Sizeable field in Moab creates energy and enthusiasm for runners and spectators

Athletes share experiences from the trail marathon championships.

More than 2200 runners participated in two days of trail racing in Moab, Utah, during the weekend of November 5-6. Saturday’s events attracted more than 1800 runners split between the Moab Trail Marathon, the USA Track & Field Marathon Trail Championships – a race within the race, the Moab Trail Half Marathon, and an Adventure 5K. On Sunday, it was the Moab Trail Marathon part two, which attracted over 450 runners.

With so many runners on a course that boasted significant elevation gain (some 3500 in the marathon and 1800 in the half), and long stretches of single track, a wave start was implemented on both days. This served a two-fold purpose. It reduced congested on the course and it lengthened the festivities at the start line to the delight of the many spectators on hand

Temperatures in the mid-50s with overcast skies greeted the runners on Saturday, while Sunday presented sunny skies with the mercury hovering in the upper 40s at the 8:00 a.m. start.

In the USATF Championships division, medals for the top ten overall as well as age group awards and $3500 in prize money were up for grabs for the more than 75 USATF competitors.

Moab Trail Marathon race start.

Moab Trail Marathon race start.

Sage Canaday, 30, Boulder, Colorado, was one of the 31 USATF men who completed the challenging course and he did it with a time under the previous course record. Going into the race, Canaday had a specific focus, “My goal was to beat my time from three years ago and to try and crack three hours. The low threes (hours) has been the winning time, so I knew it would probably take a sub-3 to win knowing how competitive the field was.”

Canaday achieved both goals finishing in 2:58:25 to take the national championships title.

“Azerya (Eritrean runner Azerya Weldermariam who was not eligible for USATF awards), went out fast with a couple guys and then there was a gap, and Joe (Gray) and I were kind of in a second group,” said Canaday. “At about mile 14 going into the big climb, Azerya, Joe and me were all together in the lead. I twisted my ankle on a downhill after that and had to walk it out. They (Azerya and Joe) took off and they were gone.

“I got caught by the fourth-place runner. Then my ankle loosened up and I was able to roll pretty hard to mile 23. I saw Joe on the ropes ahead and I’d been gaining. I passed Joe after the ropes about mile 24 or 25. In the last mile I saw Azerya and I wanted to try and catch him, but he was running really strong and I ran out of real estate. “

Although Azerya won the race – by just 24 seconds – Canaday was the first American to the finish and therefore crowned the USATF national champion.

“I had a good race,” said Canaday. “I feel like I paced it well. I got the most out of myself and that’s all you can ask. I’m really honored to win the USATF title – that’s a pleasant surprise.”

As the top American, Canaday also earned a spot on the 2017 US Long Distance Team slated to compete in the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships in Italy on August 5. “It’s always a huge honor to represent your country,” said Canaday. “It’s on my radar – definitely.”

Canaday shared his favorite part of the course. “I always like the section across the ridge line at about mile 22 cause you can see the finish area. It’s beautiful. It’s nice single track on the edge of the cliff actually and you get a view of the whole valley.”

Runner-up Joe Gray.

Runner-up Joe Gray.

Gray, 32, Colorado Springs, CO, finished second in the USATF championships division with a time of 3:00:59, and Anthony Costales, 28, Salt Lake City, rounded out the top three in 3:07:58.

Gray, who spent most of his year focused on the World Mountain Running Championships, a strategy which paid off as he earned a gold medal and led Team USA to the first-ever men’s team gold at the championships in Bulgaria this past September, admitted the course in Moab required a different training and focus.

Part of Gray’s focus included some time in advance of the race scouting the course in Moab, but on a training run a few days before the race, he took a misstep. “I ran into a log the other day when I was previewing the course, and I had a contusion on my quad so I was a little slower on the downhills,” said Gray. “I felt like I was in pretty good shape, but when I hit that log, I knew I was in trouble I could feel a knot in my quad. I figured that I had two days to recover, maybe one more day of recovery would have taken care of it.”

In spite of not being at one hundred percent, Gray ran faster than last year when he finished second in a time of 3:08:57 to champion Mario Mendoza’s 3:04:08. “I knew the area a little bit better,” said Gray. Who not only raced last year at Moab, but one the half marathon in 2013 when it was the USATF Half Marathon Trail Championships. Like Canaday, Gray has also earned a spot on the 2017 Long Distance Team with his win last month at the Flagstaff Sky Race.

Gray’s favorite part of the course, “It’s got a lot of technical stuff an a lot of stuff you don’t see in all trail races. It’s just different here – with all the slick rock. It seems like you can see for miles. Partly the reason I ran into that log – I was checking out the scenery and not paying attention.”

JP Donovan about the enter the out-n-back.

JP Donovan about the enter the out-n-back.

JP Donovan, 29, Incline Village, NV, had a different strategy than his usual blast off from the start, “I was trying to be more conservative at the start. I didn’t jump the gun like I usually do, instead I tried to be calm and observe the other runners. Last year at mile 17, I exploded. I didn’t want to do that again.

“When I saw the other guys taking off, I didn’t try to go get them. I tried to race the guys around me. I stayed in a zone that was more comfortable,” continued Donovan. “I felt pretty slow on the slick rock. My pace must have been about a minute per mile slower than the top guys. They were running really well on the course. They were so on – running the same lines. Their footprints were right together in the sand in single file, so smooth. It was easy to follow their tracks.

“I saw Justin (Ricks) after he bit it (around mile 9). He was ahead of me and he was running really fast with Dakota (Jones). I talked to Justin after and he thought he was running too close to Dakota and missed seeing the rock,” said Donovan.

Ricks, 36, Colorado Springs, was forced to drop from the race with a small gash in his head and the possibility of a cracked rib. Undaunted, he was at the finish line supporting his fellow competitors at the finish.

According to Donovan, there was some strategic running going on toward the end of the race. “In the last four miles of the race, sixth through tenth place turned into a race. We had shuffled a bit, lots of passing was going on. I know I picked it up a lot. It was a frantic last 5K – we all really felt the pressure. We were chasing each other. That was kind of exciting – a race within a race.”

Donovan went on to finish fifth among the USATF finishers in a time of 3:19:18, just eleven seconds behind fourth-place USATF finisher Jones, 25, Durango, CO.

Seeing the big vehicles (crawlers and jeeps with huge tires), at the remote aid stations was a favorite site for Donovan. “I kind of wanted to hang out and talk to them (the volunteers) about their big machines. They probably had as much fun driving those big crawlers to the aid stations as we did running there.”

Josh Eberly finishing the marathon.

Josh Eberly finishing the marathon.

Seventh place finisher in the USATF division Josh Eberly, 36, Gunnison, CO, learned something from his prior year’s race, “Last year I started out way too fast. My goal this year was to start out conservatively and pass people through the race and I accomplished that. I also wanted to get to the finish as soon as I could to watch my team come in.” Eberly coaches the Western State Mountain Sports Trail Team at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison.

The proud coach said, “We had 32 athletes – men and women – racing today. The majority did the marathon and a handful did the half. I just registered on Thursday. I was debating on the half and full and decided to do the marathon. You can’t go into the candy store and not get the candy. I bring the kids here and I want to also do the race.”

His kids raced well with the top WS team member Gordon Gianniny, 20, Gunnioson, finishing in ninth among the USATF competitors with a time of 3:28:44.

Eberly’s favorite part of the course, “The climb at mile 14 or 15 was my favorite part. I felt super strong. The views were insane. That was my high point—literally.”

Addie Bracy at mile 10.

Addie Bracy at mile 10.

On the women’s side, Addie Bracy, 30, Longmont, CO, bested two-time winner and last year’s titlist Megan Kimmel, 36, Ridgeway, CO, to the finish line to earn the victory and her second USATF title this year. In July, Bracy won the USATF Mountain Running Championships which earned her a spot on the US Mountain Running Team where she finished twelfth overall and second American on the bronze-medal winning US women’s squad.

Said Bracy, “I really wanted to win to get that trip to Worlds (the spot on the 2017 US Long Distance Mountain Running Team). I actually thought Megan was ahead of me (from the start), so I was running to catch up. Then around mile 10, Megan caught me…I even said to her, ‘I thought you were ahead of me.’

“We ran together until about mile 13 and then I pulled away on the really long uphill and kept the lead to the finish,” said Bracy. “I never felt like I had the win locked up until the finish line. I knew Megan was really good on the downhills and I didn’t know the course and I didn’t know how far back she was.”

Of the course, Bracy said, “I loved all of it until the last 5K. I was running really good the whole time and I felt strong. Even though I have minimal trail-specific training, I still have the speed. This was my first time on the trails in Moab and I made an effort to look around. It was really pretty and, they did and amazing job with the course marking. It was way better marked than I expected.”

Bracy posted a time of 3:40:28 to Kimmel’s 3:43:43. Rounding out the top three was Kelly Wolf, 22, Silverton, CO, timed in 3:45:19.

Megan Kimmel leading by a few meters at mile 10.

Megan Kimmel leading by a few meters at mile 10.

Kimmel, who also has a spot on the Long Distance Team for 2017 from her finish as the top American at this year’s championships in Slovenia, said, “Unfortunately, I wasn’t that focused this year because I’ve had a lot going on. I just wanted to come out and enjoy the desert and have a great time on the course. Given the circumstances, I’m really excited to finish second.

“Addie looked strong the whole day,” observed Kimmel. “I was excited to run with her for the first time. I can tell she’s a rad runner.”

Learning that Bracy is in her first year of trail running, Kimmel said, “I think this course demands a strong trail runner – on this course you have to be a good trail runner whether you know it or not.”

Expect to see Kimmel back in Moab in 2017, “I love coming out here and kudos to Danelle for putting it on. I look forward to next year.”

The final Colorado woman in the top five was fourth-place finisher Sandi Nypaver, 28, Boulder, who posted at time of 3:46:31. “My goal was maybe to get between eighth and tenth,” said Nypaver. “I thought that would be realistic.

Sandi Nypaver at mile 10 in the canyons.

Sandi Nypaver at mile 10 in the canyons.

“My plan was to start out a little conservatively so I was in about 10th or 12th at the beginning of the race,” continued Nypaver. “My strong point is my climbing. At ten miles, I moved into about sixth I think. That’s where I knew I made a gap. On the climb I moved into fourth and kind of stayed there. I was following Kelly (Wolf). I kept here in eyesight from about mile eight, but she had another gear. I caught up to her at about mile 20 and she sped up and I couldn’t catch her. I was very thankful that it was a technical course with all the fast runners here.”

As to her finish, it was all smiles for Nypaver who said, “It definitely exceeded my expectations.”

Nypaver went on to comment about her experience, “All the women were together really early on and they were all supportive. It was really cool to see and be a part of the strong support and community.”

In addition to the top-ten overall USATF awards, there were age group winners including two masters (age 40 and over), who broke the top 10. Christine Lundy, 46, Sausalito, CA, 3:56:11, in her second marathon effort at Moab (Lundy finished third in 2014), finished fifth overall. Matias Saari, 46, Anchorage, AK, raced to the tenth position among the USATF finishers timed in 3:29:53. Both earned $250 for their masters’ wins and Lundy also earned $100 for her top five position overall.

For their wins, Canaday and Bracy each pocketed $499. Gray and Kimmel each earned $401, Costales and Wolf each took home $300, Jones and Nypaver each received $200, and Donovan, like Lundy, won $100.

The author with a Moab Trail Marathon fan.

The author with a Moab Trail Marathon fan.

Other age group winners included Sara Wagner, 44, Flagstaff, AZ, 4:24:59; Jon Brown, 44, Gunnison, CO, 3:41:25; Colleen Ihnken, 52, Frisco, CO, 5:06:47; Jeff Hunt, 52, Concord, MA, 3:53:31; Carolyn Hicks, 59, Black Hawk, CO, 6:03:07; Dan Nielsen, 55, Avon, CO, 4:13:16; Anita Rawlinson, 60, Red Lodge, MT, 5:53:17; Tom Neuman, 61, Salt Lake City, UT, 5:12:15; Carson Heiner, 65, Hudson, OH, 6:08:25; and Clyde Landry, 70, Colorado Springs, CO, 6:09:29. The top junior finisher was Joshua Mickelsen, 18, West Jordan, UT, 4:25:21.

Complete results can be found on the Racing Underground website.

Race photos by Richard Bolt can be found on Google Photos.