Gray and Brasovan victorious at the USATF Half Marathon Trail Championships

Written by Nancy Hobbs & Lin Gentling. Photos by Richard Bolt.

Today’s USATF Half Marathon Trail Championships & Birkie Trail Run Festival in Hayward, Wisconsin, saw a familiar face in Joseph Gray winning his 13th national title. The 33-year-old from Colorado Springs, CO, bested a competitive field to take the win with a time of 1:10:11.

Joe Gray leads at the start of the USATF 1/2 Marathon Trail Championship.

“I haven’t done the trail half marathon champs in a few years,” said Gray, who in his first running race in Wisconsin, led from start to finish besting his nearest competitor by 41 seconds.

Joe Gray looking back at mile 6.

“The course combined two of my favorite sports, cross country and trail running,” said Gray. “I just really dug the course, it was really cool. This was kind of a dream come true to run a tough cross country-esque course. It was a really fun experience.”

Second to finish was Justin Grunewald, a 31-year-old hospitalist from Minneapolis, who was timed in 1:10:51. Rounding out the top three was Seymour, Wisconsin’s Tyler Sigl, 31, timed in 1:13:03.

Hayden Hawks, 26, St. George, UT, coming off a win at UTMB’s CCC 100+K event in Europe, finished fourth in the field saying, “One month off CCC and a training block for The North Face 50 (November in the San Francisco Bay Area), it was about what I expected. I had no leg speed. I tried to keep up with Joe, Justin, and Tyler, but I didn’t have another gear.”

Justin Grunewald in 2nd place at mile 3.

Hawks had only positive things to say about the event, “It was a fun course and reminded me a lot of cross country. My favorite part was probably the single track. That’s kind of what I’m used to. It was winding and fun.”

Taking the masters win was Coloradoan Chris Grauch, who recently entered a new age group, 45-49. Grauch was seventh among the top-ten USATF men, just 31 seconds ahead of second master, 46-year-old Gregory Hexum, Esko, MN.

Grauch was impressed with the event organization and said of the course, “It was fun…very fun. I loved the rollers and the single track.”

In his first time racing on the trails in the upper Midwest (he previously competed in the Twin Cities Marathon 10 Mile Championships on the roads), Grauch commented on the experience saying, “I enjoyed the woods and how lush it was. Now I’m looking forward to the cheese curds!”

USATF MUT Chairperson Nancy Hobbs with several of the top men’s finishers.

Grauch also looks forward to his next national championship event when he races the USATF Trail Marathon Championships in Moab, Utah on November 4.

On the women’s side, it was a podium sweep by athletes from the west with 26-year-old Ashley Brasovan, Westminster, CO, taking a commanding lead from the start in her first-ever trail race to win by more than five minutes over runner-up Dani Moreno, 25, Santa Barbara, CA. Brasovan was timed in 1:18:30, while Moreno’s time was 1:23:40. Third to cross the line was Amber Kranz, 31, Boise, Idaho, in 1:28:59.

Brasovan said, “I’ve done one mountain race (with today’s masters’ winner and fourth-place woman Brandy Erholtz), back in July at Arapahoe Basin in Colorado – part of the Cirque series. This was my first trail race.”

Top master Brandy Erholtz.

A fan of the course, Brasovan said, “It reminded me of college cross country, just ten times longer. It was a fun course and really different. It was really rolling with a mix of single track in the woods and racing on the grass. I ran with a group of guys today and that really helped.”

Brasovan plans to race the California International Marathon in December, and after that, her plans in 2018 include off-road running. “After CIM, I plan to take a break from the roads and switch over to trail and mountain for 2018.”

In addition to USATF medals awarded to the top ten overall and the top three in masters’ age groups starting at 40, $3500 in prize money was distributed equally to men and women. First through fourth earned $1000, $500, $300, and $100 respectively, while top master’s man and woman took home $250 each. Erholtz, who turned 40 in August, received both the fourth place price money and top master’s prize for a total of $350.

Additional master’s age-group winners included Andrew Komp, 40, Chetek, WI, Steve Makela, 53, Moorhead, MN, Brent Smith, 61, Carlton, MN, and Thomas Duffy, 83, Hayward, WI, Julia Lyng, 51, Burnsville, MN, Jan Guenther, 58, Long Lake, MN, and Karen Manske, 62, Stillwater, MN. Complete results are posted HERE.   USATF Championship results are posted HERE.  Over 100 race pictures can be found on Google Photos.

Top 3 women.

This year marked the 16th Birkie Trail Run Festival, but the first year the event has hosted a national championships. The course for the USATF Half Marathon Trail Championships, as well as the ancillary events including a 5K, Marathon, Marathon Relay, and 100K, was held on the legendary hills of the iconic Birkie Trail. The event was presented by the non-profit American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF).

Dani Moreno and Ashley Brasovan

USATF liaison to the event, Lin Gentling, herself a Midwesterner hailing from Rochester, Minnesota, said of the championships, “It was a privilege to showcase our part of the country. Everything from location to competition was outstanding. Along with ideal racing weather, emerging autumn colors, and varied trail conditions, the entire event from start to finish exemplified Midwestern hospitality. The ABSF should be commended for their impeccable organization, leadership, and attention to detail.”

With the success of this year’s event, plans are underway to submit a bid to host the 2018 USATF Half Marathon Championships. “We’d love to host the championships again next year,” said Kristy Maki, sport development and operations manager, American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation. Maki will assume the role of race director as current race director Allan Serrano will leave his post before year-end.

The top 10 men with USATF Championship liaison Lin Gentling.

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