June 14, 2014, Echo Lake, CO -- At today’s Mt. Evans Ascent, Coloradoans Andrew Wacker, 25, Boulder, and Nuta Olaru, 43, Longmont, bested a field of nearly 500 as they ascended some 4,000 feet in elevation during the 14.5-mile race up the Mount Evans auto road.
It was the first race up Mount Evans for the pair who have something else in common. Both work for the Boulder-based start-up ROLL Recovery. In addition, they are both seasoned road racers with limited mountain race experience. In fact, this was Olaru’s first mountain race. Wacker raced in last year’s USA Mountain Running Championships at Cranmore, New Hampshire where he finished a respectable seventh after leading part of the race.
After today’s finish, Wacker, laid down in a nearby snowdrift and said, “That’s the hardest nine-minute mile I’ve ever run. I’m so glad it’s done.”
Well off the 1:37:01 course record set by Matt Carpenter in 2008, Wacker’s finish time was 1:44:51.
The slower pace could have been attributed to the wind which gusted along the course between 20-30 mile per hour. The wind conditions at the 14,264-foot summit caused race director Darrin Eisman to forego setting up a clock at the finish line, “One year we had gusts up to 50 mile per hour and I lost some equipment and the clock blew over. I wasn’t going to let that happen this year,” said Eisman.
Wacker said he took the lead about one half mile into the race. “I thought it would be my best bet to go from the gun,” said Wacker. “I tried to make sure I was running the red line the whole time. There were a lot of good runners. I knew it could be attrition. On this kind of course you go up and up. I could see Peter (second place), after some of the switchbacks. He was hunting me down. I had to make sure I kept it honest. There’s no way you can take this course easy. I knew I would have to run at max heart rate as long as possible.”
With his win, Wacker earned a berth on the U.S. Long Distance Team to compete at the WMRA World Long Distance Challenge at the Pikes Peak Ascent on August 16. “This will be my first time representing the U.S. I’ll be very glad to be part of that.” Asked if he’d ever been on the mountain Wacker offered, “I rode up in the train, does that count?”
Kidding aside, Wacker expects to be in top form for Pikes Peak. “Now that I know it’s a lock, I definitely want to be sure I’m fit and ready for Pikes Peak. I’ll spend a lot of time on the trails between Boulder and Colorado Springs. I don’t have specific racing plans before Pikes, but I will do the Summer Round Up (a 12-kilometer trail race in Colorado Springs next month).”
Asked what it will take to run well at Pikes Peak, Wacker said, “It’s so hard to say. It’s such a hard course. I’ll need to be doing lots of running at altitude. You have to be aerobically fit. It’s the same thing if you’re running on the roads or trails…fitness is fitness. If you are aerobically fit, you can run anything well that’s thrown at you.”
Second to Wacker was Manitou Springs, Colorado resident and Mount Evans neophyte Peter Maksimow, 35, who finished in 1:47:11.“My goal going into the race was to run strong,” Maksimow said during a post-race interview. “There were a lot of fast entrants. I never underestimate anyone. Andy proved, as a road runner, you can do well at this. It’s not trail, it’s not technical.
“I thought I could run well. I thought top five would be good today. Simon (Gutierrez, the top masters’ runner today) and I have been doing some speed and uphill work. I feel more rested now. Last week I was just tired,” continued Maksimow referring to his third place finish at the Vail Pass Half Marathon last weekend. “That’s expected with hard training.
“The altitude … I didn’t feel it today which is nice. We started high – 10,600 feet – I just felt comfortable the whole time…relatively. I was pushing myself, but I didn’t get to a point where I felt like I was maxing out. That’s progress. Third last week, second this week.”
Next up for Maksimow is the Northeast Delta Dental Mountain Washington Road Race on June 21 where another automatic berth for the U.S. Long Distance Team is up for grabs. “I’m obviously hoping I run well at Mount Washington. All I have to do is win. That would be great,” chuckled Maksimow. “You never know. On paper this was a very competitive race. I placed better (than last week), so that’s encouraging.
“Today, I was thinking on the way up, more climbing and more cowbell. I was shocked at how mild the grade was. I didn’t know what to expect. There were two significant downhills and I could see Andy pulling away. I could tell the higher we got, the closer he was coming back. The uphills went well, which is promising for Mount Washington. My goal is to make the team. I knew it was never going to be easy.”
Fellow Manitou Springs resident Zach Miller, 25, raced to a third-place finish in a time of 1:51:28. Last weekend Miller beat Maksimow to the finish line in the Vail Pass Half Marathon, finishing second to Joseph Gray who did not race at Mount Evans.
For the women, Olaru’s winning time of 2:02:32 was also well off the 2012 course record of 1:57:51. “The last part was tough,” said Olaru after her finish, “I didn’t know the mile mark. I said to myself, ‘stay on my pace.’ I’m happy to finish. It was hard, nice, and beautiful.”
Like Wacker, Olaru also earned a spot on the U.S. Long Distance Team, but wasn’t as ready to commit to racing at Pikes Peak. “I want to make a national team to travel to the World Championships,” said Olaru, who represented Romania in the marathon at the Olympic Games in Athens and became a U.S. citizen in 2012. “After Loon, I will make my decision.”
Olaru refers to the Loon Mountain Race which will host the USA Mountain Running Championships as well as serving as the sole selection race for the U.S. Mountain Running Team which will compete in Italy this September.
Olaru says if she earns one of the four spots on the women’s team at Loon, she won’t race at Pikes Peak. However, says Olaru, “If I don’t finish in the top four, I will run Pikes Peak.”
Second in the women’s field today was course record holder Stevie Kremer, 30, Crested Butte, who posted a time of 2:07:35. Asked about her finish, Kremer summed it up, “Average. You know it wasn’t my worst race, it wasn’t my best race. As I get older, I realize I’m not a road runner. I prefer trails and I think you run better when you do a race you prefer.
“I always, regardless of where I am, go in nervous as to who’s ahead. I knew Nuta was ahead. She had a good enough gap I didn’t think I’d cather her. Not until like mile 11 – with the switchbacks – could I see runners behind me. At that point I didn’t see another woman and I was more confident in my position.
“Looking back, my goal was definitely running a little bit faster, but the winds were tough. I was about eight minutes slower – partly my body (tired), partly the wind. I can say that because Nuta didn’t set a record either,” surmised Kremer.
Rounding out the top three was Brandy Erholtz, 36, Evergreen, who finished in 2:14:30. “I almost felt like it was strong workout,” said the first-time Mount Evans competitor. “I just let Stevie and Nuta go at the start. When I get in my own land, I can lose focus a bit. The last few miles I realized the number four woman was catching me. That motivated me the last three or four miles to pick it up.”
Erholtz will head to Mount Washington next week in the hopes of earning a third title at the iconic New England race. She was victorious in 2008 and 2009, and finished second last year when she was four months pregnant with her first child.