Thursday, August 14, 2003
Volunteers climb Pikes Peak to get race course ready
By TOM RAGAN
PIKES PEAK · Mile marker after mile marker and into thin air, they drove their cars and trucks, hauling the essentials: oxygen cylinders, bandages, big garbage bags, tiny paper cups, army cots, energy bars and dozens of garden hoses.
Nearly two dozen volunteers reached the top of the 14,110-foot peak early Wednesday to set up a medical station at the old Summit House for the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon this weekend.
Its a grueling competition that features 2,600 runners in two days.
The race couldnt go on without the help of about 300 volunteers, some of whose work can be as grueling as the runners, said Robert Dillow, director of race course operation for the Triple Crown of Running, a nonprofit group that puts on three major races in the Pikes Peak region each year.
Volunteers hike for miles to set up aid stations along the course. They work to ensure everything runs like clockwork in a race measured by hours, minutes and seconds.
Theyre the people behind he scenes.
Theyre the backbone of both races whether its Saturdays 13.32-mile ascent to the top of Pikes Peak or Sundays full-blown, round trip, 26.21-mile marathon.
Im going to go out on a limb an say weve got the best damn volunteers around, Dillow said.
Or out on a rock.
Early Wednesday, some of the more daring lugged 150-foot-long hoses down from the summit, stringing them together over rocks for nearly 2,000 feet some slipping along the way so runners will have water to drink.
Just who are these folks who volunteer their time at ear-popping, yawn-inducing altitudes that seem more fit for marmots and bighorn sheep?
All are addicted to Americas Mountain and the outdoors. If anythings gong to take place on it, theyre going to be there.
Some have run up and down Barr Trail the races winding and rocky route more than they care to count.
A few are from out of town, have known about their aces for years and scheduled their vacations around the internationally known event.
John Wambsgans, 36, came from New Orleans. A former race competitor, he figured this year hed lend a helping hand and foot instead.
This is it, Wambsgans said, a curled-up hose slung over his shoulder, his thick accent hanging in the air as he trudged down Barr Trail. This is what its all about: Being out in the mountain, enjoying life, helping out.
Those who werent as surefooted helped set up the medical station. Intravenous fluids will be administered to dehydrated runners there.
As many as eight nurses and two doctors will be ready for emergencies.
Nearly 100 garbage bags will be on hand to cover runners who are on the verge of hypothermia.
Last year, four runners needed the garbage bags, although its certainly better to be safe than sorry, Dillow said.
Its to keep them warm and dry and get their body temperatures back to normal, Dillow said, that way, they can return to the living.
In his decade of volunteering, Dillow said hes seen runners who are as white as paper when they reach the top.
theyre just moving along in a comatose state, he said, moving one leg mechanically in front of the other.
Ron Ilgen, the races director, has seen it all: runners who break their ankles; runners who sprain their wrists; runners with bloodied T-shirts, their nipples rubbed raw from all the running; runners who refuse to give up, like the one woman who broke her ankle last year on the way down and still finished the last mile.
Then theres Ilgen, a former runner in both races whos been suffering insomnia of marathon proportions, the result of worrying about too many tasks left undone.
But its amazing how many people will jump in and help, he said.
Gail Allen is one of them.
Earlier this week, shovel in gloved hands, Allen was digging dirt along Barr Trail.
Her task: to expose the horizontal wooden bars along the trail so that if it rains, the water has a place to run off the sides of the trail instead of staying in the middle of it.
A runner herself, she sat aback and chuckled at the time she passed one man running up the peak. She was walking.
I told him, You know, it might be faster if you walked, but he got pissed, I think, she said. He told me, If I wanted to walk I would have come out here a ling time ago in June.
Copyright 2003, The Gazette, a division of Freedom Colorado Information. All rights reserved. Used with permission.