With a rust-colored cap of granite boulders, a hard-blue sky overhead, and precious little air to breathe, the summit of Pikes Peak is like an alien environment. In fact, it’s in Manitou Springs, Colorado.
An elite field of runners will make this discovery at the inaugural Pikes Peak High-Altitude Mile on Tuesday, Aug. 13. It certainly won't feel like Kansas. It won't even feel like planet earth.
Ground control to Roger Bannister.
At the peak’s 14,115 foot summit, the air contains 43 percent less oxygen than at sea level. And while mountain runners in the famous Pikes Peak Marathon and Pikes Peak Ascent are familiar with the challenge, their sleek and fast middle-distance brethren of the flatlands have avoided such places … until now.
"We think the Pikes Peak High-Altitude Mile will be the highest competitive mile race ever contested in the United States and possibly the world," said Pikes Peak Marathon, Inc. President Ron Ilgen. "And we intend to fill this race with the best runners we can find."
Event organizers will invite track and cross-country athletes, middle-distance roadies and mountain runners. Ideally, the men’s and women’s fields will include 15 to 20 each. Runners who would like to participate are encouraged to apply by contacting Nancy Hobbs at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (719) 573-4133 . The final participants will be announced on Aug. 1.
The winners of the recent Bristol Mile in Colorado Springs, Dey Dey (3:54), and Katie Rainsberger (4:38), will receive automatic entry (though they haven’t committed.) Ilgen said he will also invite the winners of next week’s Pearl Street Mile in Boulder.
And there will be plenty of incentive to run fast. The Pikes Peak High-Altitude Mile champions will earn $1,000. Second place pays $500; third, $250; and the fourth-place runners will win $100. The winners will also receive one-of-a-kind jackets commemorating their accomplishment.
Who will be the fastest at 14,000 feet?
“The curiosity aspect makes this very interesting," Ilgen said. "Pikes Peak is well known for running, and this race adds another facet to that. We know what the mountain runners can do here. But in a mile race, we can include a different kind of runner in the mix. It's going to be exciting. We're going to scratch a starting line on top of the mountain and line up and see who is the fastest."
The racing will begin with the women’s heat at 9 a.m., followed by the men at about 9:30 a.m.
Encircled by a ribbon of gravel road, the mostly flat and broad summit of Pikes Peak is roughly the size of four football fields. The course will be laid out by Scott Simmons, coach of the American Distance Project training group. The race will be chip timed with splits recorded.
Ilgen developed the idea years ago as he ran laps on the summit in preparation for the Pikes Peak Ascent.
"I always had this thought that we could have a race at the summit," Ilgen said. "It keeps with the tradition of Pikes Peak going back to 1936 when they first ran a race up the mountain. Those runners were pioneers. Now here we are almost 80 years later with the opportunity to explore this new frontier. How hard can we push ourselves in challenging environments?"
The Pikes Peak High-Altitude Mile kicks off the Pikes Peak Marathon and Ascent week, with the race expo beginning in Manitou Springs on Friday (Aug. 16) followed by the Pikes Peak Ascent on Saturday and the Marathon on Sunday.
The summit will remain open to auto traffic during the Altitude Mile. Members of the media will need credentials, and transportation from Manitou Springs to the summit will be provided for the runners, media and event staff. Television trucks will be allowed at the summit.
For more information on the Pikes Peak race week, visit http://pikespeakmarathon.org/.