The Pikes Peak Marathon began in 1956 as both a fitness challenge and also to commemorate 150 years since Zebulon Pike first came upon the mountain. Dr. Arne Suominen challenged cigarette smokers to a race up Pikes Peak. His goal was to prove that smoking was detrimental to one’s health and he insisted that no smoker could beat him. 14 contestants participated. Lou Willie, unofficial record holder and smoker, reached the peak but could not go on. The other smoker in the race could not finish the marathon either. Dr. Suominen proved his point and from a dare based on health and fitness the Pikes Peak Marathon was born.
The race originally started at the base of Barr Trail and ended at the Cog Railway. In 1960, the distance of the race was criticized for not being a full marathon and the finish line was moved to the intersection of Manitou Avenue and Ruxton Avenue. The 1976 race saw the course change once more, with the starting line moved from the cog railway to Manitou City Hall. This course has remained in place for the last 40 years.
The Marathon holds a special place in American sports history as being the first to feature women. In the third year of the race, 1958, women were allowed to participate. Arlene Peiper-Stein was the only woman who chose to do so. She made it to the top of Pikes Peak and decided to end her race there which disqualified her since she did not finish the full marathon. The next year Peiper-Stein decided to run the marathon again. She trained diligently and lined up at the starting line again, this time with 59-year-old Katherine Heard as well as her 9-year-old daughter Cathy and 16 men. Peiper-Stein completed the race in about 9 hours which gave her a place in history as the first woman to complete a marathon.
The Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon has blossomed from a local’s mountain race to an internationally recognized race that attracts professional mountain runners from all over the world. The race has been the World Mountain Running Association’s “World Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge” three different times, in 2006, 2010, and 2014. The Pikes Peak Marathon will remain a major player in world mountain running as long as it exists, or until the mountain falls down, which won’t be for a while!
Generously Submitted by Patrick Lee, CSPM Museum Technician