Tom Berg (left), Colorado Governor Dick Lamm, and Jerry Macon put in a few miles on the Garden of the Gods 10-Mile Run course prior to the 1978 race. Berg served as race director from 1977-79. Lamm was very excited about a race in the Garden of the Gods and agreed to help promote the race. He wanted to run on race day, but other commitments kept him away. Macon laid out the course that passed all the park's famous red-rock formations. (Photo provided by The Triple Crown of Running)
About 2,000 runners will line up at 7 a.m. Sunday in Manitou Springs for the 35th running of the Garden of the Gods 10-Mile Run.
The first race was held on June 25, 1977. Here is some context to help bridge the time gap. Way back in '77...
- Jimmy Carter was a new resident in the White House.
- The Eagles' No. 1 hit "Hotel California" rocked the radio stations.
- Olympic marathon champion Frank Shorter ruled distance running.
- Author Jim Fixx's "The Complete Book of Running" flew off the shelves.
And at some point Colorado Springs runners Tom Berg (left) and Martha Barton had a unique idea.
"We were out for a run in the Garden of the Gods," Berg said. "And we just got the idea, 'wouldn't this be a great place for a race?' The beauty of the red rock formations and the Pikes Peak backdrop. It was perfect."
Soon after, with help from Colorado Springs park and rec and the newly formed Pikes Peak Road Runners, a field of 300 toed the line for the inaugural Garden of the Gods 10-Mile Run.
Charlie Vigil won the first race with a time of 52 minutes, 4 seconds. Standford University track star Ann Thrupp (right), 19, won the women's race in 1:03:32 and finished 35th overall.
Though the first race was small, the little Garden of the Gods race boiled with potential. A year later, with the help of The Gazette Telegraph, Runners Roost manager Mark Weeks, and the Boulder-based Colorado Track Club, the field grew to about 1,800 runners. At the time, it was the largest road race ever held in Colorado.
"That was really the Gazette's publicity," Berg said. "There was a front-page mention or story every day for 56 days before the race."
Even Colorado Governor Richard Lamm saw the value of the race and wanted to help promote it.
"I asked him if he would run with the name runners and some of the race organizers to publicize the race," Berg said. "So he ran with us the Friday before the race."
Race day, June 17, 1978, brought something Colorado Springs had never experienced.
Runners came from across the U.S. to run in the Garden of the Gods. The oldest runner was 79, the youngest, 9. A woman six-months pregnant finished the race. And the start and finish area near White House Ranch was packed with runners, race officials and curious observers.
Traffic backed up on several adjacent streets. Parking tickets were issued to hundreds of race fans and participants … though Mayor Larry Ochs later stepped in and waived the citations.
Ric Rojas of Boulder won the race in 52:31.3. Colorado Springs' Ted Castaneda (left, now a track and field coach at Colorado College) finished second in 52:39.3, followed by Vigil (the '77 winner) in 53:18.
Gayle Barron, the 1978 Boston Marathon champion, took the top spot in the women's race with a time of 1:10:03, but the Atlanta resident suffered in Colorado's altitude. The Garden of the Gods has burned the lungs of many great runners.
"Compare this race to the Boston Marathon, and you can see how altitude can affect you,"
Barron (right) told the Gazette Telegraph. "On the average, this race came to seven minutes per mile, while at the marathon I averaged 6:14 per mile."
Longtime Gazette Telegraph sports editor and Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame inductee Ralph Routon began his front-page news story with these words.
"It was billed as a road race, it turned out to be a community happening."
It still is a community happening. Though race entries haven't increased much since the historic 1978 race - at one point the field grew to 2,400 - the race is a favorite among Colorado runners, plodding daydreamers and elites alike.
"I really think a lot of people in the area started running as a result of this race," Berg said.
And it has gained some prestigious national recognition.
Bart Yasso (left), Runner's World magazine's "Chief Running Officer" says that the Garden of the Gods is his favorite race in the U.S.
"For me there is something magical about the Garden of the Gods," Yasso said. "It's a tough course with the elevation and just the natural beauty; there is something about that race. For me, I'm a natural beauty guy, so I love that. Some people like to run in the city, some like more natural beauty, I just love to see that red rock setting and Kissing Camels, I just fall in love with that."
And Berg, now 68, is still a part of it. He serves on the Triple Crown board of directors and will announce Sunday's race. And he loves to run, logging about 25 miles a week, though he says he has no cartilage left in his knees.
"I run every day, I just don't run fast," he said.
Click here to register online at active.com. Online registration ($25) ends at 5 p.m. Friday. Walk-up registration ($35) will be available on race-day morning.