August 19, 2002
Four score on Pikes Peak for women's champion
For Erica Larson, discomfort has little to do with running up and down a 14,110-foot mountain on a sweltering August day.
It has a lot to do with standing on stage afterward.
"She's a little on the shy side," said her uncle, Tom Cook of Monument.
But Larson stood on stage Sunday afternoon in Manitou Springs, tradition dictating she hand out age-group awards after the Pikes Peak Marathon. That's what champions do.
Larson should be used to it by now, especially after Sunday. That's when she won her fourth straight marathon, tying Danelle Ballengee's record of consecutive victories (1994-97) on Colorado's most famous peak.
Larson, 31, withstood an early challenge from Manitou Springs' Kelli Lusk before completing the 26.21-mile Barr Trail course in 4 hours, 41 minutes and 53 seconds.
"I was amazed that I won today," said Larson, a chemist from Los Alamos, N.M. and one-time runner for Marquette University. "I was just so happy to have a personal-best time. I ran as hard as I could."
Despite temperatures reaching into the 90s at the finish, Larson's time was the fastest among women since 1996, when Ballengee posted a 4:36:52.
It was a different story for the men. While Jesse Rickert, 30, a Gunnison carpenter, topped the 800-person field with a time of 4:10:15, it was the slowest winning time since 1976, when the race moved to its current course.
Defending champion Matt Carpenter of Manitou Springs choose not to compete after his victory in Saturday's Pikes Peak Ascent after winning both the Ascent and Marathon on back-to-back days last year.
"Fastest time today!" crowed Jim Bowen, Rickert's father-in-law.
"It was as fast as I could go," said Rickert, whose wife, Holly, 29, was her age-group winner in Saturday's Ascent. "As far as winning times, it's not that fast. But I'm happy with it."
Rickert was followed by Colorado Springs' Paul Koch, 34, who finished second in 4:13:36 and Jonathan Cavner of Woodland Park, third in 4:16:09.
Koch led by about four minutes at the summit turnaround but saw Rickert and knew his lead was in trouble.
"It was sort of an 'Uh-oh,'" Koch said. "I'm not really a downhill runner. I needed more of a gap."
Colorado Springs' Laura Mitchell, 39, was second to Larson in 5:04:11, followed by 21-year-old Andrea Wiegand of Lincoln, Neb., in 5:06:59.
Mitchell could barely believe her time in her first Pikes Peak Marathon. She saw Larson when Larson was returning and knew catching her was futile. Folks at the aid stations told her she was in second, and that was a thrill in itself.
"I couldn't keep up with Erica at that time," she said.
Meanwhile, the attention-shy Larson was quietly going about her business.
It's something she's good at. Larson ran on scholarship at Marquette University. She got her Ph.D in chemistry at age 27.
She has so many running trophies she gives them to a local youth club to save space.
But when she found out Saturday that elite runner Lusk had entered the marathon, she spent the night fretting.
Her fears seemed to be justified as she watched Lusk, who competed in the 2000 Olympic marathon trials, blaze away at the start on Manitou Avenue.
"I saw her way up there and said, 'Well, I might not see her again,'" Larson said. "I'm not going to sprint. It's not worth it. I just needed to do my own thing to survive."
So Larson bided her time.
At Barr Camp, Larson caught Lusk, who dropped out soon after.
A few hours later, Larson was back on the stage, where, she confesses, "I feel weird. I feel like, 'Who am I? Why should people be getting their awards from me?'"
Larson said she'll probably return in 2003, when she has the chance to become the first woman in Pikes Peak Marathon history to win five straight titles.
Maybe by then, the spotlight won't seem so strange.
Copyright 2002, The Gazette, a Freedom Communications, Inc. Company. All rights reserved. Used with permission.