This story has been archived from the Sunday, August 21, 2005

Peak racers revved up


Today is race day in the Pikes Peak region.

This morning 800 runners will test lungs, legs and willpower as they sprint up — and then down — America’s Mountain in the 50th running of the Pikes Peak Marathon.

This afternoon, about 30 miles from the peak, 22 drivers will climb into sleek cars and roar at speeds exceeding 210 mph in the Honda Indy 225 at Pikes Peak International Raceway.

It all sounds slightly far-out, this day filled with courageous journeys from the norm.

The drivers and runners know all about the perils and the pain, but also crave the rush found only in testing their outer limits. And they know how much fun it is to race.

The drivers know most of their fellow humans can’t imagine climbing into a car that whizzes along at outrageous speeds on a track jammed with cars doing exactly the same thing.

The runners know many Colorado Springs residents can barely stand the strain of driving to the top of Pikes Peak.

Doesn’t matter. The drivers and runners can barely imagine not doing what they do.

Saturday, 19-year-old Ryan Hafer of Colorado Springs and Lisa Goldsmith, 40, of Nederland won the Pikes Peak Ascent races and Helio Castroneves won the pole in qualifying at PPIR.

Monument resident Bill Means will run up and down Pikes Peak this morning. He performs the feat every year, and he laughed when he thought about the racers — he considers them comrades — who will be zooming around the PPIR track.

“I would love to try that,” Means said of car racing. “Those guys are kind of nuts, too. They’re just as nuts as we are.”

Sam Hornish Jr. also was laughing. He’ll be driving today, and he chuckled at the idea of several hundred runners voluntarily embracing the rigors of Pikes Peak.

“I have a lot of respect for those guys,” Hornish said. “That’s not an easy run, even without the altitude.”

The run up the mountain delivers aching feet and a throbbing head, no doubt, but also joy.

Colorado Springs resident Vince Steele has competed in four marathon runs up Pikes Peak. He’ll test the mountain again today.

“When you go up on that mountain for a practice run,” he said, “sometimes it’s almost like showing up for work. You’re saying, ‘I got to put in my 15 miles today.’

“But then you get up there and the sun is setting and you stop and listen and you hear nothing but the sounds of nature. You’re way up in the mountains by yourself.”

Steele sighed. He’s looking forward to today’s blend of torture and jubilation.

“I just love Pikes Peak,” he said.

So does Means.

He started running in 1999 after developing high cholesterol. He began by walking on Kings View Road near his Monument home. He struggled to keep moving for 30 minutes.

He kept pushing himself, and now he conquers Pikes Peak. It’s tough, he said. It’s also a rush.

“You get out and enjoy the weather, enjoy the outdoors,” he said. “I have an opportunity to think a little bit.

“For most people, the marathon is a chance to prove they can get up there and back — to prove they can do it — and that’s pretty cool.”

Means compares today’s runners with today’s drivers.

“These guys are going against incredible odds, just like the runners,” he said.

Yet his comparison only goes so far. Means wonders how the drivers compete under the shadow of the sport’s danger.

Means once attended a race and saw a car spin out of control, hit the wall and begin flipping. What lingers in his mind are the drivers who didn’t crash. They ignored the wreck and kept racing as if nothing had happened.

“I don’t think those drivers ever thought, ‘What if that happens to me,’” Means said.

Driver Scott Sharp said his mind is too busy with decisions and sensations to worry about the perils.

Sure, there’s danger, he said.

“But, to me, the whole thing is fantastic,” Sharp said. “The sound, the speed, the blur of the cars going by. It’s like choreographed dancing.

“The money and the accolades are great, but that’s not why I race. If the only way to race was without prizes, I’d still race.”


Copyright 2005, The Gazette, a division of Freedom Colorado Information. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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