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Mountain-running legend Rick Trujillo to speak at Pikes Peak Marathon Expo

Rick Trujillo remembers the day he fell in love with mountain running.

The high peaks around his hometown of Ouray, Colo., shimmered in a springtime cloak of snow, and the first day of high school track practice on a new team in 1963 held promise. A gangly freshman, Trujillo galloped onto the hillsides with his friends, running the trails until the snow became deep.

“Right then and there, I knew what I wanted to do,” he says. “I fell in love with the trails.”

That moment launched the career of a mountain-running pioneer, at least in the U.S. He attended the University of Colorado, where he earned All-America honors as a cross country runner. But college running came second to the trails. He had to fight for his first love, however. His coach at CU, the legendary Frank Potts, discouraged the team from training on the inviting singletrack that criss-crossed the Boulder-area foothills. That didn’t sit well with Trujillo.

“Right from the start he told us, I don’t want to hear anything about my runners on the trails above Boulder,” Trujillo says. “I heard that and said to myself, the hell with you. That’s what running is all about for me.”

A five-time winner and former record holder of the Pikes Peak Marathon, Trujillo will share his experiences at the Pikes Peak Marathon Expo on Friday, Aug. 18, in Memorial Park in Manitou Springs. All are welcome to attend. The 62nd running of the Pikes Peak Marathon and Ascent is set for Saturday (Ascent) and Sunday (Marathon), Aug. 19-20. Both races begin at 7 a.m. in Manitou Springs.

A Colorado native, Trujillo was born in Montrose. His family moved to Ouray at about the time he learned to walk. They lived on Main Street, with mountains rising abruptly on three sides. Today, his job as a geologist – he studies tracts of land for possible mining development – often takes him to faraway places. But he never left Ouray.

“I’ve been all over the world, visited the biggest cities, from London to Mexico City,” he says. “I could never live in those environments. I’ve asked myself, what is more important? This is home.”

He continued to run competitively in road races after college, and then he discovered the Pikes Peak Marathon. He knew about the mountain, the 14,115-foot monolith that lives in the clouds west of Colorado Springs. But his engagement with the peak amounted to little more than looking as drove by on his way to Denver. Then he learned of the race to the top of America’s Mountain and back. It was too much to resist.

“It was just the ultimate challenge,” Trujillo says. “I had been out of school for two years and running road races as a member of the Colorado Track Club. Mountain running didn’t really exist then. When I found out there was a real mountain race, I had to do it.”

He wrote his own history on Pikes Peak, entering for the first time in 1973 and reeling off five consecutive wins.

“I had been to Colorado Springs maybe two or three times, ever,” he says. “But that mountain, for me, was familiar territory. That’s what I’d been running from Day 1.”

He finished that 1973 race in 3 hours, 39 minutes, and 46 seconds, one second better than the previous fastest time set by Steve Gachupin, the first person to run the whole distance, as legend has it.

“That first win came as a total surprise,” Trujillo said. “I had never tested myself in real mountain races. I thought, OK, I can do pretty good at this. The question for me was the (nearly) 8,000 feet of climbing.”

He remembers starting the race and “not knowing where I was going. I just followed the leaders” He recalls the blisters on his feet created by the relentless descent. “Shoes these days are far better than in those days.” He kept a detailed diary of his experience that day, and writes about stopping to drink from a creek as he and longtime Pikes Peak runner Chuck Smead battled for the lead.

“At Barr Camp the final climb began and I took over (the lead),” he writes. “Began to feel thirsty at this point. Both stopped talking past the camp and concentrated on the run. Just below timberline saw a stream and stopped for a drink. Took four fast swallows and took off again.”

Trujillo helped start the long-running Imogene Pass Run, a point-to-point mountain race from Ouray to Telluride. He believes he is the first to make the run in 1973 while training for Pikes Peak. He won at Imogene multiple times, and served as race director for  many years. He is currently president of Imogene Pass Run, Inc. He also helps organize volunteer efforts for the Hard Rock 100 in Silverton, a race he won in 1996.

“Imogene Pass really began as a publicity stunt by the Telluride Chamber of Commerce,” he says. “In the early 1970s, nobody had heard of Telluride and the chamber was desperately trying to get people to come.”

The Imogene Pass Run is held annually on the first Saturday following Labor Day weekend. It is scheduled for Sept. 9. The race is capped at 1,600 runners and it sold out in 30 minutes this year.

Trujillo has watched the sport of mountain running grow to become its own industry. He said Imogene Pass began with six runners. The second year saw about 75. There were 30 finishers – and only two women among them – in the 1973 Pikes Peak Marathon. He has mixed emotions about mountain running’s popularity. In all of his years of competitive running, he never earned prize money or signed a sponsorship contract.

“I’m not sure what to think,” he said. “In the 1970s into 80s, I would see somebody on the trails above Ouray once every two or three years. Nowadays, if I go on a trail run anywhere, if I don’t see somebody that’s something to take note of. In one sense, it's great that people are getting out in the mountains. In another sense, were starting to get the egocentric personality of some runners. I don’t care for egocentric people, the ‘I’m better than you’ egotistical jerks. Just because you’re a good runner doesn’t give you license to act like that.”

He does admire great athletes, however.

“I’ll say this, these younger runners are doing things that I used to do, but much faster now,” he says. "Could I have been as fast? I don’t know.”

He still enjoys time in the mountains, but doesn’t run nearly as much. Injuries pester him, and finding time is always an issue.

“I really want to run, but it seems like the only time I run any more is in the spring,” he says. “Seems like today I’m like an old truck with a rusted under carriage and cracked springs.”

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