When you hear someone say this, it typically means their olfactory senses have detected something very stanky, right? Well, those who came across Brandon Stapanowich on Sunday afternoon in Mantiou Springs, Colo., probably would have forgiven his staunch odor after what he accomplished on Pikes Peak over the weekend.
Including Saturday’s 13.32-mile Pikes Peak Ascent and Sunday’s 26.2-mile Pikes Peak Marathon, the 31-year-old runner ran up and down the 14,115-foot mountain four times and accumulated 100 miles of running and an eye-popping 31,200 feet of elevation gain in the process.
As if the Pikes Peak races aren’t hard enough, a handful of people every year enter both the Pikes Peak Ascent and Pikes Peak Marathon with the chance to be officially recognized as a Pikes Peak Doubler. That’s how I spent my weekend and I thought that was tough—and it was—but that was just child’s play for Stapanowich, who is known as “Stank” by local runners and his Team Colorado teammates.
Stapanowich has a reputation for pulling off some rather freakish running adventures in Colorado, many of which occur on the the trails in Manitou Springs. He’s also done something he calls the Inclinathon—13 times up and down the savagely steep Manitou Incline, to accumulate about a marathon’s distance on the trail that is just short of a mile—and, of course, he’s also done a 24-hour rendition on the Mantiou Incline known as the UltraInclinathon. He’s also one of only a handful of finishers of Nolan’s 14, a dastardly hard 100-mile route with 90,000 feet of vertical gain as it traverses 14 peaks higher than 14,000 feet through Colorado’s highest mountain range.
In fact, it’s not the first time Stapanowich has turned Pikes Peak into his own personal 100-mile fun run, either. He completed his first “Pikes Ultra” (aka the “P.U.”) in September 2013 amid cold weather, high winds and blowing snow. (During that one, he battled sub-zero temperatures through the night and at one point succumbed to getting a few hours of sleep in the fetal position while hugging the composting toilet at Barr Camp at 4 a.m. just to stay warm.)
On the heels of setting a new self-supported record for the 485-mile Colorado Trail about a month ago—he covered the route from Durango to Denver in 9 days, 14 hours, 28 minutes—Stapanowich was keeping his next fantastical adventure quiet because he didn’t know how his body was going to be feeling after such a long effort.
“It was something that I had a hard time committing to as I wasn’t sure if I’d be recovered enough from finishing Colorado Trail,” he said. Stealthily, he jumped into race the Pikes Peak Ascent on Saturday with a realistic outlook and completed the official course up the mountain in 3:27:23—a time good enough for 141st place overall out of 1,702 official finishers, not to mention 19th in his age group. He ran back down to complete his first roundtrip, then immediately ran up and down the mountain again, finishing his second roundtrip just as the final bit of daylight was fading into darkness.
“I went into it planning on just taking one lap at a time,” Stapanowich said. “That way, if the weather turned or my body wasn’t feeling right, there was no shame in stopping. The decision to go all in wasn’t made until around 9 p.m. as I came down from my second trip.”
When he got back down to Manitou Springs, he saw people out and about, enjoying their Saturday night at the local pubs and restaurants. He was admittedly tired and hungry, and ready for a nice meal and maybe a hard cider, too.
So what was he thinking?
“I had a decision to make,” he said. “I could go home, sleep, and come back in the morning for the marathon with a respectable 75 miles for the weekend and no one would care. Or, with 10 hours before the marathon start, I could complete my third lap in the darkness, maybe snag a couple winks of sleep, and be ready for the final trip in the morning. Still, probably no one would care, but I’d know that I’d chosen to do the hard thing.”
Hard thing, indeed, because the thought of 100 miles with over 31,200 feet of gain is not soft and most people barely make it up once. But Stapanowich has set his struggle-meter and mental-flux-capacitor on very high.
So, without any fanfare or anyone supporting him, he went back up the Barr Trail and reached the summit of Pikes Peak for a third time in the middle of the night. He came back down in the wee hours of the morning and had enough time to get about an hour or so of sleep in his car.
When his alarm went off, he headed over to the starting line of the Pikes Peak Marathon and ran his second official race of the weekend, once again running to the top of the mountain and back. He finished that race in 6:07:34—about two and a half hours behind Alex Nichols’ winning time of 3:40:29—and although Stapanowich was still good enough for 135th place out of 696 official finishers, his more impressive stat was his cumulative time of 30 hours, 7 minutes, for the four-lap, 100-mile adventure.
“Some people have asked, ‘Why?’ and I still wonder the answer to that question. Then I wonder why do we do anything,” Stapanowich said in a moment of reflection on Monday night. “I guess I just enjoy imposing challenges on my mind and body and the feeling of achievement when they work together to overcome a difficult situation. When the adversity is self-imposed, it often teaches me lessons that are applicable in other scenarios of my life where I feel like I have less control. I think for this Pikes Peak Quad trip, the lessons have been about choice and the experience of pain without suffering.”
If you think Stapanowich is just a wacky nut job looking for publicity, he’s far from that. He’s as authentic and as tough as they come, plus he has the gift of being able to think outside the box. Plus, he gives back on a daily basis.
When he’s not running, he works full time as a children’s physical therapist in a program that serves special needs students in several schools in Manitou Springs, Cripple Creek and Woodland Park. He’s also the founder and developmental director of the Pikes Peak chapter of Achilles International, an all-inclusive running/walking/biking/moving group based in Colorado Springs. Stapanowich leads weekly group runs that pair dozens of disabled and able-bodied athletes and advocates active lifestyles to promote personal achievement and enhance self-esteem.
Stapanowich admits he gets inspiration from a lot of people and places, but certainly his connection with the Achilles group is a big part of it.
“I like to think of these escapades as a form of artistic expression,” he said. “And like a poem or painting, the ‘meaning’ behind the best pieces aren’t concrete, but are left to the interpretation of the viewer. And like any artist, my hope is that it makes you feel something. Inspired, hopeful, motivated to push limits and challenge assumptions.”