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Women’s sprint finish highlights Vail Pass Half Marathon

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Nancy Hobbs

Nine-tenths of a second was all that separated the top two women at today’s – June 7, 2014 – Vail Pass Half Marathon, a grueling13.7-mile race with a start line at Golden Peak in Vail, Colorado, and a finish line at Black Lake near Vail Pass at just over 10,000 feet. Total ascent 2,900 feet, all on pavement.

Morgan Arritola and Allison McLaughlin near the finish line
Nancy Hobbs

Sprinting toward the finish line, 28-year-old Morgan Arritola, chewed up what was a 30 second deficit at mile 13 to nip 23-year-old Allison McLaughlin at the finish line for the victory in 1:39:17.

“With a half mile to go, I went to the pain cave and touched the back wall,” said Arritola who was ran with eventual thrid-place finisher Stevie Kremer for much of the race after McLaughlin took off at around mile seven, “I was hurting and cramping a bit and couldn’t hang and she got some distance. I ran with Stevie until about 12 ½ miles and I knew she (McLaughlin) had about 30 seconds on me. I just kind of put my head down and tried to go. I knew it would be close one way or the other. I was just (saying to myself), ‘qualify here, just do it!’”

What the Ketchum, Idaho resident was referring to was a qualifying spot on the U.S. Team which will compete in the World Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge on August 16 at the Pikes Peak Ascent. “It’s awesome. I’m super excited about making the team,” said Arritola, “It’s definitely a race I’ve had my sights on for a while.”

Prior to Pikes Peak, Arritola has a few more races on the schedule this summer including the Northeast Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race on June 21, and the U.S. Mountain Running Championships at the Loon Mountain Race on July 6, where she will defend her title and attempt to make a third U.S. Mountain Running Team, (Arritola finished third at the 2012 World Mountain Running Championships, but declined her spot in 2013 to focus on her university studies.)

McLaughlin, a recent graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder who lives and trains in Colorado Springs, will join Arritola on the start line at Loon in hopes of making her first mountain running team. “I wanted to make sure I got through this (today’s race) withough injuries. I always wait until the last minute (to make plans), but things have been going really well.” Having never done a mountain team selection race, McLaughlin feels confident in the distance, “I’m not a high mileage person, so the shorter distance (8K at Loon), may be better. We’ll see.”

Kremer, 30, Crested Butte, Colorado, nabbed the bronze medal finishing in 1:40:05. “I’m just not a road runner,” said Kremer, “It’s hard to gauge. When there’s flat at the beginning, I don’t know how to pace myself for the uphill which I know is coming. I need to learn to run my race and not necessarily follow the fast people.”

About Arritola’s effort, Kremer said, “That last mile, she took off. She got this sudden surge of energy and I just didn’t have it in me. She can run. She’s just a fighter.”

Next up for Kremer is the 14.5-mile Mt. Evans Ascent to be held on June 14, the second selection race for the U.S. team at Pikes Peak. She will then travel to Europe to run the Mont Blanc Marathon on June 29.

Fourth-place finisher Megan Lizotte, 30, La Jolla, California, ran over a minute faster than her winning time of 1:43:56 from 2013, which was her third victory on the course having also won in 2009 and 2010. “My goal was to win like it always is,” said Lizotte, “I knew it would be competitive; I knew I wanted to keep contact with the top girls at the start and I did. If they got ahead, I knew on the climb I’d make up some time, and I did. From mile 5 ½ to 9, the grade is so comfortable for my stride length. I get a bit out of my rhythm and then back into it. After going under the bridge, they pulled away a bit. Then, after mile 11, I could see them again.” Lizotte went on to finish in 1:42:36.

She admits her speed isn’t quite where she wants it to be. “I still feel like I’m in a comeback phase – last year was really a comeback year (after having daughter Maven in September 2012), but now I feel I’m back where I was before the baby. I’ve focused a lot of my training on hilly thresholds and hill repeats. Just in the last three weeks I’ve been doing some fast repeats on the road,” said Lizotte who hopes to be in top form by Loon Mountain to make her fifth U.S. Mountain Running Team.

Rounding out the top five was Brandy Erholtz, 36, Evergreen, Colorado, who at the start of the race commented about the strength of the field, “There are so many runners here with national championship titles.” Erholtz was among those national champions, and also a member of five U.S. Mountain Running teams. She clocked a 1:45:35 today.

The men’s less-dramatic finish saw runners from the Front Range go one-two-three with Joseph Gray, 30, Colorado Springs, leading the way in 1:26:36. In second, Zach Miller, 25, Manitou Springs, clocked 1:27:31, while 35-year-old Peter Maksimow, Manitou Springs, rounded out the top three in 1:29:49.

This is not the first time for Gray to race the Vail Pass Half Marathon, but it is the first time this former Washingtonian has come from altitude to do the race, “The last time I came, I felt the altitude after the first mile. It was pretty ugly. Coming from sea level to Boulder, or Denver you can fake it. Starting at 8,200 feet – there’s no way to fake that.”

On today’s race, Gray’s plans were simple, “One of my training partners was here (Miller), so I ran with him. We worked together. Around 8 or 9 miles, I made a little gap, but he stayed pretty close, and I was a little worried as to what I should do. I dropped him in the first tempo run we did together in training, and in the second one, he was crushing me. Coming into today, I didn’t know what would happen. If I got a gap on him, I figured I’d sill have to fight.”

Miller congratulated Gray after he finished and said with a smile, “That didn’t hurt as bad as I thought.”

Not resting on his laurels, Gray was already thinking about the 10K trail race he was planning to race the next day. “I want to make sure I can come back and have a solid run tomorrow. My legs feel pretty decent. Training’s been going well. I don’t feel too fatigued so that’s a good thing.”

The race Gray refers to is the Vasque 10K Spring Runoff which starts at 8 a.m. on Sunday, June 8, at Checkpoint Charlie on Gore Creek Drive in Vail. Both the Vail Pass Half Marathon and the Spring Runoff are part of the GoPro Mountain Games, an annual outdoor extravaganza with sports, art, music, and more which runs this year June 5-8.

Gray may add to the $1200 in prize money he won at the half marathon since the Spring Runoff has a prize purse equal to that of the half marathon. The top three finishers in both the men’s and women’s divisions in the Spring Runoff will earn $1200, $800, $500 respectively.

For more information on the GoPro Mountain Games, visit this link. For a complete list of results, visit this link.