Each year, tens of thousands of people tackle the Incline, an odd, brutal little trail that rises straight uphill out of Manitou Springs, Colorado. They go there to train, to test themselves, to prepare for the next race, the next mountain, the next adventure.
Bill Beagle might be the only one who has taken on the Incline with a guitar on his back, a video camera in his hand and a song in his heart. Beagle, a resident of Monument, Colorado (a tiny town just north of Colorado Springs) has spent countless hours on the Incline. One day, he climbed and sang:
“I get up early, head down to Manitou.
Got it in my head exactly what I’m gonna do.
I’m gonna climb. I’m gonna climb,
That ole’ Incline.
It’s a sickness I just can’t lose. I got the Incline blues.
A siren’s call I can’t refuse. I got the Incline blues.”
Beagle is fearless. He introduces his video (available on YouTube) with a disclaimer:
“Written, produced, directed, performed and edited by The Beagle who is solely and sorrily responsible for its content.”
Beagle, 62, has lived in the Pikes Peak region for 11 years. He spent most of his professional life in communications, first in television and then working for the Ohio Division of Wildlife, the Wilderness Society and the City of Colorado Springs.
Laid off from his city job 2 ½ years ago, Beagle now works as a freelance writer/videographer, part-time ski instructor for Vail Resorts at Keystone and self-titled “cellar rat,” or winemaker’s assistant at the new Catriona Cellars, a winery in Monument.
His wife, Susan Davies, is the executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition, a local non-profit formed to protect parks and open spaces in the area. Their daughter, Elizabeth, 14, is a budding ice skater.
Beagle is a well-known presence on area trails. Slender with a shock of silver-blonde hair, he is on the board of directors of the Incline Friends, a group formed to care for that trail. He is a tireless cheerleader for other runners and he never misses a chance to make fun of himself or his “advanced” age. Before this year’s Pikes Peak Ascent, which he has run three years in a row, he posted on his blog,“Just received my bib number: 1706. The year I was born! What a coincidence!”
When he was training for that race in July, he wrote, “Let me just say that I’m glad they keep a light on all night at the visitors’ center so I’ll be able to find my way to the finish.”
This year, Beagle is a member of the Triple Crown Runners, a racing team dedicated to completing the Triple Crown series of races: the Garden of the Gods 10-Mile Run, the Summer Roundup Run and either the Pikes Peak Ascent or Marathon. The 7-member team (nicknamed the Mighty Marmots) is sponsored by PikesPeakSports.us and the Triple Crown of Running. Beagle is, he says proudly, the oldest (“434 in dog years”). The team had a purple and gold presence at this year’s Ascent, which Beagle finished in 5:16.
Beagle says he has been running most of his life. Born and raised in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, he was an only child.
“It was an easy life. We lived a mile outside a village. There was a dirt road and one other house. Because I was raised like that, I don’t mind being alone, and running is all about solitude and peacefulness. “
He ran his first 5K race in 1977 in Maine, wearing tennis shoes. “I never played tennis in them,” he says. “I ran and played basketball to stay in shape. Now, I don’t play basketball anymore, so I run.”
Beagle says he loves running on hills and has learned that training on the toughest terrain you can find is the way to prepare for a grueling race like the Ascent, the 13.32-mile uphill on the Barr Trail that ends on the 14,115 foot summit of Pikes Peak.
“The Incline is the great equalizer,” he says. “Athletes get gassed on it. If you do that, then run the Garden of the Gods, which is long but not that extreme, it’s easier.”
These days, Beagle spends a lot of time on trails near his home in Monument. Current favorites are Spruce Mountain, a pine-and-fir shaded mesa three miles north of Palmer Lake in Douglas County, and Mount Herman, a prominent peak that forms the backdrop for Monument.
He doesn’t have a rigid running schedule. When he was training for this year’s Ascent, he tried to get in 20 miles a week. And when he isn’t running, he is hiking with his family. In the winter, he teaches beginners to ski.
Not surprisingly, Beagle says the social aspect of running appeals to him. “You can meet fascinating people who can inspire you or drive you to do better. If they can run 100 miles, I can run Garden of the Gods. And there’s not a lot of ego in running. Runners don’t care if you are fast or slow. On the Ascent, you see people who are older than you and heavier than you. We’re all doing it. [When we’re done], we feel like survivors of a shipwreck.”
That physical challenge aside, Beagle says a normal run on a beautiful day gives him a chance to step back from his life.
“I think it’s the peacefulness and the solitude I love,” says Beagle. “One day when I was training for the Ascent, I drove to the top of Pikes Peak and ran three miles down and three back up. I stopped and looked at the rocks, and thought, ‘I’m glad to be here.’ I do a lot of thanking when I run. I know people who can’t walk, or who are already gone. I’m grateful I’m still here.”