Rémi Bonet during this Saturday’s Pikes Peak.
Rémi Bonnet is such a competitive animal that when the group of athletes with whom he jogs approaches the photographers’ spot for the promotional photo, he accelerates. “You have to be on top of the joke,” they scold him. So when the person responsible for the safety of the Pikes Peak route announces a blanket of snow on the eve of the ascent, she gives the Swiss the spark he was missing: “You can forget about the record.” Perhaps he did not know that he had in front of him a world champion of mountain skiing obsessed with putting his name in the history of the great category of world trail running. He puts the icing on his victory in the holy grail of Colorado, which looks snowy at its 4,302 meters of altitude in a storybook scene that summarizes his noisy volunteers: “It’s Christmas in the mountains.” The impossible climb, the motto of the fifth race on the Golden Trail Series calendar, was not for him.
If anyone could erase from history Matt Carpenter, whose record in 1993 (2h01m06s) raised doubts due to the enormous margin with the rest of his participations, he was the best climber in the world. This year he has repeated the formula, mimicking a route of 2,400 meters of positive gradient for a half marathon at an average slope of 11%, with hardly any ups and downs or technical complexities. Perfect for a metronome like him.
In Colorado it snows every month of the year and tradition says that a snowstorm falls in September. The test would not have been held on Friday due to snowflakes and such poor visibility that the volunteers needed the GPS to mark a route that could not be lost. Saturday dawned with clear skies, so the sun consoled the 1,700 runners who left in waves of one hundred per minute from Manitou Spring with a mountain in front that invited more climbing than running.
Bonet imposed his experience on the Kenyan couple who surpassed him in Sierre-Zinal. Patrick Kipngeno, world vertical climb champion, was second after almost four minutes and Philemon Kiriago, winner in Switzerland, thirteenth after fifteen minutes. The route was so foreign to the Africans that they did not know upon their arrival in the United States that a race without downhills awaited them. The grove dominates two-thirds of the trail, with countless fans offering the traditional “good job.” The snow can be sensed in the highest roots, but the real challenge comes when the green evaporates.
The American Eli Hemming, third, gave the advice the day before to avoid the white mantle. “Accept that you are going to slip and don’t get frustrated. If you fight it, you lose energy.” The Christmas scene began about five kilometers from the finish line; first with a clear path thanks to the footprints and further up with an icy lane that required extreme caution in the shadowy sections. Far from looking for a straight line, it forces you to climb the curves, those that Carpenter’s unbelievers say he shortened 30 years ago. Some horizontal lines that enhance the breadth of the mountain above 4,000 meters.
That menu of snow and frozen stones had dessert: the altitude, the aggravating factor of the last four kilometers that do not drop below 13.5% on average. There is nothing as intrinsic to each body as the reaction to those high altitudes, those runners who happily passed others who were moving away in search of a breath before hearing the loudspeaker at the top and sensing the comforts after suffering: food, parking and a huge visitor center. The human body lowers its pulse rate as a defense: the same stretch that a thousand meters below is run with sufficiency at 160 pulses now forces you to agonize with just over 130. And the need for hydration increases, that invisible enemy that leaves no trace of the sweat in cold temperatures.
Altitude was the only doubt for Sophia Laukli, the climber who has dominated the Goldens this year with victories in the Mont Blanc Marathon or Sierre-Zinal. The emergence of this Olympic skier has been such that Pikes Peak is the first test she has run twice. Third last year, the American took advantage of the absence of the first two to clearly win (2h35m54s) over the Swiss Judith Wyder, a master of descents outside her comfort zone who reached almost four minutes. The American Anna Gibson gave her the surprise with third place.
Just behind came the two great Spanish assets. Malen Osa replicated her fourth place in the Dolomites – her first Golden race – with a time of 2h47m23s, just 50 seconds less than Sara Alonso, fifth, a position she signed without hesitation the day before after a seven-month injury. Time will tell if the best version of Alonso remains above her or if Osa is capable of unseating her as the Spanish reference. With permission from Julia Font, who came sixth, 1m43s behind Osa. The brilliant role of girls – far above countries like France, Italy or the Nordics – surpassed that of boys. Dani Osanz (2h12m34s), seventh ahead of Álex García, fifteenth, made the grade in a classification with 11 Americans in the top-20.
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