TCR: Triple Crown of Registration: Part II

Archived from Springs Magazine 10/2002

The challenge of Pikes Peak: to be competitive again

By Matt Carpenter

Nine! A new record, smashing the previous record of six from 1999 and while records are meant to be broken I hope this record lasts forever. You see nine is the number of letters to the editor published by The Gazette about the competition level, or lack there of, at this year’s Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon. Actually, some of the letters did little more than call me a “malcontent” or “poor sport winner,” but there were nine none the less.

Why all the fuss? Well, when I won this year’s Pikes Peak Ascent I said in no uncertain terms I should not have won. This was simply because the race committee refused entry to runners that could have beat me and because of that I also stated that my win was a hollow victory. That this would be interpreted as putting down other runners or their accomplishments is what happens when stories get condensed to sound bites and sound bites get taken out of context. However what I feel is an important issue was again put in the spotlight.

Simply Pikes Peak was once one of the most competitive mountain races there was. These races got international press and media. That press and media brought more entrants and so the cycle continued. Until the races started reaching their entry limits and then started reaching those limits earlier and earlier. When that happened the organizers no longer cared about putting on competitive races and they started calling them “citizen’s” races and the cycle was broken. True, the races still fill and will continue to do so, but this too is a hollow victory because the races have lost an aspect that helped make them so great.

The end result? The 2002 Pikes Peak Marathon was won in the slowest time since 1960 when just 12 people crossed the line! Just as bad was my own Ascent winning time which was the second slowest since 1966. I have no qualms about that nor am I embarrassed by it because I, along with the rest of the field, met the challenge and did the best we could on that day. In fact, this issue has nothing to do with the runners doing the races! The issue is about the competitive runners who are no longer running them and the competitive runners who want to do them but are turned away.

Now there are those that believe Pikes Peak is not a “normal” race but instead some sort of “competition against a mountain.” However for many of us Pikes Peak is in fact a race just like any other in that it is a race against people which happens to take place in a mountain setting. Those that are racing against the mountain can do so no matter who is in, or not in, the race. However, those that are racing against people by definition can’t do so if there is no one at their level to race against! Fortunately both philosophies can co-exist. A point that seems lost on those that claim having fast runners in the race would somehow ruin it for the “everyday” runner. (As an aside, just what is an “everyday” runner, or “citizen’s” race or a “people’s” race? Most fast runners that I know run everyday, are citizens and are people all at the same time. How is it that these terms came to mean runners that are not fast? Why is it that in one of the only sports where people of all abilities can take part at the same time so many want to put everyone into categories?)

At any rate, hiding behind their “people’s race” mantra, organizers can then say such things as “the ‘elite’ should be able to sign up in advance like the rest of the ‘everyday’ runners.” Well some of them do. However many fast runners (and for that matter runners of all abilities) let their training dictate their race schedule as opposed to the other way around. For them it is hard to tell what is going to be happening four months out and often plans change. This was the case this year in that some very fast runners who came to Colorado for other races thought they could also do the Ascent and did not know that the races had been full for three months. This is why holding a few spots for runners based on their bios is so very important and why most competitive races do it.

Some say that holding spots for “elite” runners is unfair to the “everyday” runners but this would not be the case if it were an open system in that anyone could apply for the spots by submitting their running resume. In this way the spots would be earned and in some respects no different than not being allowed to run the round trip unless you have done either the Ascent or another marathon or not being allowed in the first wave of the Ascent unless you have an established time. This would eliminate the issue of competitive runners being turned away from the races and could go a long way towards improving the competition level and the winning times of these events. Then perhaps the next record that will be broken will be done so at the finish line and not the letters section of a newspaper.

The following was not published in the paper due to space constraints. It was the 2nd to last paragraph. With the limited space I felt it best to stick to one topic but there are no limits in cyberspace.

As an aside, were is the logic of filling the races so far in advance? Off the top of my head I can think of no other race that does this. This silliness hurts not only the fast runners but the “everyday” runners that the race claims to be for in the first place. I know quite a few who did the races unprepared for no other reason than not to lose their $50. Still others jumped into the Marathon after the Ascent filled and got hurt in the process. If the race started registration a few months later it would still fill but everyone would have a better feel for how their training was going and there would not be nearly as many “no shows.” Of course, it could well be that the races are counting on those “no shows” as money in the bank. If so, that is just another reason to hold some spots for competitive runners.

Addendum: Within weeks of the publication of this story the TCR voted to hold 40 spots in the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon for runners based their resume. While I wish I could take credit the decision probably had more to do with the September resignation of the person who had been running the TCR into the ground for the last seven years. On the other hand, this is something that has been talked about for a long time now! In fact, Part I was written two years ago. Part III was written almost a year after this one.

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