By Angie Reese-Mudd/The Gazette
Some runners in Saturday's Pikes Peak Ascent complained that Barr Trail was too wet from Friday's overpowering rain shower.
Other runners complained the trail was too dry in spots, causing slick dirt that forced the competitors to be careful of their footing.
But for Jeremy Wright and Manitou Springs' Cindy O'Neill, the conditions could not have been more perfect.
While Wright, a Wyoming resident, bettered his third-place finish from last year to complete the 13.32-mile course in a victorious 2 hours, 26 minutes, and 48 seconds, O'Neill's sixth time turned out to be a charm as she beat last year's champion for her first Ascent win.
"I'm truly amazed at myself," said O'Neill, 36, who completed the course in a personal-best 2:45:11. "I've run this race so many years, I never hoped to win it.
"No, I take that back. I always hoped I would win it, I just never thought it could really happen. I just felt great today."
O'Neill, a software engineer at MCI, finished third in last year's race behind Kir sten Ames of Steamboat Springs and runner-up Wendy Harris of Golden.
Neither Ames nor Harris had the right stuff to beat O'Neill, who bettered her time from last year by 19:01.
O'Neill didn't dominate from the start, and was forced to hunt down Ames after she led for half the race.
"I sat on her heels for a few miles," O'Neill said. "But when she dropped something and had to stop for it, that's when I went."
Ames said she dropped a flask of gel that she carries in her fanny pack in case of back.
"I had to backtrack to get my gel, because I didn't want to run without it in case I needed it, and she was already coming on pretty strong," said Ames, 36, who finished second in 2:53:08. "But she had been sneaking up on me for a while before she passed me. I kept thinking I could catch her. I was trying to creep around the corners so she couldn't see where I was. But she was distancing herself even more and I couldn't catch her.
"She was having a great race."
Behind O'Neill and Ames, Palmer Lake's Beve rly Zimmerman was third (2:54:22) and Harris was fourth (2:56:04).
On the men's side, Wright thought he was having a great race himself, but got a surprise with less than 2 miles left.
He was feeling tired and he stopped at the aid station for water, when he suddenly saw Larkspur's Mark Cucuzzella not far behind.
"I could see him coming up on me, and it scared me because I had no idea that he was even there," Wright said. "I was pretty much alone the entire race and I didn't realize than anyone was that close. It made me a little nervous because there was time left in the race."
Wright said he was forced to cut his break short and get moving. He says he pushed really hard for a mile, before his legs started to wear out and he was forced to walk through the finish line.
Wright finished 1:16 ahead of Cucuzzella, 31. Thomas Borschel of Idaho was third (2:29:51).
Jeremy Jost, 21, was the highest Colorado Springs finisher. He was ninth, completing the course in 2:38:45.
Angie Reese-Mudd may be reached at email@example.com