This story has been archived from the Friday, August 18, 2006

Wanna run? Take a hike

Trek up Pikes Peak is not a typical race


For all but about two dozen competitors, running Pikes Peak is a lie.

About 2,600 entrants will race up the 14,110-foot mountain this weekend, 1,800 in Saturday’s Pikes Peak Ascent (up) and 800 in Sunday’s marathon (up and down).

Yet fewer than 1 percent of the competitors actually will run the whole trip, or even most of it, on 13.32-mile Barr Trail.


Competitors raced through the tough 16 Golden Stairs before the finish of the Pikes Peak Ascent last year. Some hike the final part while others run.

Only the elites, like Colorado Springs’ Ryan Hafer and Ascent and Marathon record-holder Matt Carpenter of Manitou Springs, are capable of running the whole way on the grueling course, which becomes a lung-searing, rock-strewn moonscape above tree line, the course’s last 3 miles.

For mortals, a combination of running and power-hiking works. The trick is to figure out when to do which.

“What you really want to do is a pretty even effort the whole way,” said Hafer, who made history last year when, at 19, he ran a time of 2 hours, 21 minutes, 3 seconds to become the first teenager to win the overall Ascent title. Carpenter’s Ascent record is 2:01:06 and his marathon record is 3:16:39, both set in 1993.

Even Hafer has slowed to a near-walk at the 16 Golden Stairs near the summit.

“A couple times I have to strategically place my feet,” he said. “You can’t run over the boulders at that point.”

The usual plan for most is to run the relatively easy stretches and speed-hike the steep ones. That helps conserve energy for the confidence-shredding section above tree line.

Others use pain as their hall monitor.

“Run till it hurts and walk when you can,” said race director Ron Ilgen.

Some don’t try to run at all. As the race becomes more popular and race bibs a precious commodity, they’ve been criticized for turning the race from a competition into a glorified hike.

Scott Hente, 53, a Colorado Springs city councilman, and buddy Val Snider were out for a training session on Barr Trail last weekend. They paused to ponder strategy.

“I’m going to walk most of it,” said Hente, who is entered in his second Ascent. “Powerhike.”

Snider said he’ll run the steep parts, or as many as he can. “It’s kind of like climbing two steps at a time,” he said.

Then there are the rabbits, usually first-timers who take off like they’ve been shot from the starting cannon, which signals the race start on downtown Manitou’s Ruxton Street. Competitors climb 400 feet in 1.33 miles on pavement before they hit the trailhead.

Snider, who will race Saturday’s Ascent, has seen it. And it’s not pretty.

“You run up that, you’re dead,” Snider said. “You get in oxygen debt after five minutes.”

Snider, 51, preaches patience, even if your legs are itching to go. He’ll do a slow jog, maybe a 9-minute mile pace, and doesn’t try to pass people the first hour. It’s difficult anyway, because the trail is so clogged with competitors early on. After an hour, the trail widens and people spread out.

Erik Schneider, a Colorado Springs resident who has run the Ascent nine times, said he will run a little more than he walks. He learned his lesson the hard way. Before he was a race veteran, he felt great early on and pushed the pace.

The mountain wound up crushing him.

“If you overextend yourself the first 4 miles, you’re going to ruin your day,” he said. “Especially above tree line. My strategy is take the first four miles on an easy jog and take it from there.”

Altitude and altitude gain, along with crowds shoehorned onto a narrow hiking trail, is what makes Pikes Peak a race different from any other.

The general rule of thumb for marathoners: Take your usual marathon time and throw it out the window.

Schneider runs 7-minute miles in Colorado Springs.

“Up there, my goal is 20-minute miles for the last 3 miles,” he said. “If I can do that . . . I’m on Cloud Nine.”

Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon Cut-offs

Copyright 2006, The Gazette, a division of Freedom Colorado Information. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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