Untold Stories from the Pikes Peak Ascent & Marathon

Peter Maksimow is ATRA’s Outreach & Partnership Specialist and lives in Manitou Springs, CO. He is also an elite trail runner, plogger and member of the silver medal winning US team at the 2015 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships. Photos by Peter Maksimow.

The recent Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon in Manitou Springs, Colorado proved to be a monumental event, with the Marathon serving as the fifth race in the global Salomon Golden Trail Series. In Saturday’s Ascent there were repeat champions with three time winner Joe Gray (Colorado Springs, CO) and seven time winner Kim Dobson (Eagle, CO). In Sunday’s Marathon, a new course record was set by Switzerland’s Maude Mathys who took over 12 minutes off the record set just last year by Megan Kimmel. In the men’s Marathon race there was much anticipation as Spain’s Kilian Jornet was also expected to challenge the course record. Ultimately, Kilian fell 11 minutes short of local resident Matt Carpenter’s 3:16:39 course record set back in 1993.

The Pikes Peak Marathon finish line; the place where dramatic stories are made.

While race winners get the bulk of media attention, what we don’t often hear about are stories from further back in the pack. These can be dramas which often take place without the fanfare or exciting social media posts amplified to the world by elite runner sponsors. Although these stories may be less widely known, they are meaningful to the athletes who experience them and contribute to the positive culture of trail running. Here are four stories from the Pikes Peak Ascent & Marathon that you may not have heard:

Last to Finish

I was there at the Marathon finish line when Killian Jornet and Maude Mathys were welcomed by a screaming, spectator-lined finish chute. I also returned 10 hours after the start of the race to witness the last finisher under the cutoff time. No screaming crowds were present and the timing clock had run out of batteries. It was difficult to tell who was finishing under the 10-hour cutoff time as some runners started in waves up to 10 minutes after the initial start of the race.

I saw the exhausted, but also anxious, look of one finisher named Christine from Minnesota. She was nervously anticipating the arrival of her friend as the 10:00-hour cutoff time loomed. Christine wasn’t sure her friend was going to make the finish in time.

Christine waiting anxiously for her friend Stacey to finish the Pikes Peak Marathon.

Two minutes later, a runner named Stacey approached the finish line and broke down as she sprinted across it. She was happy to be done, but also completely exhausted and fell into the arms of the volunteers. I took a few photos, congratulated Stacey on her finish and told her she was the last official finisher of the 2019 Pikes Peak Marathon. The wave start format affected my ability to determine who had finished before the cutoff. After conferring with the race timers, I was told Stacey was, in fact, over the cutoff time and would not be identified as an official finisher. I felt terrible and didn’t want to do so, but was compelled to return and tell Stacey she has not “officially” finished the Pikes Peak Marathon. She took it as a best as a physical and mentally exhausted person would have and limped out of the finisher’s tent.

A dramatic finish line reunion at the Pikes Peak Marathon.

Shortly after, a few more people crossed the finish line, but it was Jody Hammre of Minnesota who, in 9 hours 58 minutes 35 seconds, became the final “official” finisher of the Pikes Peak Marathon, just sneaking under the 10-hour cutoff time. The look of relief and accomplishment was the same look I witnessed on the winner’s faces. It was just that Jody spent another 6 hours on the mountain achieving her goal, and thus, took full advantage of her Pikes Peak experience.

The Streaker Strives for 36

Mark Seelye, 67 of Manitou Springs, was up on the media stage with some of the top elites at a press conference on the Friday before the race. He, himself, stated he was out of place among these young, fit and talented group of sponsored athletes. He cracked a lot of jokes about his age and the juxtaposition between him and the rest of the young panelists. One of those jokes started with Mark saying that there were a lot of microbreweries in the area and he should seek out a beer sponsor. There was one local brewery that he thought would best fit him best: Local Relic. That is what he claimed to be as a long-time race participant and Manitou Springs resident, a local relic. Par for the course with the age jokes, Mark.

Mark Seelye (far right) making his beer sponsor pitch at the elite athletes press conference.

What Mark has accomplished does not fall into any course record or podium spot scenario, as most of the athletes who graced the stage. What he has accomplished comes through consistency and dedication….a whole lot of lot of dedication. Mark had toed the line of the Pikes Peak Ascent for 35 consecutive years and crossed the finish line in as many years. A day after discussing beer sponsorships on stage with some of the best athletes in mountain running, he completed his 36th Pikes Peak Ascent in a time of 5:27:12.

Manitou Ave in downtown Manitou Springs, Colorado; where the journey to Pikes Peak begins.

He may not have the course record but his “record” might be one of the most impressive in mountain running history. There is a more compelling, underlying reason for his amazing streak. Mark has found lifelong inspiration from his 90-year-old father, Chuck Seelye, also a Manitou Springs resident. Mark confided, “He lost his left leg when he was only 34 years old and it has always added to my appreciation of being able to do things that he wishes he could have done.”

Local Relic Brewery, take note, this man deserves a beer sponsorship!

Behind the Scenes

We always see news stories and images of the winners breaking the finish tape or grabbing a cup of water from an aid station at 13,000 feet, struggling and delirious as they are trying to finish the race. We don’t consider who is covering the story or ponder how that water got to the aid station in the first place.

Putting on mountain and trail races is a huge undertaking and often takes months of planning, chasing down sponsors and advertising to get finally get runners to the starting line. Adding to the difficulty of putting on a normal event, a race like Pikes Peak takes place on a big mountain, which presents unique logistical issues and potentially unforgiving weather which can hamper best laid plans on any given day. Likewise, covering a race that brings the results and images to the world can be just as taxing as running in the race itself.

Your Pikes Peak social media feed starts here.

I turned the camera around amongst the chaos and caught some of those people. Next time you see a volunteer, give them a high five, because getting hundreds of gallons of water onto a mountain is no small task. When you post one of those amazing photos on your Instagram feed from a member of the media, be sure to credit them because that may be how they make a living. If you enjoyed the race, be sure to thank the committee, they are working just as hard as you did.

The Record Holder and the Custard Shop

An unassuming, small-statured man in a USA flag-printed hat and shirt which reads, “I ran to the top and back while you were looking for parking” serves custard from a small window at his custard shop as he watches the men’s Pikes Peak Marathon awards ceremony taking place a few meters away. I think I may have caught a glimpse of a little grin from behind the window as he handed someone a Banana Split. That person is Matt Carpenter and after 26 years his Marathon record–perhaps the strongest in all of mountain running–still remains intact at 3:16:39 (as well as his Ascent record en route to the Marathon record, 2:01:06).

Pikes Peak Marathon record holder and custard shop owner Matt Carpenter.

Matt is an 18-time winner of the Pikes Peak races (12 Marathons, 6 Ascents), still maintains the Leadville Trail 100 Mile course record in 15:42, holds several high-altitude marathon world records (2:52:57 at 14,350 feet and 3:22:25 at 17,060 feet), among many other accolades.

“I ran to the top and back while you were looking for parking.”

For all the hype of potential records falling by the feet of a famous Spaniard, Kilian Jornet, Matt did not partake in that hype. In fact, he avoided it. He did not speak to the media nor was he present at any of the press conferences. All he wanted to do was serve custard at his Manitou Springs custard shop, Colorado Custard Company, which happened to be conveniently located a custard’s throw from the awards ceremony. He wouldn’t comment on such theories or hyperbole of records, but if you buy a custard from him, he might divulge a little insight….off the record, of course.

Editor’s Note: Matt Carpenter curates the website skyrunner.com, a great resource for anyone interested in the history of the Pikes Peak Ascent & Marathon. Can’t get to Manitou Springs? Check out the Pikes Peak course via Google Maps street-view courtesy of our Pikes Peak Trekker project.