Mountain running specialist Gray repeats at Pikes Peak Ascent; Abrha first for women in mountain race debut

On a nearly cloudless morning, 1800 runners set off from Manitou Springs, Colorado with the goal of ascending 7800 feet over 13+ miles to reach the 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak, site of the famed Pikes Peak Ascent.

Ascent veteran and last year’s winner Joseph Gray, 33, Colorado Springs, confidently took the lead after about four miles into the race. “It started off with a pretty good group of 4-5, and after about two miles the group thinned out,” said Gray. “I had a good little gap at around No Name Creek (4.3 miles, 8800′) and tried to maintain from there.”

Defending champion Joe Gray wins the Pikes Peak Ascent (Photo by Richard Bolt).

According to radio reports, Gray was all alone when he reached A-Frame (10.2 miles, 11,950′), three miles from the summit in about 1 hour 28 minutes, and went on to post a time of 2:08:19, ten minutes ahead of his nearest competition 34-year-old Touru Miyahara from Japan. In third, Seth James DeMoor, 32, Englewood clocked a time of 2:21:45. Gray now owns the sixth and twelfth fasted Ascent times ever recorded.

Gray said, “I wanted to make sure somebody from the local side won the race. The main goal was to repeat.” His time was a few minutes shy of his 2:05:28 win, and well off the record of 2:01:06 (set in 1993 by Matt Carpenter), a record he wasn’t shooting for today. “I think I did kind of lose a little bit of focus, but the course being kind of soft and sandy…it wasn’t fast so I was racing to win. I don’t care one way or the other (about the weather), but when you’re going for a record, it’s about the course conditions.” Those course conditions led to Gray’s one word to describe the race, “Sandy.”

2nd place finishers Touru Miyahara (photo by Richard Bolt).

His favorite part of the course was not unlike that of other runners, “I like when you get above tree line, because you can hear the people cheering for you and see them up high. You get a spark of energy.”
Gray was satisfied with his effort , “With all things considered, it’s tough to come off a major race (the World Mountain Running Championships on July 30, in Premana, Italy where he finished fourth overall and top American leading the men’s four-member squad to a bronze medal) and do another one. Yeah…I’m happy.”

Next up for Gray, the Red Bull Dolomite in Lienz, Austria on September 9 where he’s part of a four-man squad in a relay format. Gray will be the mountain runner joined by a paraglider, a whitewater kayaker, and a mountain bike racer. He’s also slated to race the USATF Half Marathon Trail Championships on September 30, in Hayward, WI.

Addie Bracy being interviewed by Tim Bergtsen (Photo by Richard Bolt).

On the women’s side, it was first-time mountain racer Ethiopian Serkalem Abrha (pictured top of page), 30, who has lived and trained in Albuquerque, NM, for the past five years. “I expected to win,” said Abrha, who spoke at times through a translator – a friend from Ethiopia living in Colorado Springs.

She found the race on the website and thought she would check it out, even though she had never done a trail or mountain race. “When I see the race I think, I could do this, but when I got here, I realized it was really difficult.

“I was coming to break the record, (2:24:58 set in 2012 by Kim Dobson). I thought it would be easy,” said Abrha who two months ago ran 2:34:08 at Grandma’s Marathon to finish third among the women. “But, it wasn’t so easy. It tested (my) fitness. After ten miles I was almost dying. The last three miles were very challenging. It was very hard. Now I’m happy.”

Pike’s Peak Ascent Women’s Podium (Photo by Richard Bolt).

Abrha led from the start and not knowing the trail, she said she had a few missteps. “Three times I took a bit of a wrong turn.” Those turns might have led to the closer finish than was witnessed in the men’s race as Abrha finished in 2:42:19, less than a minute ahead of second-place finisher Anna Mae Flynn, 30, Marble, CO. In third was last year’s runner up Addie Bracy, 30, Longmont, CO, who posted a time of 2:47:55. Bracy was a member of this year’s gold-medal women’s squad at the World Mountain Running Championships on July 30, as well as the silver-medal winning women’s team at the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships one week later also in Premana, Italy.

There were 1711 official finishers in the race, 29 missed the cutoff time of 6 hours 30 minutes. Tomorrow, Sunday, August 20, the Pikes Peak Marathon gets underway at 7:00 a.m. with runners ascending to the summit and returning on the Barr Trail to finish in Manitou Springs for a 26+ round trip effort.

ATRA’s Peter Maksimow meets the Ascent-a-saurus (Photo by Nancy Hobbs).

Results from today’s Pikes Peak Ascent are posted at:

Find more of our pictures from the race on Google Photos.