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June 22, 2002

Marathoners improvise after closure of Pike trails

Runners find ways to train at altitude

By David Philipps The Gazette

When extreme fire danger closed Pike National Forest on June 10, local runners preparing for the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon lost their best training tool, the peak itself.

Pikes Peak lies within the forest, and Barr Trail, which climbs to the 14,110-foot summit, is the favorite training route of local marathoners.

With all the trails in the national forest close, the packs of runners that usually can be found jogging laps on the peak now have to devise new ways to get their aerobic fix.

Some are logging miles in city parks such as Garden of the Gods and parts of the Section 16 trail near Manitou Springs. Others who crave altitude have had to go a little father.

“I drove up to the summit and just ran laps around the parking lot,” said Chaz Lalonde, who is training for his forth Pikes Peak ascent. The ascent and marathon are scheduled for Aug. 17-18.

Others are car-pooling to such places as Summit County, where mountain trails are open.

For serious racers, running at altitude is a vital part of training.

Working out in thinner air spurs the body to make more red blood cells. The red blood cells then carry more Oxygen to the runners’ muscles.

“Running at altitude is worth 10 times what a normal run is,” said Matt Carpenter, founder of the Incline Club, which usually hosts two group runs in the national forest each week. The club, now running in Garden of the Gods and elsewhere, has seen attendance drop.

Running above treeline once a week can shave 15 minutes or more off a racer’s marathon time, according to Carpenter.

Unfortunately, all the high mountain in the area are out of bounds.

“When I heard the Pike National Forest was closed, I went through the three typical stages of dealing with a tragedy, Denial. Anger. And finally acceptance,” said Carpenter, who then started looking for other runs.

If Pike National Forest stays closed until the races, Carpenter said the compromised training could add minutes to runners’ times.

“You kind of have to be creative,” Carpenter said of the new training plans. “Driving a little isn’t so bad. It’s pretty small potatoes compared to what some people are going through.”

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

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