COLORADO SPRINGS — This weekend, runners will trek up America’s Mountain for the 2021 Pikes Peak Marathon & Ascent, but not many know the mountain better than one one woman in particular. Charlene Aldridge, at the age of 73, is running in her 53rd race this Saturday, heading 13.3 miles to the summit of Pikes Peak.
“I’m grateful for every footstep on the mountain,” Aldridge said.
She’s taken a lot of footsteps. They’re practically permanent on Barr Trail running in 50 consecutive races over a 30 year span from 1986 to 2016, even running in 20 consecutive doubles, nearly 40 miles up and down Pikes Peaks in back-to-back days between the Ascent and Marathon.
“We moved for business to Indiana and it was there I decided I’d come back do both, never ever dreaming I’d do it 20 years in a row, but that’s my story,” Aldridge said.
Aldridge didn’t start running until her late 30’s as a way to stay in shape. She and her husband, Bob, would run together, but at first, even one mile seemed like a marathon in itself.
“We were running on the track and I remember him passing me and yelling ‘c’mon pick it up,’ and I won’t even tell you what I thought,” she laughed.
But those words of encouragement were all she needed to hear. Soon the miles came easy.
“After I accomplished my first mile it was a good feeling,” she said. “Then it was two miles, then it was three miles.”
Aldridge continued to log mile and after mile, signing up for her first Ascent in 1986. Now, at 73 years old, she’s running in her 53rd race to the summit.
“I thank my husband,” Aldridge said. “He is my biggest supporter and he says ‘you’re a legend Charlene and I know you don’t like to hear that, but not many people can do that.’ I’ve been blessed and I thank God that I’ve been healthy enough with my legs that I’ve been able to do it this many years.”
Hundreds of miles on the mountain will take a toll on anyone, and at some point Aldridge knows the mountain will stand too tall a task for her.
“I have a lot of determination,” she said. “I don’t want to quit, but at some point the old body will say that’s enough old girl.”
For the runner who once celebrated just one mile, then two, then three, she sure is happy her footsteps led her to wear she is today.
“I certainly hope it does inspire people,” Aldridge said. “I’ve had a lot of people though the years, when we get to the start, say ‘Are you Charlene Aldridge? You’re my hero, you inspire me.’ And I was the one who wasn’t going to be a runner, so you never know what you can do until you try it.”
The Ascent is on Saturday, August 21, while the Marathon follows on Sunday, August 22.