Gray and Roche crowned USATF Half Marathon Trail Champions

On a crisp fall morning in Seeley, Wisconsin, more than 250 runners headed out at the Birkie Trail Runs, site of the USA Track & Field (USATF) Trail Running Championships. In order to combat the near-freezing temperatures, race leaders set a blistering pace in the early miles.

“Joe (Gray), and I took it out hard,” said eventual second-place finisher Andy Wacker, 30, Boulder, CO. “We hit 17 low for 5K and about 34:30 for 10K … that’s fast.”

Fast indeed. Fellow Coloradoan Joseph Gray, 34, Colorado Springs said, “It was pretty aggressive from the start. Andy and I like to race similar. It got progressively faster as we went on, but the muddier section slowed us down a little.

“Andy and I were kind of yo-yoing through the race,” continued Gray. “Leaving the single track, he was five or six seconds back and then I just kind of inched away from him from there.”

Gray raced in for the win defending his title at the championships with a time of 1:13:16, to Wacker’s 1:13:43. Rounding out the top three was Tyler Sigl, 32, Seymour, WI, with a time of 1:15:48.

Gray’s had strong praise for the course, “I really just like the whole course. It suits me very well. There are some really good climbs, some muddy sections, grass…it’s a really unique course. Kind of a mixture of cross country and trail.

Likewise, Wacker said of the course, “It’s hard not to like the whole thing. It was a beautiful fall day and it was really fun to run on the course.”

Sigl ran in third place from about mile four after seesawing with Justin Grunewald, 32, Minneapolis, eventual fourth place finisher (and second in 2017). “I found myself in No Man’s Land from there on (after mile four),” said Sigl. “In the middle, when I wanted someone to push me, there was no one there and it’s hard to get into that up-tempo pace alone.

“My goal was third or better – I was third last year,” recalled Sigl who was happy with his finish, “Yeah, I’ll take it.”

First master was Greg Hexum, 47, Esko, MN, with a time of 1:25:13, good enough for eighth overall.

“I felt really relaxed and I was repeating my 47-years-old mantra, ‘I run for pleasure,’” said Hexum. “I’ve made a commitment to age gracefully.

“I really enjoyed the day and I’m proud of the effort,” continued Hexum. “There’s this ego thing you have to get over and now I’m judging myself by a different standard. I’m most proud of just the joy I had out there and sharing the trails with everyone. The course here is particularly interesting. It’s not a super technical race. It’s more like a very tough cross country race. You have to be really strong. The hills and climbing are challenging.”

Megan Roche on her way to winning the Birkie Trail Run. Photo by Michael Scott.

On the women’s side, it was Megan Roche, 28, Boulder, leading from start to finish. “I felt really good out there,” said Roche. “The course was amazing. The altitude training that I’ve had has been good. I’m coming back from an injury and I think the cross training really helped me.

“My main goal was to go out and really hurt,” said Roche. “I’d done some tough hill workouts and was ready to really throw it down today. I was happy to see a lot of really strong runners coming over from the road to trail. David (Roche, SWAP Coaching) and I really try to encourage the crossover to get more people into trail running.”

Roche’s winning time was 1:27:31, just over three minutes ahead of her nearest competitor Samantha Lewis, 24, Moscow, ID. Roche was enthusiastic about the course, “It was a good combination of runnable fast and single track and lots of grueling hills.”

Lewis, who ran in second the entire way said her favorite part of the course was, “The last three miles…just bombing…those were fun.”

In third, was Megan Lacy, 24, a former collegiate runner, who was competing in her third trail race having raced in her hometown of Boise, ID, twice prior…an 8 miler and a 32K. “I was really hoping I’d run a little faster,” said Lacy, who finished in 1:33:04, in only her second half marathon. “But, I’m happy with it. It was hard to get a rhythm out there…it’s a tough course.

“My favorite part was the single track,” said Lacy. “I think I need to improve on my single track running ability, but it was really fun going back and forth. I really liked the flow.”

Brandy Erholtz, 41, Dillon, CO, won the masters division in 1:35:55 and was fourth among the women.

Other masters winners on the women’s side included 45-49, Kara Parker, 49, St. Paul, timed in 1:37:43; 50-54, Yvette Maijala, 50, Wrenshall, MN, 2:01:19; 55-59, Jan Guenther, 59, Long Lake, MN, 1:56:11; 70-74, Jo May, 70, Houston, TX, 2:57:52.

Men’s masters winners included 50-54, John Hahn, 51, Madison, WI, 2:05:00; 55-59, Kerry Farrell, 59, Auburn, WA, 1:36:17; 60-64, Kevin Tuck, 62, Tucson, AZ, 1:34:13; 65-69, Doug Beagle, 68, Houston, TX, 2:14:31; 70-74, Roy Pirrung, 70, Kohler, WI, 2:21:41.

In addition to overall and age group medals, $4300 in prize money was distributed equally between the men and women. Gray and Roche each won $1000, Wacker and Lewis earned $500, Sigl and Lacy netted $300, and Grunewald and Erholtz won $100. Erholtz won an additional $250 as the top female masters’ runner, as well, Hexum won $250 as the top male masters’ runner.

Race Director Kristy Maki said, “I think the event went great. Everyone loved the trail. It’s a challenging, but fun course. I think they liked the variety of terrain we have.

“Having the elites with our citizen runners really adds a lot to our event,” continued Maki. “The championship division brings a lot of excitement to our event.”

Joe Gray on his way to winning the Birkie Trail Run. Photo by Michael Scott.

On hand for USATF at the event were Mike Scott, Long Distance Running Division chairperson, Nancy Hobbs, Mountain Ultra Trail chairperson, and Lin Gentling, Liaison. “The Upper Midwest has always been a favorite location for outdoor activity,” said Gentling. “Trail running is gaining more popularity and this event clearly illustrates that. Today’s competition drew elite runners from across the country to attack these challenging trails. The hosts did an outstanding job to make this event an unforgettable experience for all participants.”

Results are available at:

Find even more race pictures by USATF LDR Chairperson Michael Scott on Google Photos.

Race pictures by USATF MUT Council Chairperson Nancy Hobbs are also on Google Photos.