This weekend is the Pikes Peak Marathon. Known as “America’s Ultimate Challenge”, to complete this race will be an amazing accomplishment in itself.
A few weeks ago, Brian Grinnell, one of my running buddies back in Ohio, penned this haiku for me:
Thin air, rocky trails
Up and down the noble peak
Hill conquers mountain
But beyond the recognition from family and friends, Helen and I were invited to attend a special event put on by a group called the Peak Busters a few days before the race.
Peak Busters is an organization that was set up 34 years ago to “provide information and support to women runners who are taking on the challenge of the Pikes Peak Ascent or Marathon.” This year was an extra special year, as they were celebrating the achievement of Arlene Peiper, who completed the Pikes Peak marathon 50 years ago. For those of you keeping score, this made her the first official female marathoner in the United States!
We arrived at the event and were given a commemorative wine glass. There was a nice spread of hors d’oeuvres, dessert, and wine! We took our seats for the program and started chatting to the woman next to us. We said it was our first time to run, and asked what her plans were. She had won the Ascent 12 years ago! She was now living in Steamboat Springs, so we chatted for a bit about the race I’d run there in June.
Soon enough we started the program, which was very emotional and special. Jan Seeley from Marathon and Beyond was the MC, she is a Peak Buster herself. One of the first activities was to invite all first-time runners up to the front of the room. We all shared our name, where we were from and the race we were doing. This “induction into the sorority” takes place a few days before the race, because it is a celebration itself. There will be accolades on the weekend for completing the race, but this is just about the decision to participate.
Jan presented a look at her favorite women running pioneers, women who had made a difference in this sport. And of course, there was a focus on Arlene Peiper, who had completed the PPM so long again. The story had a very special ending: a local genealogist had tracked Arlene down just a few days before, and she would be a special guest at the event this weekend! When the genealogist found 79-year-old Arlene (now Arlene Stine), she wasn’t aware of her status as first female marathoner. Wow!
The program also recognized other amazing finishers, many of whom were in the room among us. One was Diane Israel, who is the Executive Producer of a short film entitled “Beauty Mark” about obsession about self-image and sports. Another was Charlene Aldridge, who has completed 33 races at Pikes Peak – doubling 11 times! Last year she “only” completed the marathon, because the snowstorm caused her to miss the cut-off time on the Ascent. She’ll go for the double again this weekend. Charlene’s story was particularly noteworthy: sometimes, the mountain will win.
The entire event was very emotional: these women were like a community: there were some inside jokes and history shared. We all raised a glass to toast Annabel Marsh, who had been one of the founders of Peak Busters back in 1976. She had passed away this past November, and members said they felt something was missing from the event.
In less than 24 hours, I’ll start on marathon #26. I was telling Helen: your first marathon is special. Your first Boston is special. But at some point, it become “another marathon”. Not so with this one. In part because of the challenge, and also in part of this special event and sisterhood we are now a part of (most years, the race director is the only male invited to the event). This is something special, and there is something that bonds together we women who have elected to take on this challenge. As Jan explained, this race is one that ‘gets under your skin’, and many women come back year after year for it.
No matter what happens tomorrow, I’m glad we decided to take on the challenge. I’m proud to associate myself with the strong, awe-inspiring women I met this week.