Tim Bergsten created this Ning Network.

by Travis Duncan

You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: The Pikes Peak Ascent is one of the hardest races in the entire world.

Mary Akor, 35, has been running marathons since she was 13 and has competed in three Olympic Marathon Trials. She is a prolific runner who races long distances all around the world. Despite her impressive credentials, at mile 9 of the 2012 Pikes Peak Ascent, Akor said, “My body just went numb. I had to start walking.”

Akor, originally from Nigeria, had been training for the last few months in the mountains of Toluca, Mexico. “This is a different mountain,” Akor said. “If you’re training here, it’s not a problem. You get used to it. If I ever decide to come back, I’m going to have to stay up here three weeks to train.”

Akor, normally at the front of every race she enters, finished with a time of 3:48:18. She said she’s heading back to Mexico to run in a marathon in Chihuahua in two weeks.

Gary Eldridge, 51, from San Jose California, has been coming to run the Ascent since he was 37, and despite coming from sea level, he beat his best time on the Ascent by nearly 10 minutes this year with a time of 3:30:40.  


“Mission Peak is the highest hill near me at 2,500 feet,” he said, “but it’s steeper than this. It has 2,200 feet of elevation gain in 3 miles. So I worked up until I could do it four times in a row, back to back. But there’s nothing I can do for the elevation. It’s cold turkey. You come here from sea level and have to run up to 14,000 feet.”

Eldridge admits that his training on Mission Peak alone doesn’t explain his PR run after 18 years of running.

“Why can I do better now at age 51 than 37? Well, two years ago I lost 25 pounds. That’s really what made the difference. I kept thinking I was going slower because I was getting older, but really I was getting fatter. That’s really the big difference.”

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