarily a bad thing."

Carpenter said he isn't interested in changing the race, but questions why organizers don't reserve 10 spots for elite runners. He said money isn't an issue.

"It's about the competition for me." Carpenter said. "I should have been beaten (in the Ascent)."

The winner on Sunday, Rickert didn't care about pocketing a check. "I don't do it for the money," he said. "It's a challenge. I don't think prize money would negatively change the race. The times would improve, but I like it the way it is."

Copyright 2002, The Gazette, a Freedom Communications, Inc. Company. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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