MANITOU SPRINGS — Monday June 24 was by all accounts a bit of a weird day. Mainly from a weather standpoint. The early morning temperatures in Colorado Springs sank below 43 degrees, which up to that point had been the lowest on record.
It was another sign that summer in Colorado was off to a slow start.
But regardless of the temperatures, summer training programs for high school athletes are very much in full swing by then.
That was certainly the case for the Cheyenne Mountain cross country team. Just before 6 a.m., they were gathered in a circle getting loose and stretching for the monumental task ahead of them.
They were about to embark up 2,768 steps of utter misery. For most it wasn't for the first time and it certainly won't be the last as long as they are a part of the program.
The Manitou Incline has become of the most popular training tools for athletes of all ages. On any given day, high school gear from various Colorado teams can be picked out on various people making their trek up the staircase.
On this particular Monday, the Indians went up as a team exercise.
"Physiologically, this isn't the wisest thing to be doing a lot of training on if you're trying to run fast 5K in October and November," assistant cross country coach Sean O'Day said. "But for camaraderie, teamwork and the psychological lift of getting this done is fantastic."
Cheyenne Mountain also played host to Wayzata High School out of Minnesota. It's something that the team have been doing for 14 years and the results are certainly visible via the banners that Wayzata has amassed. Since 2013, Wayzata has won four boys cross country state championship while the girls have own three.
It's a good measuring stick for the Cheyenne Mountain runners and O'Day is starting to see the intensity of his team increase each time the two squads start the climb.
"I think we're starting to get some competition," O'Day said. "Wayzata has always been a powerhouse and Cheyenne Mountain has started to come around in the last few years."
O'Day was among the first of the entire group to reach the top. He did so in order to mark the times of the athletes as they placed their foot on step No. 2,768.
Cheyenne Mountain sophomore Erik Le Roux was the first competitor to reach the top. While O'Day says summiting the incline isn't physiologically the smartest thing for his runners, a kid like Le Roux sees the benefits not just in going up the incline, but having it essentially in his backyard.
"It gives you the strength to work your hardest since you're going up a (2,000-foot) incline," he said. "I think overall it's a big benefit for a cross country runner."
The incline has been an attraction for professional athletes as well. Members of the Denver Broncos, Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche have all documented trips up the incline. In August 2016, Major League Baseball home run king Barry Bonds made the trip up and even took a picture with Ty Murphy, a multi-sport athlete at Falcon at the time.
Le Roux reached the top of the incline in under 28 minutes. According to the fitness app Strava, assistant Cheyenne Mountain track coach Brandon Stapanowich — an avid incliner — logged the fastest recorded time on the trail as of 10 a.m. Monday. He made the climb in 23:34.
Cheyenne Mountain is far from the only school to utilize the training ground of the incline. On this day alone, gear from Woodland Park, Widefield and Manitou Springs was also seen making the trip to the top.
O'Day said that Cheyenne Mountain has also hosted Mountain Vista and Palmer Ridge in similar ways it has hosted Wayzata.
Cherry Creek, Eaglecrest, Vista Ridge, Pueblo South, Pueblo West, Coronado, Air Academy, Doherty and La Junta are among the several represented schools who also take part in the incline.