Dakota Jones has made quite the return to competitive trail running. He proved he was in peak form Sunday when he conquered the Pikes Peak Marathon with a first-place finish.
Jones, a 27-year-old from Durango, was second to the 14,112-foot summit of Pikes Peak, but nobody could keep up with Jones on the descent back to Manitou Springs.
Darren Beck Thomas of Colorado Springs was the first runner to the summit Sunday, as he reached the top in 2 hours, 17 minutes, 22 seconds. Jones was second to the summit in 2:18:26. But it was Jones’ blistering time of 1:13:53 on the 13.32-mile descent the gave him a five-minute victory. Jones finished the race in 3:32:20. Oriol Cardona Croll of Spain was second in 3:37:20, and Thomas finished third in 3:37:34.
“The ascent was hard,” Jones said in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “It’s always hard. It’s an 8,000-foot climb. I’m good at uphill, but not amazing at it. It’s definitely not what I excel at. I was trying to stay within reach. It was demoralizing because four guys went off the front really hard, and I didn’t really see them hardly until we got above tree line, which is a lot.”
The women’s race saw a 37-year-old record go down. Ridgway’s Megan Kimmel, 38, finished in 4:15:04 to break the previous mark set in 1981 by Lynn Bjorklund. Kimmel finished 14th overall.
Jones ran between fifth and seventh place until tree line. His day wasn’t going how he envisioned, but he kept moving and gradually moved up in place.
“I think that I was pretty well acclimated to the altitude,” he said. “With a mile to go to the summit, I passed two guys, and a guy in front of them had dropped out, so all of a sudden I was in second with a mile to go to the top. I came over the top a minute behind first place and took time to drink some water then turned around down the hill.
“I had a really good descent. I caught first place by tree line and then hung on to the finish.”
The win was the third in a row for Jones this summer. He claimed the Kendall Mountain Run, a 12-mile race in Silverton, on July 15 and then turned in a dominant performance Aug. 5 in Albuquerque during the famous La Luz Trail Run, a nine-mile race.
Sunday gave him three wins in three races this year. They were his first events since the Lake Sonoma 50 Miler in California on April 15, 2017. At that race, he suffered a hamstring injury and didn’t train until November of that year. Soon, another setback came in the form of an Achilles injury, and he was shelved the rest of the year and into spring.
“It’s cathartic to come back and have success after being injured for so long,” he said. “I ran super, super hard up and down the mountain, but I feel great. It’s cathartic to know that I can still compete. It doesn’t mean I’m going to win every race. Today, everything went well for me. Maybe next time it won’t. But it’s gratifying to run at a high level again.”
Getting to the start line Sunday was already a victory for Jones. A week earlier, he departed Silverton on his bicycle en route to Colorado Springs for the race. Instead of driving, he commuted on his bike as a fundraiser for Protect Our Winters, a non-profit environmental group that has brought together athletes against climate change.
Jones, who has been based out of Silverton much of this summer, took his bike over Cinnamon Pass, a four-wheel drive road, and into Lake City. He then rode into Gunnison, over Monarch Pass with a summit of 11,312 feet, and down into Salida. He then rode into Cañon City and up to Colorado Springs in a four-day ride that covered roughly 250 miles. He will make the same trip back to the Durango area, though he plans on a slightly different route so he can see a bit different country.
“I’m really aware of climate issues and environmental problems,” Jones said. “Those things can be super sort of paralyzing. It’s such a big problem, what can I do? Honestly, me not driving and me biking doesn’t make that big of a difference, but if you think of it like that, then nobody will do anything. We have to do something, no matter how small it is, and so this is a good opportunity for me to put this into practice.”
Jones chronicled his journey on Twitter and has posted a fundraiser page and has raised more than $3,500 for Protect Our Winters along the way. He will continue to raise donations during his return trip home. Every $10 donated will earn contributors a raffle ticket for prizes he plans to give out.
“I’ve struggled being an athlete and being very one dimensional and feeling very selfish about it,” Jones said. “It’s difficult for me to find ways to be inspired by this sport. I love what I do, the people and the community, but if I don’t have something beyond working hard and physically making myself a little bit faster, then I just don’t feel happy. I need something more in my life. This is one of the solutions I’ve come up with to be able to compete at a high level, which I really enjoy, but also to do so and give back to causes that I really feel passionate about.”
Jones recovered well from the long ride and was in strong form Sunday. He will race again Sept. 8 at the 45th Imogene Pass Run from Ouray to Telluride.
“Being at a race, it’s like old times,” he said. “It’s so fun to see old friends, see some people I’ve never met and feel that positive competition.”