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Operation Pikes Peak: The down and dirty work of producing 'America's Ultimate Challenge'

PHOTO GALLERY: The Hosers take Pikes Peak
VIDEO: Interview with Race Operations Lead Susan Guynn

By Joe Paisley and Tim Bergsten

Susan Guynn stepped out of her pickup truck at the summit of Pikes Peak on Wednesday with the authority of General Patton.

Her group of volunteers playfully joked around in the thin air at 14,115 feet, but they knew it was time to get to work.

They call themselves the "Hosers," the crew responsible for laying 2,100 feet of garden hose down the rocky sides of Pikes Peak. It's the only way to get water to the aid stations perched at the famous "Cirque" at 13,000 feet elevation.

Guynn, the Operations Lead for the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon, has a big job.

"My job is to make sure that the volunteers all have what they need to get the job done," she said.

That includes preparing for the race expo in Memorial Park, organizing a massive transportation plan that takes tired and cold runners off the mountain, stocking aid stations along Barr Trail with little road access, working out starting line and finish line logistics with the race timers, coordinating with search and rescue, and managing a workforce of 500-plus volunteers, including the Hosers.

“If I stop to think about it I get a bit overwhelmed,” said summit team leader Mike Szabo. ‘The people who come every year work their butts off in any weather. One year we had 19 degrees up top with 50-mph winds. Everyone knows to be prepared. They like the challenge.”

This year's race marks the 57th for Pikes Peak Marathon, a race that bills itself - accurately, most would say - as America's Ultimate Challenge. It is internationally famous, attracting some of the world's top runners, plus a hard-core group of locals who train year-round for their annual shot at Pikes Peak.

But there would be no race without the operations crew and the volunteers.

“They are the most important part,” said race director Ron Ilgen. “Without them the race could not happen.”

This year, about 2,000 gallons of water will be hauled onto the mountain. It'll be transported in tanks which will be carried by Pinzgauers - military utility vehicles - driven by members of the Rocky Mountain Pinzgauer Club.

In addition to the water, every bite of aid station food, thousands of paper cups, first-aid supplies, tables and trash cans must be driven in and then carried to eight aid stations along 13-mile-long Barr Trail.

Some volunteers earn overnight accommodations above 11,000 feet. Bill Slaughter, who heads up the crew at the A-Frame aid station, will spend two nights camping there and pumping water from a mountain stream for the runners.

Another group will get a workout in, laying more water hose from the top of the steep Incline to the second aid station.

Transportation is another big piece of the operations plan on Ascent day. All of the 1,800 runners in the Ascent will be transported back to Colorado Springs with a shuttle system that includes 55 vans and 15 school buses.

The final production is the culmination of hundreds of hours of planning, plus plenty of stress and sweat. But Guynn thrives on it. The  bulk of the planning begins in May, but work on the 2013 race will begin only days after this weekend.
"The day after the race we start making plans," Guynn said. "But we truly start to work on it in the later part of April, certainly by the first of May."

One key is to keep it fun. And the Hosers were in their element on Wednesday, hoofing down the upper reaches of Barr Trail with 120-feet of garden hose looped around their shoulders.
“It’s a lot of work and we have a lot of fun,” Szabo said.  “It is always exciting to see it all come together.”

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Thank You Thank you THANK YOU volunteers!!!! Without you this race would not happen!


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