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Confessions of an Incline addict
My name is Dave Philipps, and I’m an Incline-aholic. (That's me, above, nearing the end of the Pikes Peak Ascent a few years back.) I do it in the snow and ice. I do it in the dark. I do it with a 30-pound toddler on my back.
My high school running coach introduced me to the Manitou Incline in 1994 — before it was illegal, before it was on the verge of being legalized, before it was a workout cult so clogged with disciples that you can’t find a parking spot nearby, even at dawn.
We had planned to run up Barr Trail that day, but on a whim decided to hike the old railway instead. We stumbled to the top about 40 minutes later, quads aching, and looked out at the roller coaster view of the ties diving down into Manitou Springs. It was the beginning of one of the few high school obsessions I still cling to today. (The other is a staunch love for The Pixies: Best. Rock band. Ever.) I’ve been chiseling my personal record for years and am determined this September to break it.
In the early 1990s it was rare to see anyone on the Incline. Train traffic on the track had stopped only in 1990, and climbing the ties was still a fringe pursuit undertaken by a few Pikes Peak Ascent junkies.
It stayed that way for a long time. The first mention in The Gazette of hiking on the Incline, in 1996, said it was a “popular training ground for the area’s more serious runners.” I went east to college that year, and though I climbed the Incline every time I returned, little appeared to change. It was still trail runners and mountain climbers. If you said you were going to “do the Incline,” few would know what you were talking about.
Slowly, youth sports teams started showing up. Then church groups. Then the Army. Then, seemingly, everyone.
Photos of climbers on the Incline
I hear multiple languages on the Incline. I see people of every shape and color from every neighborhood in town. Other local hiking trails don’t have anywhere near this kind of diversity. You would think climbing a mile-long, 2,000-foot staircase to nowhere would have limited appeal.
What has captivated us all? Why this trail rather than a dozen others?
It must be the unique combination of limitless challenge and limited commitment.
There is no limit to how hard the Incline is. Whether you are an Olympic runner or an overweight smoker, the Incline need never be easy. If you are fit, you just run it faster. I know a handful of people who do it two or three times in a row.
Yet the Incline in manageable. It is close and accessible. You can do it before or after work.
It is an unlimited challenge that fits into our limited and busy lives.
I have been climbing the Incline religiously, once a week, since moving back to Colorado Springs in 2003.
What has that devotion gotten me?
About six minutes.
When I returned to Colorado Springs, I could regularly finish the Incline in roughly 30 minutes. My goal was to get under 25. I was already running regularly and was in good shape, so I figured the faster time would have to come from efficiency.
I noticed that running seemed more efficient on the stairs than walking. My weight stayed forward. I did not have to straighten one leg before extending the other. I started running the flatter parts of the route.
My times slowly dropped to 26 minutes. And then less.
As my legs grew accustomed to running the stairs, I gradually extended how far I could jog before walking. Within a year I was jogging the first half of the Incline. Before long, I could regularly top out in less than 25 minutes.
My average time this year is 24:12.
My personal best time is 22 minutes, 45 seconds. I’m determined to beat it in September, after a series of summer races that I hope put me in top shape.
Beating my record will mean faster running, and even taking double steps on many of the stairs. It won’t be easy, but easy is not why anyone becomes an Incline addict.