If you want to beat 1,800 other runners to the top of Pikes Peak, here’s the first thing you need to do. Start running 132 miles per week.
That means 13 miles every morning and 9 miles every evening and, remember, we’re talking about six days a week.
When Mario Macias, 29, crossed the finish line Saturday morning of the Pikes Peak Ascent, he was not struggling for breath. A few dozen tourists who had taken a cog railroad ride to the top were struggling. He wasn’t.
He was laughing, thrilled to be the victor. He had run to the top – most of the time in close to a full sprint – in 2:08.57.
I talked with Macias 90 seconds after he crossed the line, and he looked as if he had just endured a vigorous walk around the block.
“When you’re putting in 132 miles a week, you know you’re in shape,” Macias said.
The Ascent is a fascinating blend of women and men who are in freakishly great shape battling in the same competition with mere mortals who might live down your block. There were runners of all sizes and ages. There were 16-year-old runners, and there was an 82-year-old runner.
One of the most entertaining sights each year of the Ascent is the condition of the runners as they cross the finish line. The elite runners cross the line nonchalantly, as if it’s no big deal. They aren’t especially weary. This is just another long run on a Saturday morning.
It’s those who finish an hour – or two – later who look headed to the mortuary. They gasp for breath. They stagger, barely able to stand.
For most of those who rose early to run – and walk – to the top of America’s Mountain, running is only part of their lifestyle. An important part, for sure, but it’s not all consuming.
For Macias, and others like him, running is life. He’s pushing himself without mercy while he chases his running dream. He wants to compete in the marathon in the 2012 London Olympics for his native Mexico.
This is not his full-time job. He works 50-55 hours per work as counselor at a center for troubled youth in the Alamosa area. It’s not, he said with a pained laugh, the easiest job.
That’s one reason he so enjoys his sport. He has long known he can run away from many of his troubles. Every morning and evening, he’s alone with his hopes.
The 1,800 runners who finished behind Macias will be depressed to know he almost did not compete on Saturday. He noticed a few top runners had dropped out, and he pondered skipping the race.
The runners he defeated also might not want to hear that he had never before run to the top of Pikes Peak. He had never been there, period.
“Look at the view!” he said, taking a long look at the sprawl of Colorado Springs. “It’s amazing up here. I’m going to have come here and hike to the top, just to enjoy it.”
As he gazed on the fruited plain beneath him, Macias began devising a plot for his future.
This run had been so much fun, he said, he might try special training for the Ascent in 2012 or 2013.
“Who knows?” he said, laughing again. “Maybe I could go sub two hours.”
I wouldn’t bet against him.