By Deb Acord/The Gazette
You could say Edson Sower is running to catch up with everyone else who got a big head start.
After all, the 82-year-old Sower, a retired Yuma, Ariz., contractor who spends most summers in Manitou Springs, didn't start running until he was 60.
"It was late," he admits. "I was retired and had been hearing everyone talk about heart attacks. I was in good condition, but I didn't want that to happen to me, so I thought about it."
Ten months later, Sower ran his first marathon - and he hasn't stopped running since. On Saturday, he will be one of the oldest runners in the Pikes Peak Ascent.
In 22 years, Sower has competed in 38 marathons, 50 ultramarathons (races longer than a regulation-distance marathon), 15 24-hour runs (his record is 107 miles), and three triathlons, including a finish in the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii (where he was honored as the first 70-year-old to finish the grueling race), and he has won the Pikes Peak Ascent twice in his age group.
Sower and his companion, Juanita Loomis, stay in Manitou Springs most summers so he can train for the ascent, a race he says he loves because he loves the mountains. "I can train on that mountain every day," he says. "The birds and squirrels make it so enjoyable."
When Sower leaves the starting line on Saturday, it will be his sixth ascent race. He also has run the marathon three times, but a tendency to become dizzy on steep downhills forced him to retire from that race.
Retirement is not something that comes easy for Sower. A compact man with lean, muscular legs, a gray buzz-cut and a grin that rarely leaves his face, he trains obsessively.
"I run about 35 miles a week now, when I'm not training for a race," he says. "But if there's a race coming up, I'll put on the miles."
Four years ago, Loomis reports Sower covered 100 miles a week on Barr Trail in preparation for the race. This year, he recently ran the trail three times in five days.
Today, he'll slow down, maybe running two miles. And on race day, h e'll be up by 3 a.m. so he can do a program of stretching he has devised, and have a light breakfast of his favorite hand-ground grains and seeds, and homemade fruit and vegetable juice.
Sower and Loomis, also a runner, say they're "nearly" vegetarians who are hooked on grains, lentils and their own combinations of juices. Sower, who doesn't smoke or drink alcohol or coffee, says he gets all he needs from running.
"Running is addictive to me," he says. "It's almost like a religion. It calms you emotionally, physically, mentally."
Sower says he gets competitive on the race course, but mostly tries to beat his own time. And he laughs when he thinks of his role in the ascent.
"I just might be the best motivator there," he says. "I've had guys come in seconds ahead of me and tell me later that they just couldn't let me beat them. They couldn't be beaten by an old gray-haired guy."
Even though he has become accustomed to being picked out of a field of runners because of his age, Sower is modest about his abilities.
"I never considered myself that good of a runner. I've held world records, but I've lost them all now. I don't have a lot of speed, but I do have endurance." And he shows no signs of slowing down.
"After I reached 70, I said I'd review the idea of retiring from running every five years. Then I said I'd quit when I was 85. Well, I'll be 83 in October."
Sower pauses as he ponders a life without running, and decides to put off a decision for now. Instead, he's thinking about that next race, the Imogene Pass Run, a high-altitude romp from Telluride to Ouray on Sept. 12.
It's only 18 miles.