This story has been archived from the Tuesday, August 15, 2006 Daily Camera

Like father, like son

Burrells take on Pikes Peak Marathon this weekend

By Zak Brown
August 15, 2006

Forget Boston, New York and London.

Those marathons of lore and legend weren’t the races glorified in the Burrell family. The first stories Buzz Burrell told his son Galen were about a little-known race up a very large peak, and it wasn’t like those big-city marathons. There was no prize money, no throngs of fans lining the course. The sole point of the race was to see who could go through the clouds fastest and then survive the descent back to civilization.

Those stories apparently made an impact. When he grew up, Galen was the fastest one through the clouds and back down the slopes of Pikes Peak.

The Boulder engineering architect won the Pikes Peak Marathon in 2004, capturing a race his father has completed 10 times. Because of that success and long-term involvement with the race, the Burrells have become a familiar family at the second-oldest continually organized marathon in the nation. This weekend, they’ll head back to the race when runners take off up Colorado’s most famous mountain.

“It was the first race I ever heard about,” said Galen, who graduated from the University of Colorado. “I always heard about the people going up and down that mountain more than any other.”

Buzz, who is the manager of the Boulder-based GoLite/Sportiva Mountain Running Team, ran his first Pikes Peak Marathon in 1969. He didn’t get much time to train for that one. Someone told him about the race, and it sounded like fun. He decided he would make the trip to Manitou and see what it was like to run to the top of 14,000-foot peak. This was the night before the race.

“I was unregistered. I just drove down there and put a sleeping bag in the parking lot,” Buzz said. “I woke up and there a bunch of runners milling around, so I said, ‘Well, this must be the starting line.’ I just jumped in the crowd and went.”

Even today, the race reaches a lot of runners by the mouths of fellow runners. It’s not a highly publicized race, at least not on the scale of the marathons in Chicago or Boston. It’s a grassroots type of race, and one that’s done for the sheer challenge of running up a mountain that towers over southern Colorado. The race’s motto is “Challenging, inspiring races dedicated to promoting physical fitness and amateur athletic competition.”

The roots can be followed through that motto. In 1956, a group of non-smokers challenged a group of smokers that they were more fit and could beat the smokers up Pikes Peak and back down. Thirteen people paid the $2 fee and headed up the mountain. Monte Wolford, a 28-year-old Mr. America contestant, won the race in five hours, 39 minutes and 58 seconds. None of the three smokers finished the race.

There’s plenty of people who would find the same fate as the smokers, even if they’ve never took a puff in their lives. The “marathon” in the name isn’t there because it’s a catchy title. It’s a marathon just like any other. Except for the fact that it climbs 7,815 feet in 13.1 miles, then pummels legs for 7,815 feet back down to the starting line in Manitou Springs. Matt Carpenter holds the course record with a time of 3:16:39.

“It’s one of the premier marathons in the world because the course is a single-track course and every step is runnable,” Buzz says. “It’s the only place in the world where you can run every step to 14,100 feet. You can’t do that in the Alps. It just doesn’t exist.”

There’s also a Pikes Peak Ascent, which is a race only up Pikes Peak. It’s tough to say “only” going up because it isn’t an easy climb. Carpenter also set the ascent record with a time of 2:01:06. Boulder’s Scott Elliot has won the ascent race eight times, taking the title half the time he has participated. And former Boulder resident Danelle Ballengee has won the marathon four times, with one second-place finish.

Unfortunately, there will be only one Burrell on the course this year. Buzz had abdominal surgery in January and shoulder surgery in the spring, so he won’t be able to race. Also, Galen may not be at full strength because of a nagging foot injury. But the Burrells really didn’t want to miss this race.

The two don’t get much time to run together, but they can be together at the race. Buzz will be there with his son, watching him take on one of the most grueling marathons in the nation, which the more experienced Burrell says has to be finished on “guts and toughness.”

Those words carry positive meanings in running. There is a pleasure in pushing to and through the point of pain Buzz mentions. Maybe that’s why, over all the trails he has in his hometown, Buzz’s son’s favorite race is the one he heard about first.

“Pikes Peak. If I had to choose anywhere, Pikes Peak is my favorite,” Galen says. “I love high-altitude running, and it’s the only place around here where you can run up a 14,000-foot mountain.”

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