Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Oregon's Max King & Stephanie Howe win USA 50k Trail Championships

Pre-race favorites Max King, 31, and Stephanie Howe, 28, both of Bend, OR, raced to victory at the 2011 USA 50km Trail Championships on Saturday, September 24, held for the second consecutive year at Mount Bachelor Nordic Center located just west of Bend, OR.

At the 8:00 a.m. start time, temperatures were in the upper 40s, but midway through the race, the mercury settled around 80 degrees, well above normal day time highs for the region.  King and eventual second-place finisher Ryan Bak, 29, Bend, ran shoulder to shoulder for much of the course, after dropping early leader Dusty Olson, 38, Duluth, MN, well before the first aid station at 12km. Olson dropped out at that point due to a hamstring issue.

King bettered last year’s second-place performance to win in 3:27:54 and earn yet another USATF championship title this year. In June, he won both the USA Half Marathon Trail Championships and the USA Mountain Running Championships. Add to his resume his incredible gold-medal performance at the World Mountain Running Championships earlier this month, and King is surely the man to beat on the trails and in the mountains.

Bak finished second in 3:33:46, followed by Jacob Puzey, 29, Hermiston, OR, in 3:47:12. Leading the masters’ men was Jeff Browning, 40, Bend, OR, in 4:02:02. Lowlander Mark Lundblad, 42, Swannanoa, NC, said the 7,000 foot elevation was a factor that slowed him down, but he still managed a second place masters’ finish in 4:04:15. Forty seven year-old William Emerson, Portland, OR, finished in 4:18:22.

In the women’s division, Howe ran head-to-head with Natalie Bak, 26, Bend, OR, until the last quarter mile outdistancing her rival at the finish line to win her first national championship in 4:19:26. Bak crossed the line in 4:20:01. Well off the pace was third-place finisher Pam Smith, 37, Salem, OR, who posted a time of 4:41:15.

The 40 and over women were led by Molly Zurn, 40, Reno, NV, in fourth place overall in 5:17:22. Julie Thomas, 44, Canby, OR, finished second for the masters’ women in 5:41:13, followed by Eugene’s Sharon Mosley, 48, in 6:22:15.

The course, unlike many ultra-distance events, consisted of a single, large loop. The race was held high in the Central Cascade Mountains, an area blanketed in snow much of the year. In fact, much of the course was still covered in snow as late as August. Elevations on the course varied from 5,500 feet to 7,500 feet and included single track, gravel service roads, heavily forested areas, and open alpine meadows. The last 50 meters of the course was a loose, cinder-covered path heading straight uphill, a real challenge after running nearly 50 kilometers.

There were seven different states represented among the 32 USATF members who had registered for the championships division, up from 23 registrants the year before. A prize money purse of $2,500 donated by Visit Bend, was distributed to the top three men and women overall and the top masters male and female finisher.

Richard Bolt, USATF Oregon Mountain, Ultra, Trail running coordinator, summed up the event like this, “Seeing the participation increase for a championship event is always a positive sign. Local race director Dave Thomason did an outstanding job with the event from start to finish. He mapped out a challenging course and provided a great post-race celebration complete with vendor booths, a catered buffet, and craft beer on tap.”

+++ Official post event press release.  Written by Nancy Hobbs with input from Richard Bolt.  +++

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