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Monday, August 18, 2008

August Snow = Epic Mountain Running

A powerful August storm coated Colorado's mountains with snow on Friday. For some, this was a treat. Mike Scherer skied his 275th month in a row, the conditions handing him an unusual summer ski tour at Berthoud Pass (see his photo). But for runners in the annual Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon, and the Leadville Trail 100, the conditions were epic.

At Pikes Peak, snow and rain lashed the course on Saturday, during the 13-mile ascent. Most of the second wave of runners were turned around at the A-Frame, 10 miles into the race, when conditions deteriorated to the point that officials deemed it too dangerous to continue to the 14,110-foot summit. The 750-plus who made it to the top hurried to escape via buses and vans before hypothermia set in. Conditions had improved for the Marathon on Sunday, but the upper trails still were slick with packed snow. Matt Carpenter, 44, won the Marathon, as usual, with a time of 3:36:54, more than 20 minutes off his record pace but still damn good.

At Leadville conditions were marginally better, and a little over 40 percent of the 455 starters finished the cold, wet race, about the same percentage as usual for this tough high-altitude 100-miler. Duncan Callahan was first in 18:02:39, far slower than recent winning times (but still a record pace in the 1990s—an amazing effort, considering the conditions). Super-hiker Andrew Skurka was second.

Conditions like these create superb challenges for mountain runners, and it's cool to see how many runners persevered. Good accounts of the races can be found here and here.

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