This story has been archived from the Friday, August 19, 2005

Race officials, competitors keeping an eye on the sky

THE GAZETTE Worrying about the weather is almost an obsession for some involved in this weekend’s Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon.

Race director Ron Ilgen checks the forecast at least twice a day. He can’t count the number of times he glances at the peak during a day.

Runners from Florida to Phoenix check, where a camera mounted atop a Colorado Springs building shows live pictures of the peak.

The latest prediction: Scattered thunderstorms Saturday (Ascent) and Sunday (Marathon).

That’s enough to send a chill down the backs of runners and race officials.

Bad weather for flatland marathons is one thing. Competitors usually can duck into a building or nearby car for shelter. On Pikes Peak, bad weather is trouble.

A lightning bolt struck the ground behind Pikes Peak marathoner Kevin Ommen last year. The electricity traveled along the trail and zapped him. He was OK but frightened. He still had more than an hour to the finish. Ommen kept running.

“What am I going to do? I can’t really stop and get a taxi,” he said.

In last year’s Ascent, a fastmoving storm forced Ilgen to make the cut-off time at A-Frame, about three miles from the summit, 30 minutes earlier.

Those who reached the checkpoint after the cut-off time were asked to turn around and head back down the mountain.

Randy Hoge, 53, of Boise, Idaho, was one of them.

“I reached A-Frame five minutes after the course closed,” Hoge wrote on his 2005 entry. “So I ran 20.6 miles instead of 13.2.”

Last year, a summer storm dumped six inches of snow on the peak, forcing a half-hour delay at the Ascent start. Vans carrying race volunteers, including medical and timing crews, could not make it up Pikes Peak Highway.

“We were shuttling people up in four-wheel-drive pickups” until the road was plowed, said Ilgen, who has directed the race for the past 12 years. “Last year was the worst as far as I can remember.”

Because of the Ascent, Jeremiah Gallagher, a Pikes Peak Highway official, said Saturday is expected to be the busiest “car” day of the year.

July 4th might bring more people, but Saturday is expected to bring 1,500-1,600 cars making the winding trip to the summit. A typical summer day has about 1,000 cars.

Gallagher hopes the weather will be better than last year.

“It makes things ugly for the people standing out in it checking brakes and parking (cars),” he said.

Cars using the highway Saturday can drive as far as Devil’s Playground, where passengers will take a shuttle to the top.

Runners have no such luxury. Last year, they had to slog through slushy mud on trails. Stepping on slippery rocks was also more difficult. But at least the skies were clear.

If it’s raining, snowing or sleeting, hypothermia is a danger, Ilgen said. No matter the weather at the race start in Manitou Springs, runners are strongly encouraged to tie a lightweight jacket around their waists and bring gloves. The race’s website warns runners to expect temperatures to be 30 degrees colder at the peak than at the start.

Saturday’s forecast calls for a high of 70 degrees, while Sunday’s high is expected to be 67 degrees. That makes for a chilly peak.

“I see these people go up in these little tank tops and I say, `Gees, Louise, how foolish can you be?’” said veteran marathoner John Campbell, 60, who plans to run both the Ascent and the Marathon. “You don’t know how the mountain can turn on you.”


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

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