Threat of high winds & rain doesn’t stop the USATF Trail Half Marathon Championships

Written by ATRA Executive Director Nancy Hobbs. Photos by ATRA Director of Online Marketing and USATF Championship Liaison Richard Bolt.

At the Lake Padden Trail Half Andy Wacker improves on last year’s runner-up finish to take the win; Renee Metivier is victorious at her trail racing debut.

With an impending Pacific Northwest storm looming – reputed to be the storm of the decade – there was a chance that the October 15, 2016 USATF Trail Half Marathon Championships & Lake Padden Trail Half would be cancelled. In fact, the night before the event during packet pickup, Al Coyle, one of the race organizers and the namesake for the partner 5K trail race, said, “All of the events in Bellingham are being cancelled tomorrow and we’re the only one being held. Rain is not the worry for us, it’s the wind.”

Renee Metivier leads Ladia Albertson-Junkans at mile 3.

Renee Metivier leads Ladia Albertson-Junkans at mile 3.

Race Director Tad Davis concurred, and continued to be optimistic in spite of late afternoon power outages in Bellingham proper, and downed tree limbs on the course, “I was out on the course today in and out of the forest, and there were some tree limbs down, but it is trail running after all. Fortunately, the wind hasn’t been as bad as predicted and as long as it doesn’t pick up overnight and cause more damage, and create unsafe conditions, we’ll have the race.”

Much to everyone’s delight, winds cooperated overnight. Race day broke with overcast skies, intermittent rain, temperatures in the low 50s, and no wind. Eric Sach, mountain ultra trail council chair of the USATF Pacific NW Association on hand from Seattle for the event said, “Perfect Northwest conditions – light rain and almost sticky mud – this is the Northwest after all.”

David Fuentes leads Jared Bassett and mile 3.

David Fuentes leads Jared Bassett and mile 3.

No stranger to the Lake Padden course having finished second at last year’s race, Andy Wacker took the race out from the gun, and never let up finishing over a minute faster than in 2015. The 28-year-old from Boulder, Colorado said, “My workouts had been going really well leading up to the race, so I felt ready. I really hit the flat parts hard from the start and on the second lap I really used all the flat parts to speed up.”

Asked if he felt any pressure from his run-from-the-gun strategy, Wacker said, “The whole time. Even if you’re up front you can’t let your guard down.”

Discussing the course Wacker said, “One of my favorite parts was deep in the forest. There was this cool part way back in the woods, I looked up and it was all misty.

Andy Wacker leading at mile 9.

Andy Wacker leading at mile 9.

“It was a bit slippery on some of the downhills and tight turns, but it was kinda fun – you had to switch gears and make sure you didn’t fall,” added Wacker. “There was a log down about one mile from the finish…I hurdled it. Good thing it was without an audience as it was probably pretty ugly.”

Interviewed minutes after he finished, Wacker admitted that the win was still sinking in, but did acknowledge that it felt great to be the national champion, the second of his trail career having won the USATF 50km Trail Champs in 2015. He went on to sum up his 2016 trail and mountain running results, “It has been a pretty good year. I’ve been able to represent the US three times this year. Those teams and these kind of championships are the most important parts of my year.”

Wacker’s time of 1:21:02 bested second-place finisher Jared Bassett by nearly three and a half minutes. “I sat back the first mile,” admitted Bassett. “I learned from last year when I went out too hard and faded to fifth (timed in 1:25:00).”

Top 4 men after the finish.

Top 4 men after the finish.

What Bassett described as “perfect weather conditions” played to his favor as he ran faster than in 2015 posting a time of 1:23:39. “I was able to move pretty fast on the downhill,” the 26-year-old from Bend, Oregon said. “I’ve got a track background, my strength is my speed. I’ve always thought I was an uphill runner, but today I really used my leg speed and turnover to go downhill fast.

“I forced myself to go slower uphill cause you can really gas yourself. The climbs were short and steep,” said Bassett. “I just tried to keep my pace even. On the first lap I was in fourth. I just kept in contact. When we started climbing, I came back on them. I passed Matt (Williams) about halfway into the second loop and caught up to David (Fuentes) and ran with him for a while. Then I made a move and passed him about three miles to the finish and held it. I didn’t look back, I just kept pushing on the downhill and hoped he didn’t come back.”

Of his entrée into the sport Bassett said, “The mountain champs last year in Bend was my first real mountain race. I did the USA 50K trail champs last year at Headlands and I was fifth, and I was fifth here last year. I’m still learning and getting into it. “

Asked about his future in the mountain/trail program, Bassett said, “I’ll still jump on the track once in a while and do steeplechase, but my focus is going to be on trail and mountain. Right now my ceiling is 50K. I want to keep the speed in my legs.”

David Fuentes, in his first year of trail and mountain racing, finished a solid third place. From Austin, Texas, the 29-year-old posted a time of 1:25:14, one minute ahead of Williams, a steeplechaser living and training in Colorado Springs, Colorado, who debuted on the trails at Lake Padden.

Rounding out the top five was Ben Robinson, 22, Park City, Utah, who finished in 1:27:19.

Top masters finisher Chris Grauch.

Top masters finisher Chris Grauch.

The first master to finish was Chris Grauch, 44, Nederland, Colorado, who narrowly missed the top ten finishing eleventh overall with a time of 1:33:47. First in the 45-49 age group was Don Wesley, 46, Seattle, timed in 1:46:12. The 50-54 age winner was Michael Brisbois, 52, Sammamish, with a time of 2:02:48. In the 55-59 age group, Bruce Cyra, 58, Vashon Island, prevailed with a time of 1:54:10. Len Hall, 63, Enfield, NH, won the 60-64 age division timed in 2:03:49, and Douglas Beyerlein, 66, Mill Creek, was the oldest USATF finisher among the men with a time of 2:23:34.

The women’s field saw a much closer race up front, with eventual winner, and first-time trail racer 34-year-old Renee Metivier, Bend, Oregon, trading the lead with 30-year-old Ladia Albertson-Junkans, Seattle, throughout the race. Metivier, a road specialist with a 2:27 marathon PR took advantage of the flat sections to show her mettle, but was equally strong on the climbs.

Renee Metivier leads the race at mile 9.

Renee Metivier leads the race at mile 9.

Albertson-Junkans, third in last year’s race said, “She rolled me on the flat parts. She’s got the wheels and the power.

“She’s also great on the uphills. She’s super powerful, strong, and fast. I think she can break into the top three internationally on the mountain scene,” added Albertson-Junkans who represented Team USA at the World Mountain Championships last month in Bulgaria.

“Ladia passed me on the downhills,” said Metivier who took the race out fast. “I suck at the downhills. I was super strong on the uphills. I couldn’t let it go on the downhills. It was frustrating…I was like ‘legs…go.’ Next time, I gotta learn to run on the downhills.

“I’ve never run trails fast so it’s a learning curve for me,” reasoned Metivier. “I just tried to keep my mind strong. It’s a big asset on the trails. I was learning during the race. Learning how to conserve. It was just hard for me to let to on the downs.”

Ladia Albertson-Junkans at mile 6.

Ladia Albertson-Junkans at mile 6.

Of her first experience on the trails, Metivier said, “Trail people are the nicest people in the world. There was more of a camaraderie out there. We were cheering for each other.”

Metivier finished in 1:34:36 just four seconds ahead of Albertson-Junkans.

Another first timer on the trails, Julia Webb, 33, Beaverton, Oregon, finished in third place timed in 1:37:37. Webb was enthusiastic about the course, “I loved it. I run in Forest Park. I love sloppy conditions and I love technical trails. I hurdled the log both times. I had fun.”

Admittedly, Webb had a tough week without enough sleep (she does have two children under the age of 4), “My energy level wasn’t 100%, but I just stayed strong. I struggled on the uphills. I knew I was gonna feel bad, but I didn’t come to run easy.”

Julia Webb at mile 6.

Julia Webb at mile 6.

Of her footwear Webb looked down at her Nikes and said, “I wore spikes. It worked well today. I was probably the only one who wore spikes.”

In fourth place was 24-year-old Dani Moreno, Santa Barbara, timed in 1:39:49. Camelia Mayfield, 24, Bend, finished fifth in 1:40:11.

Local masters’ runner Kathleen Harris, 42, narrowly edged Lizi Bolanos-Nauth, 43, Boulder for the masters’ victory timed in 1:57:39. Bolanos-Nauth finished just 12 seconds later. Top for the 50-54 age group was Mary Geddes, 50, Seattle in 2:03:17. In the 65-69 category, Sandra Farahani, 69, Bellevue, was the winner in 2:44:57.

Top USATF women's finishers.

Top USATF women’s finishers.

In addition to USATF medals, which were distributed to the top ten men and women overall and the top three in masters age groups, there was a prize purse of $4000. The prize money was awarded to the top five men and women overall with a breakdown of $750 for first, $500 for second, $250 for third, $125 for fourth, and $75 for fifth. The top three masters men and women earned $150, $100, and $50 respectively.

USATF liaison to the event, Richard Bolt, who served in this role for all three years the event has hosted the championships, said, “This was the wettest Lake Padden Trail Half since becoming a championship three years ago, but still attracted a fast field in spite of the rain.”

Top USATF men's finishers.

Top USATF men’s finishers.

There were 152 finishers on the day split between open and championship participants. The partner 5k Al Coyle Community Race attracted nearly 50 mostly costumed participants.

The final USATF Mountain Ultra Trail Championship event will be held on Saturday, November 5, when the Moab Trail Marathon, hosts the USATF Trail Marathon Championships.

MEN (gun times) –
1. Andy Wacker, 28, Boulder, CO 1:21:02, $750
2. Jared Bassett, 26, Bend, OR 1:23:39 $500
3. David Fuentes, Austin, TX 1:25:14 $250
4. Matt Williams, 29, Colorado Springs, CO 1:26:16 $125 (TRAIL DEBUT)
5. Ben Robinson, 22, Park City, UT 1:27:19 $75

WOMEN (gun times) –
1. Renee Metivier, 34, Bend, OR 1:34:36 $750 (TRAIL DEBUT)
2. Ladia Albertson-Junkans, 30, Seattle 1:34:40 $500
3. Julia Webb, 33, Beaverton, OR 1:37:37 $250 (TRAIL DEBUT)
4. Daniella Moreno, 24, Santa Barbara, CA 1:39:49 $125
5. Camelia Mayfield, 24, Bend, OR 1:40:11 $75

Complete race results are on UltraSignUp.

See more race photos by USATF Championship Liaison Richard Bolt on Google Photos.

Renee Metivier winning the USATF 1/2 Marathon Trail Championships.

Renee Metivier winning the USATF 1/2 Marathon Trail Championships.