By Luke DeCock/The
Story editor Jim O'Connell; headline by Mike Spence
They said he was coming, but no one could see through the fog. Somewhere down the trail, Jeremy Wright was on his way to the summit of Pikes Peak, and he was close.
Suddenly he burst through the haze and there he was, just feet from the top. Picking his way limberly along the rocky trail, Wright jogged easily to the finish having traveled the 13.32 miles up Barr Trail in 2 hours, 18 minutes, 32 seconds.
It wasn't possible to see anyone behind him, but it wasn't because of the fog. He was almost 5 minutes ahead of his nearest competition.
Twenty-six minutes later, Cindy O'Neill was the first woman across the line, 19th overall in 2:45:17. Her lead was even bigger, 8 minutes ahead of second place.
Haven't we seen this before? Last year, maybe?
Both Wright and O'Neill repeated as winners of the Pikes Peak Ascent on Saturday, the first time that's happened in six years. Scott Elliott and J'ne Day-Lucore were the last to do it, in 1992-1993.
Wright, 25, learned quite a bit in winning last year and it showed as he shaved more than 8 minutes off his time.
He went slower at the bottom in an attempt to have more left at the top, and did he ever. When he passed Barr Camp, the halfway point, no one else was as prepared as he was for the high-altitude portion of the course.
"I actually think I left a couple minutes out there," said Wright, who weighed himself down with a pair of hoop earrings and a stud in his tongue. "Effortwise, in this kind of race it's hard to try to run a time, because you don't know what the weather is like and you don't know how you're going to feel when you get above the tree line."
Even missing an aid station at the A-frame, a key water stop setting up the final push to the finish, couldn't slow Wright.
By then, he was able to look back and see, well, nothing behind him. No one was even near him.
"I was worried at Barr Camp, because they were so close," Wright said. "Then I got up there a little higher and I was feeling good. I went from worrying about the people behind me to worrying about falling or turning an ankle."
Wright isn't running the marathon today. He's got four more races to run this year and he's not going to batter himself with the downhill. His next challenge: A world-caliber race in Malaysia in September that he knows very little about.
"All I know is I got my plane tickets," Wright said. "I guess that's the important part."
O'Neill had one big advantage over Wright while preparing her title defense. He's from Laramie, Wyo., but she's from Manitou Springs.
That allowed her to put in some intense runs at the top of the mountain on a regular basis over the past nine months. Saturday she was a little slower than last year to the A-frame - O'Neill blamed the heat - but much faster over the final 3 miles.
"I had run the top 3 miles in training every weekend and I had run some pretty fast times on those," said O'Neill, 37. "So I knew in the race I'd probably be able to run about 2 minutes slower than those, and that's a lot faster than I ran that part last year."
She's still consistent. O'Neill's time was 6 seconds slower than her winning time last year.
She won't follow an Ascent win with a run in the marathon like last year, when she wilted and came to a skidding halt on her way down. Instead, she'll start training next week for the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis, her first flat-land marathon after years of mountain running.
That won't keep her off the peak, though. She'll jog a few miles up to French Creek and volunteer at the aid station there.
"I just love Pikes Peak," said O'Neill, who's won the Ascent twice in seven tries. "The more I'm on it the more I think it's beautiful. It's different every time."
The Ascent can't measure up to O'Neill's take on the mountain.
Lately, it's been the same every time.
Luke DeCock may be reached at 636-0178 or at firstname.lastname@example.org