Sunday's 42nd Pikes Peak Marathon was almost a rerun of last year's race, with Mexico's Ricardo Mejia and Danelle Ballengee of Evergreen dominating the field.
But on their way to repeating as champions, Mejia and Ballengee encountered something they hadn't seen in a while - competition.
``It was nice for a change,'' said Ballengee, 26, who won her fourth straight women's championship by completing the 26.21-mile course in 4 hours, 43 minutes, 46 seconds. ``I was a little slow, but this was by far the most enjoyable Pikes Peak Marathon that I've done.''
Ballengee, who won by 26:23 in 1996, found herself neck-and-neck with last year's runner-up, Kari Distefano of Telluride this time.
``When I first found out she (Kari) was running, I knew she was going to be strong,'' Ballengee said. ``But I really didn't think too much about it.''
Ballengee broke away near the top of the mountain in trying to create enough time for her to meet her parents near the summit, to change shoes and eat.
``But my parents gave me my mom's backpack instead of mine,'' Ballengee said. ``I looked in there and there was a sweatshirt, a magazine and a ham sandwich - the last thing you want when you're running this race.
``By the time we got it sorted out, I had already wasted too much time so I didn't get to change my shoes.''
Ballengee said when she realized she wasn't going to run a fast time, she began enjoying herself by checking out the view, daydreaming, until . . .
``I got to an aid station near Barr Camp and I could hear the volunteers saying, `She's right behind you!' '' Ballengee said. ``It woke me up and I told myself that I had to get moving.''
Ballengee created enough distance to hold off Distefano, who finished second again with a time of 4:46.05. Colorado Springs residents Terrie Archer and Bonnie Moeder finished third and fourth, respectively. Archer was timed in 5:05.51; Moeder in 5:08.25.
``Still I really enjoyed myself today,'' Ballengee said. ``It was a perfect day.''
It was perfect e nough for Mejia to run 3:30.55 and win his third straight Pikes Peak Marathon, and perfect enough for Wyoming 23-year-old Scott Gall to give Mejia a run for his money.
``Through the first nine miles, someone was very close to me,'' Mejia said through an interpreter. ``But I didn't try too hard to go ahead that early. The hardest part is the last three miles up, and I was reserving all my energy for that.''
After nine miles, Mejia made his move and reached the top in 2:11.00, under a minute shy of the top time in the Pikes Peak Ascent on Saturday.
``I've never run this before,'' said Gall, whose roommate, Jeremy Wright, finished third in the Ascent. ``My first time up here was (Saturday) to watch Jeremy run, and he gave me some pointers.
``I just figured I was going to run until I didn't feel comfortable anymore. When he (Mejia) went, I backed off because I didn't want to kill myself going down.''
Despite a couple of falls, Gall finished second with a time of 3:51.35. Christopher Parks of Gunnison was third in 3:56.21, and Vail's Matthew Cull was fourth at 3:57.41.
``Even though I didn't know of anyone who would give me competition, I knew that I couldn't be too confident,'' Mejia said. ``Because that's when someone beats you.''