The Fastest Known Time conundrum: Inside the subculture of Colorado adventurers obsessing over obscure records
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Professional long-distance and mountain runner, Joseph Gray, poses for a photograph on the Manitou Incline in Manitou Springs, Colorado on Monday, September 28, 2015. Gray, holds the record for the fastest time up the Manitou Incline at seventeen minutes and forty-five seconds and placed fifth in the World Mountain Running Championships earlier this month in Wales. Photo by Daniel Owen.

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Another name has been added to the unofficial list of runners said to have broken 20 minutes going up the Manitou Incline. And this time, we may have a new record.

Joseph Gray, a Colorado Springs resident and 19-time member of multiple U.S. national teams, darted up the Incline in a reported time of 17:45 Friday.

Fresh off a fifth-place finish Sept. 19 at the 2015 World Mountain Running Championships in North Wales, the 31-year-old Gray felt a little tired before heading up the former railroad track ties but wanted to get another steep workout in at the end of his training season.

"Before I got to the bailout point I just felt really good," he said. Gray, who also has been a member of the cross country, road running and track national teams, has been named Mountain Runner of the Year by USA Track and Field five times and was the first African-American to win a U.S. Mountain Running championship. His fastest time up the Incline before Friday was 18:43, he said.

Gray said he wasn't running with anyone else when he headed up the approximately one-mile stretch, that climbs about 2,000 feet, between 8 and 9 a.m. Friday. Fewer people were on the Incline than he had encountered before, he said, giving him an advantage.

But the secret to his success, Gray said, was that he paced himself at the beginning of the climb and had energy to push himself during the second half.

"It's the first time I've done it where I've really cranked it and tried to really push it at the end."

The famed Incline, fresh off a rehabilitation completed in 2014, is a demanding test for serious runners and tourists passing through the area. Used illegally by many until it was opened to the public in February 2013, the Incline, west of Manitou Springs, has seen a handful of people claim to post a sub-20 minute run. But with no official timekeeper, or record list, tracking the fastest time is difficult.

The average time was 42.5 minutes, according to results of 1,500 self-reported times in an poll published in a 2011 Gazette article. The times, however, were unofficial and may be skewed to faster climbers.

Matt Carpenter, a 12-time winner of the Pikes Peak Marathon, was regarded as having the quickest time with 18:31, before Gray's run, but that is debated as others are said to have finished it faster.

"He's a great runner, that's very good for him," Carpenter said, of Gray, Monday. "That sounds like a really fast one and that's awesome for him."

Gray recorded his time using Strava, an application used by runners and cyclists, and posted a screen shot of the result on his Instagram and Twitter accounts. By sharing that, Gray said he hopes people will know "I'm not over here making up stories."

If the accomplished runner has it his way, however, Friday's time won't be his best for long.

Gray said he fell on a couple of occasions during his run and thinks he can improve on his performance when his mountain running training season starts up again next year. Although on Monday, he was running the Incline again.

"I'd like to see if I can't knock it down just a hair or two," he said. "I think I can drop 5-10 seconds."


Contact Stephen Hobbs: 636-0275

Twitter @bystephenhobbs

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