Last month, the world’s top short distance trail runners gathered in Manitou Springs, CO, at the base of Pikes Peak, “America’s Mountain,” for the 67th edition of the historic Pikes Peak Marathon races. The event consisted of two main races: The Pikes Peak Ascent, a half marathon (13.32 miles) on Saturday and the Pikes Peak Marathon (26.2 miles) on Sunday. The Ascent took runners from downtown Manitou Springs (6,200 feet) to the finish at the Pikes Peak summit (14,115 feet), while the Marathon took runners on the same route to the summit of Pikes Peak, but participants run all the way back to the finish in downtown Manitou Springs. Both events challenged even the best trained runners with the course’s relentless climbs and extreme altitude.
Europeans Take Victories at the First American Stop on the Golden Trail Series World Series
The 2022 Pikes Peak Ascent was given the prestigious distinction as part of the Salomon Golden Trail Series World and National Series, thus attracting many elite runners from around the world who hope to earn points and prize money from the series. The series gave this year’s Ascent a unique international feel and created one of the most competitive fields assembled in race history. Top international runners included Remi Bonnet (2017 Pikes Peak Marathon Champion), Blandine L’Hirondel (2022 UTMB CCC Champion and course record holder), Maude Mathys (Pikes Peak Marathon record holder), and Nienke Brinkman (2:22:51 marathon personal best and 2022 Zegama-Aizkorri Champion). There was also a strong contingent of American runners in the Ascent seeking to defend home turf, including Joseph Gray (two-time World Mountain Running Champion and four-time Pikes Peak Ascent Champion), Chad Hall (2021 Pikes Peak Ascent runner-up), Allie McLaughlin (Mount Marathon record holder and two-time Pikes Peak Ascent champion), Kim Dobson (Pikes Peak Ascent record holder), and Sophia Laukli (2022 Broken Arrow Skyrace 26K Champion).
[In case you missed it; read more about top athletes in the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon in our pre-race elite field preview.]
In the women’s race, a lead pack of both American and European runners took the charge. Allie McLaughlin, Sophia Laukli and Nienke Brinkman pulled away from the field within the first few miles. Maude Mathys remained just behind, but could not stay with the lead pack for the first half of the race. At Barr Camp aid station (mile 7.6), the pack of three still remained within sight but positions would soon change at the higher altitudes above tree-line. Laukli and McLaughlin faded behind Brinkman. Mathys (who started conservatively) proved her endurance and moved up into second place behind Brinkman. Mathys describes her comeback in the second half of the race, “At the beginning of the race, I felt very bad and couldn’t run as I wanted to. My legs felt heavy and tight. I ran mostly alone but told myself the race is far from over and maybe my legs will feel better. I was happy to discover later in the race that they did! Starting slow actually allowed me to have more energy at the end of the race and as I started overtaking other runners I felt stronger and stronger.”
In the end, Brinkman took the win in 2:27:26, the second fastest time in course history. Mathys finished second in 2:28:40, unable to catch Brinkman despite gaining on her in the final miles of the race. Mathys was followed by Americans Laukli, McLaughlin and Dobson in 2:34:30, 2:39:40 and 2:40:45 respectively. To put in perspective the incredible competition in this year’s women’s race, the fifth place woman’s time this year would have won the Ascent every year since 2018.
Several of the top athletes share details from their race experiences. Brinkman describes the Ascent as one of the toughest races of her career. “This course is so hard and it feels like I was putting in more energy than I was getting out (paces are so much slower at this altitude!). If I come back I’ll want to be more prepared and get used to running so high. I’ve never felt this strange in a race before.”
Laukli also describes the Pikes Peak Ascent as a unique challenge and is already planning how to prepare for it better next time, “I felt like today’s race was more up my alley than my last Golden Trail Series race, Stranda Fjord. I felt really good for the first half of the race, but I ended up fading a bit about halfway through. I’ve never raced at this altitude before. I still really enjoy this race and I want to come back and figure it out. Reflecting on the race now, I wasn’t too excited about how I felt during the race or my placement but it was fun to do something that felt like a full on high-altitude fitness test.”
In the mens’ race, four-time Ascent champion Joseph Gray and a contingent of other Americans including Andy Wacker, Eli Hemming, and Chad Hall held their ground against the strong field of European runners including Francesco Puppi (Appiano Gentile, Italy), Henri Aymonod (Rhemes Saint Georges, Italy), Anthony Felber (Poisy, France), Daniel Osanz (Zaragoza, Spain) and Remi Bonnet (Charmey, Switzerland).
By the halfway mark of the race, Bonnet had established his lead and ran solo for the rest of the race to earn his second victory at the Pikes Peak races in 2:07:02. Bonnet describes his mentality going into the race, “I always prepare like I will win. If you’re not positive with your mentality, you will not race well. I know I’ve trained well and my legs felt strong, so I knew I could do well.”
Spanish up-and-comer, Osanz, finished second in 2:08:42, followed by Coloradans Gray and Hemming in 2:09:13 and 2:09:54. Gray, who declined the mandatory QUARTZ health policy screening for all Salomon Golden Trail Series events, did earn his official finishing time in the Ascent, but was not included in the Golden Trails’ podium awards ceremony at the summit near the finish line. He was included in the Pikes Peak Ascent podium at the awards ceremony in Manitou Springs later in the evening.
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Gray said after the race about his decision to decline the health screening, “My decision not to participate in the QUARTZ testing at Pikes Peak is based on my opinion that this is not a sufficient drug testing program compared to US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which I am completely compliant with. In my opinion, our sport needs real drug testing, not a company parading as one yet only serving as a “health checkup.”
Hall, along with international runners Felber, Silvain Cachard (Gieres, France), Aymonod and Ruy Ueda (Saitama, Japan) rounded out the top ten. 2017 World Long Distance Mountain Running Champion, Francesco Puppi shared his thoughts on his race this year and racing this historic American trail race, “This is a race that I love for many reasons including the atmosphere and special community around it. I was looking forward to being here and after a year of many injuries, this race was a great experience to prove to myself that I could still be back in the game. This felt like another step in the right direction for my running.”
Local Colorado Springs Runners Mascarenas and Aziz Defend Their Home Mountain
In contrast to the large field of international athletes in the Ascent, the 2022 Pikes Peak Marathon was dominated by American (and in particular Coloradan) runners. The race was given the nod to serve as the final qualification race for the inaugural World Mountain and Trail Running Championship to be held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, November 4 to 6, 2022. The top US woman and top US man will earn automatic spots on the 40K Trail team to represent Team USA at the World Championships in Thailand.
From the beginning, local Colorado Springs resident and 2017 Pikes Peak Marathon champion, Kristina Mascarenas, led the charge and gapped the rest of the field. She arrived at Barr Camp in 1:28:43, just over a minute behind her nearest competitor, Peyton Alexandria Thomas (Hampstead, NC). 2020 Pikes Peak Marathon Champion, Brittany Charboneau, who started out conservatively, began to make moves on the second half of the climb and was second to the summit, seven minutes behind Mascarenas and also seven minutes ahead of Thomas. Mascarenas, a well-respected downhill running specialist, continued to extend her lead on the thirteen mile descent back to Manitou Springs from the summit, running an impressive 1:33:34 descent. Mascarenas had to say about her second victory in her hometown race, “It was incredible to have so many friends and familiar faces out there on the trail trying hard and/or cheering for each other. This race is near and dear to my heart. It blows my mind how much love and support is present in our running community. Thank you to everyone who was a part of the Pikes Peak Marathon, especially the volunteers.” Charboneau and Thomas held onto their positions to finish second and third in 4:50:56 and 5:19:05 respectively.
The Colorado men swept the podium. Jonathan Aziz from Colorado Springs led the race to Barr Camp in 1:08:04. Noah Williams, local legend from Leadville, Colorado (the highest incorporated town in the US at an altitude of 10,152 feet), was less than a minute behind Aziz at Barr Camp, and ran strong in the higher sections of the race to arrive first to the summit in 2:17:36. Aziz remained within sight just two minutes behind, followed by last year’s third place finisher (and 15th place finisher in the 2022 Ascent the day before), Cam Smith (Crested Butte, CO). Williams led for the majority of the downhill but was caught by Aziz in the final two miles. Aziz had the fastest descent of the day in 1:20:49 and ran an impressive 4:36 final mile to finish in 3:40:41. Williams finished less than a minute behind in 3:41:27. Smith (Crested Butte, CO) rounded out the podium for a second year in a row with a time of 3:50:49. Williams had to say about his race experience and battle with Aziz, “Yesterday I felt amazing, especially above tree-line, but didn’t get my fueling right for the descent. Jonathan passed me just after we left the Barr Trail. Overall though, things were clicking and that doesn’t always happen. I surprised myself out there!”
[PRO TIP: Do you want to run the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon? Read my training guide for the race]