Roger Austin climbed the Manitou Incline 371 times in 2012, but he swears he's not the Incline King. "No, I'm not fast enough to be the king," he said. "There are lots of people more qualified than I am." But there are few who love the Incline as much as he does. Austin often makes multiple trips to the summit of the old railway bed in one day. He pulled 11 "triples" and 81 "doubles" last year. A thin and strong trail runner, Austin, 47, often climbs before sunrise with his friends Fred and Ed Baxter, Michael Everson, Shawn Erchinger and Jill Suarez. But he does more than just climb the Incline. He is the first to volunteer for Incline trail maintenance projects, he collects trash along the route, and he even made Incline Christmas ornaments for his friends. Austin is a facilities supervisor at Mountain Metropoliltan Transit. He and his wife Shannon are the parents of two sons, Derek, 12, and 10-year-old Jason. We managed to slow him down long enough to answer a few questions for us.
You could choose any number of workout goals, but you elected to put up a big number on the Incline in 2012, why?
I always set goals to keep me focused. I actually set two goals this year; hike all the 14ers and do 365 Inclines. I wasn’t working at the time so why not spend time where I love to be - in the mountains. Scheduling made the 14ers goal impossible, so I focused on the latter. If you can't go fast, or go far, go often. So that became my goal. Everyone should do what they believe they are comfortable with and capable of accomplishing. I am by no means the fastest up the Incline (not even close), so I opted to go early and just be there as much as possible because I really like the experience and the ever-changing views. I began doubling and tripling thanks to my Incline friends Eddie and Fred Baxter, Mike Everson and Shawn Erchinger - the true Saturday regulars and all very fast! I absolutely love the outdoors, so whether I do the Incline is never dependent on the weather. I'm generally there very early, between 4 and 4:30 a.m. In the winter I'm dressed in so many clothes layers, I’m barely recognizable.
What were your very first Incline times (bottom to top) and what is your average time now?
My very first Incline wasn’t a full climb! I had heard about it from a friend after doing the perimeter loop on the Air Force Academy and their "steps." So after finishing there I thought I'd check out the Incline - on tired legs. I gave it a try, hit the bail trail and said "I'm done!" But I was hooked. From there it was more, more, more! My average times now are around 30-plus minutes or so, actually slower than when I started, though I have good days and some really slow days. The goal this year wasn’t to be fast, but one for every day of the year.
You must know every tie buy now, what keeps you returning to the Incline?
I keep returning because it’s the best outdoor workout I know of and every view is different; full or crescent moons, autumn leaves, spring flowers, rain, snow, lightening, clouds and city lights ... always awesome.
You often climb more than once in one workout. Why, and what is your record for consecutive climbs?
Once is fun and will get you hooked, but twice is double the fun and I need to do doubles to reach my goal. Most I’ve done is three times back-to-back, which has been a Saturday standard for quite some time. Remember the Incline was closed due to the Waldo Canyon fire and I had planned on doing all the 14ers (I only got six) so I knew I’d need lots of doubles to make this work. I'm looking forward to maybe the Inclineathon in 2013 - 13 times up and down for a 26 mile marathon. Only four did it last year; Eddie Baxter, Fred Baxter, Brandon Stapanowich and Greg Cummings. Very impressive! That should be your story.
Tell us about the toughest Incline workout you've done. It must have been exhausting.
Every Incline seems tough but that’s the point, isn’t it? They are all exhausting for me, and trying to do so many probably isn’t giving my legs enough recovery time. They always seem to hurt, but I'm too stubborn to slow down.
You have your personal best of 27:47, do you have a time goal that you want to reach ... or somebody you want to beat?
I set a goal of sub-26 for this year. Why? I'm not sure. It's just a number like the 365 goal was. There is nobody in particular I’d like to beat, but there are several other friends’ accomplishments I’d like to be able to emulate ... Fred and Eddie Baxter, Mike Everson, Shawn Erchinger. Oh and let’s not forget the fastest lady on the hill, Jill Suarez. There is nothing wrong with them being faster. They make me me better and even more dedicated to my goals.
Have your Incline workouts resulted in better race times?
No, in fact, much worse. The Incline doesn’t translate into how your race times will be. Going up the Incline isn’t running for most folks, and even those who do, can’t run at race pace. It’s too steep. My personal records for the Pikes Peak Ascent and Pikes Peak Marathon were set in 2008, the year of the blizzard on the mountain. I actually trained by doing the full Incline Club Sunday runs. It's all about time on your feet as Matt Carpenter (12-time Pikes Peak Marathon champion) would say.
What do you prefer for icy conditions, screw shoes, microspikes? And why?
Without a doubt, screw shoes, because even if you lose a few, you still have some traction. If
Yaktrax or microspikes break on a run, you’re done. I've tried Yaktrax and mircospikes (they can be expensive) and they tend to fall off running downhill. I would have never thought of putting screws in the soles of my running shoes, but if they are good enough for Matt Carpenter ... well who am I to question his wisdom?
Now that you have done 371 Incline trips in one year, what's next?
Get faster I hope! I’d really like to be able to hang with my Saturday morning regular friends who consistently break 30 minutes, and are in the mid-to-low 20-minute range. I'm also thinking 500 trips up would be a nice round number, but want to balance that with a faster personal record, so we’ll see. I also plan to “double” in the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon. Lots of lofty goals, so something will probably have to give.
Tell us about the one Incline experience you'll never forget.
Every trip is different and special in some way; wildlife, weather, new friends, slips, trips, falls. But the Incline experience I will never forget is the day after Thanksgiving this past year. I brought my two boys up, and my oldest got altitude sickness. Scary for me cause I knew I had to get him down to a lower elevation fast, but I also had another boy to keep safe on the trip down. Without help going straight back down wasn’t really an option do to safety. Barr Trail would have been safer, but much longer. Lucky for me, my friend Fred Baxter was there to help, and another familiar face I'd seen many times but did not know, Mark Nelson, who held my youngest boy's hand all the way down, keeping him safe as Fred watched and guided me down with my oldest (83-pound son) on my back.