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Ascent/Marathon will go on despite daunting weather

By: DAVE PHILIPPS
August 15, 2008
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The Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon will go on as planned this weekend despite forecasts of winter-like summit temperatures, snow, high winds and lightning.

"We know it's going to be cold soggy, slippery," said race director Ron Ilgen, "But these are experienced mountain runners. They'll be prepared."

The races are one of the flagship running events in Colorado. In the Saturday Ascent, 1,600 runners climb 13.2 miles from Manitou Springs to the Summit of Pikes Peak. In the Sunday Marathon, 800 do the round trip.

Weather on the 14,115-foot summit has often been a factor, but it could be especially daunting this year.

With a cold front pushing through, the Saturday forecast for the upper portion of the mountain from the National Weather Service says 1 to 3 inches of snow are likely, with wind between 15 and 25 mph and a high of 36 degrees.

A brief parting of the clouds Friday morning showed a summit dusted with white.

Thunderstorms are also possible.

"That's the worst thing, lightning," said Ilgen. "If it's rain, if it's snow, we can still have a race. Lightning is too dangerous."

The races have never been canceled, but some runners have been turned back due to weather.

In 2005, race directors turned back hundreds of racers at the halfway point when a powerful thunderstorm enveloped the summit.

Another 600 racers were stranded by 6 inches of hail, which closed the road to the top.

There wasn't enough room to house them and some cowered outside in the storm.

After that storm, Ilgen said race organizers changed their plans. This year they will have two full-length school buses parked at the summit to act as emergency shelters if the weather takes a turn for the worst.

"We can't set up tents, they would blow away," said Ilgen. "But the buses work well."

He said runners need to do their part by packing plenty of winter clothing for the top.

"That's just part of this race," Ilgen said

Postponing isn't an option, because so many runners travel from other states to try the peak, he said.

"I think we'll be able to deal with it, but we'll see," Ilgen said. "Spirits are good."

Check back later for a complete report.

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