A coin worth its weight in gold

Pikes Peak Marathon commemorative coin from 1971

As I reflect on life’s adventures, one event stands out 50 years later, but all I have to remember it by is a tarnished commemorative coin. I keep it in a small cardboard box where it never sees the light of day.

On the back, the coin reads “Pikes Peak Marathon,” circling an outline of a tall peak.

The front shows a runner, who depicts the then record holder, Steve Gachupin. The Jemez pueblo from New Mexico ran up and down the mountain trail in 3:50.

He went on to win the race six times. I remember him flying past me going down as I struggled to the summit at 14,115 feet.

Our race drew 187 entries, and most finished. That was a big turnout for a marathon in 1971. Due to its uniqueness, the race drew entries from all over the U.S., and was one of the oldest, starting in 1956.

Today the marathon is always sold out and there’s a limit of 1,800 competitors. Entry fee is $200. I think I paid $5, or less.

I was the first of a wave of runners that would grow into a tsunami by the 1980s. I rode the crest of the wave, working at Runner’s World magazine, the flagship running magazine of the day.

I look back on the race and wonder how I made it. I was 18 and had only started running a year earlier. My “coach” was a marathon runner from Manhattan Beach, California.

He had already run the Pikes Peak marathon a year earlier at age 18, and was one of the top finishers despite living at low altitude.

I set my sights on the race, having no idea what to expect, other than Jim’s advice.

I finished my first marathon in late May in Denver at Washington Park, with a time of 3:29:58, my goal to the minute.

I ran a couple more races before Pikes Peak. What I didn’t realize at the time is that a marathon takes it out of you. Ideally I would have had six months for recovery before running another marathon.

Because I had no car, I couldn’t train on mountain trails. It would have helped.

I spent the night in Manitou Springs before the race (probably Van Horne Cottages), but I have no idea how I got to Colorado Springs. I just remember the spaghetti dinner hosted by the organizers.

Race morning dawned sunny and warm, perfect for hiking, but not so good for running.

I started with Jim and we stayed together on the early steep part, but he fell back and I never saw him again, beyond when we passed each other. It was not his day.

I didn’t think it was my day either. I started walking early on, exhausted. I’m sure I hadn’t recovered from the marathon.

I don’t remember anything about the course, other than near the summit where I had to pick my way through a maze of granite boulders. The view from the summit is breathtaking.

With a time of 3:27:56, I immediately turned around and headed back down. At this point I felt good. The relief of running downhill gave me hope that I would run a good time.

That didn’t last. I couldn’t drink water in those days while running. I became dehydrated. It got hot. I remember laying down under the shade of pine trees staring up at the sky and wondering if I could finish.

I got up and continued, dragging myself across the finish line in a time of 5:35.

For reasons I’ll never understand, the elderly Rudy Fahl (age 73), emeritus race organizer, declared that my time didn’t count. I suspect he didn’t think I was 18. I looked young for my age. He had this outdated notion that anyone under 18 (it’s age 16 now) was too young to be racing up the mountain. He said something to that effect. He must have decided on the spot that I violated his rule and refused to give me a time.

It wasn’t until decades later, when I stumbled across Matt Carpenter’s (holds course record) excellent website dedicated to the Pikes Peak Marathon, that I discovered my time had not been recorded.

Fortunately, my coin and Jim Barnett’s testimony, convinced Matt that I was a legitimate finisher and he added my time as I recorded it in my race results diary.

What I do remember better than anything about the race was the next day. Every muscle in my body ached. Getting out of bed took a supreme effort.

I returned to Pikes Peak in 1974 to pace Marie Kuo to the summit, which she completed in 3:58:55. I did not register, which you could still do back then.

My last time on Pikes Peak took place in the late 1990s, but this time my family rode the cog railway, much easier.

There are more adventures in store for this current generation now that the road to the summit is paved. Enjoy your ride.

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