Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Pikes Peak Marathon variables throw extra challenges at racers

Brom Hoban, Central Texas Running

Staff Writer
Austin 360
Brenton Buxton

The view from Pikes Peak moved Katharine Lee Bates to write "America the Beautiful" in 1893, but for a handful of Austin runners, the challenge of running up the Colorado mountain is what inspires .

The 55th running of the Pikes Peak Marathon is scheduled Aug. 21-22, and 34 runners from the Austin area are planning to be there.

The event is divided into two races: on Saturday, the ascent; on Sunday, the round trip. Many runners do one. Some runners, including Austin's Brenton Buxton, are planning to run both races.

Now, Pikes Peak is not the tallest of the Colorado Rockies. But it soars to 14,115 feet. The ascent race covers 13.3 miles of rugged trails and switchbacks in an elevation climb of more than a mile. Those who do the round trip have a full 26.2 miles to contend with.

Buxton, who lived in Manitou Springs at the mountain's base during the 1980s and early '90s, has run the double 24 times, and has what some might regard as a casual approach to training . He runs twice a week and does some weight lifting.

"When I lived in Colorado, I trained right on the trail, so I'm very familiar with the course and the race strategy," said Buxton, a systems engineer for an Austin-based defense contractor. "So part of my casual approach comes with the familiarity.

"And I know that nothing in Austin even comes close to it - the altitude, the steepness. So I know that nothing I do will quite be enough. Plus, after a few decades of running Pikes, you realize you're not going to get a new personal best. So that takes some of the pressure off.

"My long (training) run is up to 18 miles, and I run it in the afternoon heat . I'm hoping the added stress of running in the heat makes up for some of the variables on Pikes."

And the "variables" on Pikes Peak are serious. Take 2008, for example. Buxton completed the double, but not many did.

"During the ascent, it was pouring at the starting line, and it continued to rain until about 11,000 feet, when it turned to snow. The last section to the summit was calf-deep slush and snow, and it was about 26 degrees. You've used up all of your calories, and you're shivering cold, so hypothermia was a possibility," said Buxton. "I made it up, but not long after, race organizers decided it was not safe for people to venture above timberline. There was lightning and thunder. More than a third of the people got turned back."

The next day, he did the r eturn trip. "That was the toughest year ever," said Buxton. "It was quite an adventure. When things are just a little bad, you want to give up, but when they're really bad, at least you have a story to tell."

"I'm excited about No. 25," said Buxton, who holds the record for the most Pikes Peak Marathons run.

"Brenton's the guru," said Mark Lang. "I look to him as the most experienced, and someone we can learn a lot from."

Lang, who will run the ascent this year, has run the round trip three times and the ascent six times. A University of Texas linebacker in the '80s, Lang tore his anterior cruciate ligament after getting drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs, and was cut before he saw any NFL action. But the injury led to a career in physical therapy, and Lang took up running about 20 years ago.

Lang likes to help others in their quest to run Pikes.

"I've taken a few beginners up," he said. "This year, I'll take up Jenny Nielsen, a first-timer, and Allison Minton, who's done it once already."

"Mark has had us do a variety of fitness building work," said Nielson. "We've been running the Hill of Life, a super-steep rocky climb off of the greenbelt behind 360, and performing calisthenics while going up it. He wants us to know what hard work is."

"Mark's advice for the actual race is to be steady and even the entire time. You need the most at the end," said Nielson, who has done road half-marathons but never a mountain trail race.

"Some people think it's crazy, doing these kinds of runs," said Lang. "But I think I need events such as Pikes Peak to challenge me and keep me focused and consistent with my training.

"And for me, part of the appeal is helping others attain the goal of making it up the mountain. That's very gratifying."

Upcoming races

Saturday

5K for Clay, 8 a.m. at the Clay Madsen Recreation Center in Round Rock. See www.5kforclay.com .

Sunday

Inspire Kids To Tri youth triathlon and fun run, 8 a.m. at Elizabeth Milburn Park, Cedar Park. See www.inspirekidstotri.com .