Pikes Peak: 60 Years of Miles and Smiles

The following article originally appeared in ATRA’s Summer 2015 Newsletter.

By Shannon Payne (3rd place at the 2014 Pikes Peak Ascent & WMRA Long Distance Mountain Running Championships).

One of Colorado’s — arguably mountain running’s — most iconic races turns 60 this year. The Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon, beloved amongst vertically-inclined mountain runners and a bucket-list race for runners around the world, will celebrate its sixth decade by doling out its usual dose of hypoxic miles. Right now is about the time when local runners fortunate enough to have the Peak in their backyard will begin to take to Barr Trail, which snakes its way up the mountain and comprises the entirety of the course.

While the summit currently features more snow than has been seen up top this time of year than has been seen in several years, nearly ten remaining feet, with each passing week more trail becomes accessible, and come August the show will go on.

In celebration of our beloved Pikes Peak Marathon and Ascent, let’s all geek out with a few fun, and maybe little known facts that you might not know about America’s Mountain, some which may convince you to get on board if you haven’t already, and put this race on your to-do list.

The 1967 Boston Marathon typically boasts the first woman, Katherine Switzer, to have finished a marathon. Arlene Piper however, now 85 years old, completed the Pikes Peak Marathon eight years earlier in 1959.

Olympic running sensation Shalane Flanagan touts the Pikes Peak Ascent, which she ran as a kid in 1998, as being one of her most inspiring race experiences.

Wouldn’t it be sweet to have finishers’ plaques made of Pikes Peak granite? Well, no can do, it’s too brittle to chisel into. Also, as an aside, it’s only found in two places on earth: Pikes Peak and Elephant Rock National Park in Missouri. So, gray and rock-like though it may be, it’s a rarity.

Are you a member of the Grammar Police? Then doesn’t the lack of an apostrophe in “Pikes” bother you? Isn’t this mountain supposedly named after Zebulon Pike? Yes, it is. However, major natural formations are not put into possessive form, hence Pikes instead of Pike’s.

Since this is America’s Mountain, surely it must top all of Colorado’s highest peaks? Not so. Actually at 14,115 feet tall, it doesn’t even crack the top 30 of 53 (it’s 31st actually). Its title America’s Mountain comes from its incredibly dramatic appearance from the flat plains below, and it was this mountain upon which Katherine Lee Bates composed America the Beautiful.

Kim Dobson blew away mountain goat Lynn Bjorkland’s 31-year-old Ascent record by over 8 minutes fairly recently as far as race history goes, in just 2012 when she clocked 2:25. This year, she’s back from maternity leave, so watch out.

Ever heard of Zach Miller? Well, this year Zach’s smiling face will be a familiar one to runners frequenting the Peak as he’s recently taken over duties as the Barr Camp keeper. Barr Camp is a welcoming little cabin that sits roughly halfway up the mountain and a short distance from tree-line, that offers not just a place of respite for runners and hikers, but also a temporary place of residence for those looking to stay for longer periods on the mountain.

Above tree-line, you might hear occasional whistles and squeaks coming your way. These sounds are emitted by the Rocky Mountain Whistle Pig, also known as the marmot, which bears a striking resemblance to a giant guinea pig.

Records were made to be broken, but Matt Carpenter’s Ascent record of 2:01 seems unbreakable. More astonishing, he did this en route to completing the marathon, which also unsurprisingly became a record in 3:16. Just this year, he was inducted into the Colorado Running Hall of Fame for his mountain running feats. He’s now retired from those pursuits and resides quietly in Manitou Springs promoting his other passion, ice cream, as he caters to locals and tourists at the Colorado Custard Company.

This is only a short list worth of a mountain (see what I did there?) of facts on an amazing peak and an even more amazing race. Hopefully it’s enough to whet your appetite to come out and give it a whirl yourself, you may (okay, you most assuredly will) suffer, but I can assure you it’s worth every oxygen-deprived minute. This is, after all, America’s Mountain, and it’s not known as America’s Ultimate Challenge for nothing.

Hope to see you up there!

The 2015 Pikes Peak Ascent & Marathon takes place August 15th and 16th.