Siemers, Amare Master Mt. Washington

Amare breaks women’s course record, Nicole Hunt tops Master’s mark.

Written by: Peter Thomsen

GORHAM, N.H. — Chris Siemers, a Chicago-bred flatlander who says he was born to run up mountains, and Shewarge Amare, an Ethiopian from New York City who had to borrow a pair of racing shoes just before the start, delivered a double dose of excitement Saturday at the 50th running of the Mt. Washington Road Race and USA Mountain Running Championship. Siemers outran two former Mt. Washington champions and many of the other best mountain runners in the U.S. to win in 1 hour, 22 seconds, while Amare flew up the Auto Road’s 12 percent grade in a women’s course record shattering time of 1:08:21.

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“I came here prepared to win this,” said Siemers, 29, as he stood at the uphill end of the 7.6-mile Mt. Washington Auto Road and recovered from the grind to the summit of the highest peak in the Northeast. “I’d had some recent disappointments with my running, and I wanted to take out my frustrations on this mountain. But my quads were burning with a feeling I’ve never felt before.”

Like Siemers, Amare had never seen the ultra-steep Auto Road before running up it. “I was expecting a little up, up,” she said later, “and I got it. This race is really hard.”

Since this year’s contest was the sole qualifying race to select the U.S. national team that will compete in the World Mountain Running Championship this fall in Slovenia, the field was packed with runners well-matched in strength and endurance. Many more than the usual half-dozen elite runners ran together in the early going, the pace shared by two-time winner (2006, 2008) Eric Blake of New Britain, Conn., defending champion Rickey Gates of Woody Creek, Colo., All-American steeplechaser Joe Gray of Lakewood, Wash., and Zac Freudenburg of St. Louis — all past members of the national team — and several more.

By the second mile, however, Siemers had begun his challenge, running elbow-to-elbow with Blake as the two gradually pulled ahead of everyone else.

“I knew Eric had a lot of experience here,” said Siemers, “so I stayed with him. I felt confident, and I didn’t care whether I won by one second or one minute.”

Still, Blake looked in control. “I felt good the first mile or two,” said the 31-year-old track coach, who had twice before been in tight races here. “His breathing was heavy, and I thought I was going to take it, but in the second half it got to me.”

Above the seven-mile mark, under bright sun and with the summit in sight, Siemers took the lead for good, storming up the final 50 yards to also claim the title of 2010 USA Mountain Running champion and the $2000 first prize for winning. Blake arrived 18 seconds later, followed by Gray, Gates, newcomer Max King of Bend, Ore., and Tommy Manning of Colorado Springs, Colo.

Amare had a last-minute worry before the race: her shoes and running singlet were locked in a car whose driver was away. Having quickly borrowed another runner’s extra pair of racing flats and a singlet, she shot away from the rest of the women’s field at the start and ran with no further worries. “I always think I will win,” she said later. “Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t get it.” Today she got it, breaking the previous women’s course record of 1:10:09 and winning $2000 plus the $5000 course-record bonus.

Behind her, the strongest American women battled for second place. Two-time race champion Brandy Erholtz of Bailey, Colo. led Kristin Price of Raleigh, N.C. in the first two miles, but Price, another first-timer here, pulled ahead and eventually finished in 1:11:13 as national champion, with Erholtz third (1:12:53).

Erholtz had barely crossed the finish line when she was followed by 40-year-old Nicole Hunt of Deer Lodge, Montana, whose time of 1:12:59 broke the women’s Masters record of 1:13:33 set by Laura Haefeli of Del Norte, Colo. Hunt won the $2000 bonus awarded by New England Runner magazine for a Masters record here.

Haefeli herself finished sixth, just behind another newcomer, Megan Lund of Basalt, Colo. Price, Erholtz, Hunt and Lund thus became members of the 2010 U.S. national team, joining the men’s team of Siemers, Blake, Gray, Gates, King and Manning.

Martin Cox, a British mountain runner and ultramarathoner who trains with Gates in Colorado, won the men’s Masters prize while finishing 11th overall in 1:06:03. In all, there were 916 finishers from 39 states and four Canadian provinces, plus Spain, the U.K., Brazil and Ethiopia.

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