The 2019 USATF Half Marathon Trail Championships were held June 9, in Scranton, PA, the first time for the Keystone state to host a USATF Trail Championship event.
It was a picture-perfect morning at Montage Mountain Resorts — host venue for the race — for the 9 a.m. start time. Nearly 250 runners toed the line, of which 75 were in the championship division.
As expected, the pace went out pretty fast with event director Ben Robinson, 25, Lehman, PA, just seconds ahead of the chase pack at the 1.5-mile point. The pack of five had David Roche, 30, Boulder, CO, out in front followed by Lee Berube, 28, Syracuse, NY, Nick Aguila, 29, Manchester, NH, Mark Beams, 27, Milwaukee, WI, and Matt Lipsey, 29, Harrisburg, PA. Those placings were to change throughout the challenging course, complete with 3485 feet of elevation gain, and a variety of surfaces from the start on a gravel road to mowed grassy fields, rocky single track, and steep ascents and descents.
By the 8.5-mile aid station, it was Robinson one step ahead of Berube with Roche in the hunt just 10 seconds back. Berube took the lead within the next mile and kept it to the finish winning his first-ever USATF Championship title with a time of 1:28:34, less than a minute ahead of Robinson timed in 1:29:10. Roche rounded out the top three in 1:29:35.
“I caught Ben on the top of the long ski slope and I tried not to look back, pressing on and leaving nothing out there,” said Berube. “This is the greatest accomplishment I’ve ever had. To win a national championship is great. There was good competition with lots of talented east coasters and others from across the country.”
Of the course, Beurbe had only positive comments, “It was an awesome course with a lot of variety. I really liked the nice slopping downhill between mile 4-8 and that made it a very interesting and enjoyable race. You had to be good on everything (for this course) — descending, climbing…the downhills were technical and the uphills were steep. This course was no joke. You had to work for it.” Next up for Berube, Mount Washington next weekend.
Roche, who was a late entrant into the race concurred with Berube about the course, “It was an amazingly designed course by a wonderful race director. Ben had the courage to just go for it and make it one of the best races out there.”
As to a favorite part of the course Roche responded, “It was all great. But definitely the parts through the woods where they mowed the grass was really east coast running…it was really cool.
“Racing is always a celebration,” continued Roche. “I coach Ben and it was absolutely his breakthrough race. Seeing it happen was so rewarding. It’s something I’ll always remember.”
Chris Grauch, 46, Nederland, CO, ninth place among the men and second in the 45-49 age group, used the word relentless to describe the course, “It was a very legitimate mountain course. I loved the steep ups and steep downs and variable terrain. We need more of these in the USATF series.”
Tim VanOrden, 51, Bennington, VT, twelfth place and winner of the 50-54 age group with a time of 1:43:13, said, “I thought it was a long Cranmore (multi-time host venue of the USATF Mountain Running Championships). It was more mountain than trail and surprisingly technical. The downhills were European-style. If you weren’t really good with your footing, you weren’t going to be able to run well on the downhills.”
Nick Simonetti, 61, Perkasie, PA, winner of the 60-64 age group said, “I thought the course was great. I liked it. It was very challenging. The long, flat section along the river was gorgeous — how could you not like that.”
Winner of the 70-74 age group, Gene Dykes, 71, Bala Cynwd, PA, timed in 2:22:04, a self-described specialist in the marathon said, “The course was not my cup of tea, but it sure challenged all aspects of the game. If you had a weakness, this course was going to find it.”
Other masters winners on the men’s side included Brock Butler, Chester Springs, PA, 40-44 who won $200 as first master across the line timed in 1:35:58; Oliver Vrambout, 45-49, timed in 1:38:24; Kerry Farrell, Auburn, WA, 55-59 in 2:02:20; Len Hall, Enfield, NH, 65-69 in 2:29:37.
On the women’s side, Kassandra Spitler, 30, Newport, RI (formerly of Montoursville, PA), led the race through the first mile and a half, taking the pace out fairly quick, but by the 8.5-mile aid station had slipped back a few places, and eventually faded to eighth place, “My goal was to see how I could compete against some really good trail runners. There is not much trail running in Rhode Island that I’ve found and not too many hills. I took it out fast, but the climbs are my weak point. Around mile seven…after the first climb, I started getting passed. I told myself if I could get in the top 10 I’d be happy.”
Happy was a word to describe women’s winner Sam Lewis, 24, Moscow, ID, who was all smiles at the finish line posting a time of 1:46:42, “It was awesome. It was a great course…an ultimate playground out there,” she said.
Lewis took the lead about 7 and a half miles into the race, a lead she would then hold to the finish, she said, “With a great field of women, I ran scared knowing they were there.”
Lewis had only praise for Robinson, “Ben did a phenomenal job. This was an ultimate trail race, easily the most technical course I’d ever done.” Lewis, who finished second at last year’s USATF Half Marathon Trail Championships had some comparisons between the two half marathon courses, “Here, the climbs were longer and steeper, and the technicality of the roots and rocks kept you engaged the whole time.”
Look for Lewis at the USATF Mountain Running Championships at the end of September, “I’m planning to run at Waterville Valley and see how it goes. My big goal is to make the team. I have entered the trail world and am excited for that journey.”
Caitlin Patterson, 29, Craftsbury Common, VT, was second among the women timed in 1:48:34, just 24 seconds ahead of third place finisher Collier Lawrence, 32, Bend, OR. “I like the course quite a bit,” said Patterson, a US Olympic Cross Country skier and member of the 2017 gold medal US Women’s Team at the World Mountain Running Championships. “I really liked the mountain side of things. The gravel sections not as much. These rocky Pennsylvania trails are kind of fun — tricky footing, but fun.”
First among the masters women to earn $200 was Laura Lunardi, 44, West Chester, PA. Lunardi’s time was 2:00:45 placing her tenth in the women’s field. “The course was very challenging,” said Lunardi. “It was super unique with a lot of different terrain. There were a lot of false summits. I’d think we were at the top and we’d just keep climbing. I like descents…I like bombing down hill.
“I really liked running with the group of guys in front of me,” continued Lunardi. “We were actually kind of ski foraging and talking. It made the last couple miles go by pretty fast.”
Other masters age group winners included Meira Minard, State College, PA, 45-49 in 2:07:14; Carole Dudukovich, Port Matilda, PA, 50-54 in 2:13:25; Jan Summers, Mullica Hill, NJ, 55-59, 2:57:59; Jo May, Houston, TX, 70-74 in 4:17:03.
In team competition, Rosemont Running Club swept the men’s open, women’s open and women’s 40+ categories while Greater Philadelphia Track Club won the men’s 50+ category and Pineland Striders wine the women’s 50+ division.
Following the awards ceremony, Robinson gave some post-event thoughts, “This week has been super tiring, but today was super rewarding,” said Robinson. “Bringing the whole community together…having people bring their families to utilize the water park was great. The race itself went really smoothly and the competition was really solid.
“I’m happy with the numbers for a first year event; 250 is great,” continued Robinson. “I think we could grow to 800 people or more in the coming years.”
According to USATF championship liaison Lin Gentling, the race was a success. “This was my first visit to Montage Mountain and I was very impressed with the facilities and the support from the resort staff. The event was very successful as indicated by the runner’s comments. Up until now this venue was a diamond in the rough. But now, we know about it and we’d love to come back for a future championship.”
In addition to the masters’ prize money distributed to Lunardi and Butler, the top open runners split a purse of $6000 with Berube and Lewis each taking home $1300, Robinson and Patterson each earning $800, and Roche and Lawrence netting $500 each. In fourth place, Kieran Sutton, Philadelphia, PA and Jordan Chester, Allendale, MI each pocked $250 and in fifth place Nick Aguila, Manchester, NH, and Katie Sick, Millville, PA, each earned $150.
USATF championship results with age groups can be found HERE.
Overall race results are at https://results.chronotrack.com/event/results/event/event-51387