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Ashley Arnold Wednesday, 28 December 2011 07:52 TWEET COMMENTS 0

Running for Red, White and Blue - Page 3

After a 20-minute warm up, Lauren and I do a few strides at the base of the mountain. Gearing up around us is a stacked field of the country's best mountain runners, and I glance around, sizing up my competitors.

Brandy Erholtz, 33, of Evergreen, Colorado, three-time USMRT member and two-time winner of New Hampshire's brutal Mount Washington Road Race, jogs up on my left. She is small-framed with muscular legs, her short dirty-blonde hair pulled halfway back in two mini pigtails. There is no way she won't make the team, I think. Chris Lundy, 40, of Sausalito, California, thin and wiry like a road runner, shakes out her legs next to the start line. She's a four-time member of the USMRT and the winner of the 2009 Cranmore Hill Climb.

Gina Lucrezi, 28, of Natick, Massachusetts is also here. We've talked on the phone several times, but I met her for the first time yesterday. She won this race in 2010, part of her perfect sweep of the USATF Northeast Mountain Running circuit last year. Then, there is Kasie Enman, 31, of Huntingdon, Vermont, who finished 11th at the 2008 Olympic Trials in Boston. Yep, she's making the team, I think.

I wave and say hello to Megan Lund-Lizotte, 27, of Basalt, Colorado, my neighbor up-valley from my home in Carbondale. She has been a member of the USMRT for the past two years. I don't know much about her downhill running, but have watched her aggressively tackle uphills in local races where she is generally leading the field. I am sure she will make the team. There's Amber Moran, 32, of Ashleville, North Carolina, who I raced during summer road races while in high school in my hometown, Lexington, Kentucky. She missed qualifying for the team by just two places last year, so she'll be on a mission when the gun goes off.

Michele Suszeck, 29, of Lyons, Colorado, who holds a 2:38 marathon PR, is bent over stretching uphill from the start line. A former fitness model, she looks more solid than anyone out here. Every muscle in her body ripples. Myriah Blair, 34, of Eagle, Colorado, is doing strides and high-knee drills—she has been running strong this year and looks collected, focused. And I cannot discount my sister; it would be so cool to be on a U.S. team together. Lauren has the rare ability to plow through intense pain and run well, even when she's out of shape.

I notice a small crowd lining the caution tape along the course at the base of the mountain and other runners are chatting excitedly. Over the loudspeaker, Kirsch provides us with time queues ... 10 minutes to go, three minutes to go. Before I have time to gather my thoughts, visualize, the gun goes off for the men's race. Do I have time for one more bathroom break? I decide yes, and scurry behind a building. Five minutes later, the race is underway.

We take a few steps before the course pitches up along a rutted, wet, dirt road. I feel relaxed and take the lead. I am afraid, though, I might be going out too hard. Then the course suddenly flattens, twists sharply to the right and drops down a short hill and over a drainage before bottlenecking into a 100-meter section of pine-needle-covered, wooded singletrack. I stay in the lead. Erholtz is on my left shoulder. I can hear her breathing. My eyes are focused on the ground. Nothing matters but my footsteps.

We break out of the trees and the course widens again, turns left and up a steep, grassy hill, maybe 200 meters long. Erholtz surges ahead. I fight back, regaining a slight lead. I'm still not sure this is the best plan, but my adrenaline gets the best of me and I push harder.

As we top out on the climb, the trail sweeps around to the right and dips into a short section of flat and I stride out. The high-cut grass is filled with deep divets and protruding roots so my eyes stay glued to the ground. Fog seems to almost seep up from the ground, mixing with the humid air.

Again, we turn left and ascend another long hill, close to 200 meters long. I try to put in another surge, and so does everyone else. The top 10 are all together, barreling ahead. Everyone is breathing heavily, rhythmically, feeding off the collective energy.

Then, we head up the steepest climb. It's only 40 meters, but it feels like it lasts forever. I let off my pace, just slightly, and Erholtz easily passes. The 2009 USATF Trail Runner of the Year is known for her ability to talk as fast as she runs and for her power-house climbing legs, which scored her a spot on her first USMRT team in 2008, an uphill year. As she passes, I observe her stride and I can see why -- she makes the hill look flat.

Finally it is flat, for less than 100 meters. I'm trying to flush lactic acid out of my legs by doing a few butt-kicks and to open up my stride when Enman pulls ahead. "Good job," she says, and sweeps by. I round a corner, and start to reel Erholtz back in, but Enman is gone. In addition to her blossoming running career, Enman manages a maple-sugaring operation with her husband on the same parcel of land where she does most of her mountain training.

As we crest the final climb, clouds still hover over the pine trees lining the course. I see Erholtz for a moment and then she disapears around a blind corner and downhill. It's damp, suffocating. I'm at the top of the first lap, the highest point on the course, struggling to switch gears for the steep descent. This is a new feeling— almost like driving a stick shift.



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