MANITOU SPRINGS, Colo. - Pikes Peak Marathon and Ascent organizers have made an unprecedented decision in the trail running events world to randomly drug test its top 10 finishers.
No other trail-running events in the U.S. currently conduct such tests. From the top 10 finishers, four runners in the Pikes Peak Ascent and six in the Marathon will be randomly selected by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to be tested for prohibited substances.
The race's director Ron Ilgene said the decision was inspired by recent doping controversy surround Lance Armstrong and cycling. The goal is to send a message.
"We are taking our races very serious as well. We have some very famous records for our races, and when these records are broken, like they were last year, we want people to know they're done legitimately," said Ilgene.
It's a decision that hits home from former Boston Marathon winner Lisa Rainsberger. She finished fourth in the marathon during the U.S. olympic trials in 1984. The top three advanced and Rainsberger was the team's alternate. The third place finisher tested positive for performance enhancing drugs but kept her spot on the team. She's behind the move to drug test.
"It prevents people from even considering it. So it's a huge deterant. Plus, it levels the playing field. It means everyone in the race has the chance to be a winner, not a cheater," said Rainsberger.
The cash prizes were another driving factor in the decision to drug test. The race's top finishers and record breakers walk away with cash. The Ascent's top female finisher last year took first place and crushed the women's record. She took home $8,000. The bigger payouts are attracting more elite athletes and upping the competition.
Prize money won by tested runners will be paid after test results are provided. Test results will be returned no earlier than six weeks after the event.
Pikes Peak Marathon is ranked second hardest marathon in the world. Participants in the Ascent and Marathon run 13.2 miles to the top of Pikes Peak. Marathoners turn around and run back down to complete 26.2 miles. Iglene said the races are on serious marathoners bucket lists.
"They call it the ultimate challenge, and I think it is. It really takes a lot of mental strength as well as physical strength," said Laura Kelecy.
Kelecy is a race veteran, she's finished the top 10 for female marathon runners and in the Ascent in the past. She currently signed up for the Ascent and the marathon this year. She said if she placed in the top 10 again, she would be more than happy to take a drug test.
"We should all run on the same level, with our own natural ability without any drug enhancement," said Kelecy.
Iglene said the United States Anti-Doping Agency and people from the community are supportive of move.
The possibility of drug tests didn't deter runners from signing up for August's race. Runners filled all 800 spots available for the marathon in 3 hours and 20 minutes Wednesday. Participants in the marathon must have completed a marathon previously under a certain time. Ascent participants must have completed a half marathon under a certain time as well.
The Pikes Peak Ascent is set for Aug. 17, with the Marathon on Aug. 18. There are still spots available for people interested in the Ascent.