Photo by Bryan Oller
By Bob Stephens
Joe Gray said it wasn’t his best race, but he took immense satisfaction in becoming the first man to repeat as Pikes Peak Ascent champion in 15 years.
“This race is in my backyard, so it was important I represent my town well,” said the 33-year-old Colorado Springs resident. “Repeating was the big goal today.”
He became the first man to become back-to-back champion since the legendary Matt Carpenter in 2001-02.
Gray said he led “wire to wire” while finishing in 2:08:19, slower than his winning time of 2:05:28 the year before.
Video: Gray's finish
Finishing well back in second was 2015 winner Toura Miyahara (2:18:29) of Japan, followed by Seth DeMoor (2:21:45) of Englewood, Colo., Ben Payne (2:23:06) of Colorado Springs and Jan Margarit (2:25:39) of Spain.
“Joe is amazing. Joe is the No. 1 man,” Miyahara said through his interpreter. “I was looking at Joe from behind and then he was gone. At the timberline, Joe was far away.”
Miyahara, who won in 2015 in 2:15:42, said the course is difficult.
“The middle section is very difficult, up and down,” he said. “Some parts are not in good shape.”
Gray said some sections are washed out from the heavy summer rains.
(Photo by Tim Bergsten, PikesPeakSports.us)
“It’s not in good shape,” Gray said. “I knew early on we wouldn’t be going fast. It was too soft, too much sand.”
Gray hopes to someday break Carpenter’s record - as so many do - for the 13.32-mile run up America’s Mountain that challenges world-class runners with a vertical gain of 7,815 feet. Carpenter, who won the Ascent six times and the Pikes Peak Marathon 12 times, set the Ascent record of 2:01:06 in 1993 at age 29 – but while running the first half of the marathon!
“Ultimately, the record doesn’t mean a lot because somebody would probably break it in 20 years,” Gray said. “I want to be known as a winner, so taking care of business was the No. 1 goal.”
Finishing in spots 6-10 were Azerya Tekay Weidemoriam (2:31:10) of Colorado Springs; Brian Folts (2:32:35) of Golden, Colo.; Abu Kebede Diriba (2:33:50) of Albuquerque, N.M.; Matt Williams (2:34:08) of Colorado Springs; and Peter Maksimow (2:35:25) of Manitou Springs.
Gray said he ran alone for most of the race.
“I didn’t know if anybody was behind me; I didn’t look,” Gray said. “More than anything, I wanted to challenge myself.”
Gray said he wasn’t surprised his winning time was slower than in 2016.
“Last year the World Championships (of mountain running) were after the Ascent,” he said. “This year the Worlds were before this race. I finished fourth at Worlds this year and it was hard to recover.”
Still, three-time Ascent champion Simon Guiterrez said Gray’s time was “phenomenal.”
“I’m really amazed by him,” Guiterrez said.
Gray took quite a while to compose himself and leave the medical facility on top of Pikes Peak near the finish line. When he reappeared, he greeted his wife, Christy, who has been his companion for 13 years.
“I’d kiss you but I just had some yakkage,” Gray said, indicating that he had vomited.
Breaking into a big smile, he said, “But my mouth is clean now.”
They kissed, signifying a successful end to his struggle to conquer rugged Pikes Peak and a talented field of runners for the second straight year.