After completing a 14-mile trail featuring windfall trees, devil's club and river washouts -- oh, my -- John Bursell and Dave Pusich led a record field of 62 runners across the finish line in Saturday's 12th annual Montana Creek to Windfall Lake Cross-Country Trail Challenge.
The event featured a variety of running surfaces -- pavement, corduroy logs, boardwalks, cobblestones and gravel. But this year there weren't the usual bear sightings.
The race opened with a brief run on pavement from the West Glacier Trailhead, near Skaters' Cabin, past the shooting range and onto the Montana Creek Trail. From there runners followed a gravel road that paralleled Montana Creek and featured a couple of river washouts just past the junction with McGinnis Creek, about four miles into the race.
As the course neared Spaulding Meadow, the runners tried to maintain their footing as they ran on corduroy logs (parallel logs placed side-by-side along the trail to prevent soil erosion). As runners crossed the wide open meadows, they ran on a boardwalk until the came to a flat section just before hitting Windfall Lake, about 10 miles into the course, with tall patches of devil's club growing over the heads of some shorter runners.
The runners skirted the edge of the 1.2-mile-long lake, then picked up the Windfall Lake Trail. About 12 miles into the course, they came to a section where trail workers are resetting cobble stones into the trail and filling around them with gravel, near where the trail starts to parallel the Herbert River with Herbert Glacier visible about two miles in the distance. The trail wound through old-growth forest to the finish line, with a few boardwalk stairs near the end of the run.
"It was awesome. There was good variability," said Mike Crotteau, who recently moved back to Juneau after four years living in Wasilla. "We're finally back. I ran it with friends before, but I'd never raced it."
Bursell and Pusich, who ran together for most of the race, tied for the victory with identical times of 1 hour, 36 minutes, 36 seconds. Don Eagle took third place in 1:36:51, followed by Crotteau in 1:37:23 and Ben Spiess of Anchorage in 1:38:56 for fifth place.
"John beat me. He got me on the downhill last time," Pusich said. "The devil's club was pretty fierce. There was a good turnout. It was a good day for the race."
"We were going as hard as we could," said Bursell, whose arms were heavily scratched by the devil's club. "He'd go through it first so it'd bend and then spring back on me. But the trail was in good shape. It's usually pretty muddy."
Bursell and Pusich led a pack of four runners that also included Eagle and Crotteau through the middle of the course, Eagle said.
"When the four of us got on the trail (after the meadows), either John and Dave picked up the pace or Mike and I slowed down," Eagle said. "We (Crotteau and Eagle) caught them on a downhill about halfway and we were running together."
The top female runner was Brandy Weston in 1:54:29, good for 19th place overall. Lachelle Crotteau took second place in 1:57:09 and last year's winner, Breea DeSloover, finished third in 2:00:27 even though her time was 6 1/2 minutes faster this year. Dawn Walsh was the fourth woman in 2:07:36 and Kelly Larrabee took fifth in 2:10:36.
Weston is a former Juneau-Douglas High School runner who just finished her freshman year running for Western State College, which is located in the rarified air of Gunnison, Colo., about 8,000 feet above sea level. Weston said she appreciated running within a few hundred feet of sea level.
"It was a nice day, it was fun," Weston said. "This was my first year. I've run Montana Creek and I've run Windfall Lake, but I've never run all the way. I was glad I did it. Running here is great, I have more air. I was just doing this for fun. I was going to push as hard as a could, but I felt good."
Like her husband, Lachelle Crotteau ran the Boston Marathon in March. She said she welcomed the change of pace offered by the course.
"It was fun," she said. "I felt the trail was in good condition. I trained all winter on roads, so it was pretty nice."
"The ice, don't forget the ice," Mike Crotteau added about their winter roadwork.
Last year's course went the reverse direction, and that finish was confusing as runners approached it from two directions after some took a shortcut. Some runners, including Pusich, didn't know last year's course as well as Glenn Frick, who helped build some of the local trails and knows all the good shortcuts, and they wound up getting lost. This year everybody stuck to the main trail.
"I've been taking this year off running," said Frick, 63, who still finished 10th this year in 1:45:05. "I'm pushing 70 and I've still got thoughts about trying to win this race."
"It was pretty easy to find," DeSloover said of the trail. "I don't know the shortcuts, so I don't take the shortcuts and I don't get lost. I feel like I was faster, but the course was shorter this year. Last year we started at the highway (a mile away). It wasn't a bad day."
The only serious injury, other than some nasty scrapes from the devil's club, happened to a course safety marshal, who severely sprained his ankle and had to be helped back to his car by runner Jim Ustasiewski, who then returned to the course and finished the run.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
WINDFALL LAKE TRAIL CHALLENGE
Finishers in the 12th annual Montana Creek to Windfall Lake Cross-Country Trail Challenge, a 14-mile wilderness run sponsored by the Southeast Road Runners club on Saturday. The race, commonly known as the Windfall Lake Trail Challenge, alternates directions every couple of years, but follows basically the same course each time. Runners are listed with their ages and times.
Men -- 1. tie, John Bursell, age 38, 1 hour, 36 minutes, 36 seconds; 1. tie, David Pusich, 36, 1:36:36; 3. Don Eagle, 32, 1:36:51; 4. Michael Crotteau, 30, 1:37:23; 5. Ben Spiess, 31, 1:38:56; 6. AD Gerhard, 25, 1:40:57; 7. Gabe Hayden, 16, 1:44:14; 8. Matt Schiff, 20, 1:44:33; 9. Tracy Rivera, 35, 1:44:44; 10. Glenn Frick, 63, 1:45:05; 11. Stefan Ricci, 29, 1:47:06; 12. Bryce Iverson, 15, 1:48:11; 13. Heath Jabs, 29, 1:48:48; 14. Jesse Stringer, 19, 1:50:47; 15. John Walsh, 46, 1:50:51; 16. John Burick, 37, 1:51:15; 17. Ben Muse, 20, 1:53:05; 18. Zane Clark, 41, 1:53:47; 19. Tristan Knutson-Lombardo, 16, 1:54:35; 20. Bryan Hitchcock, 27, 1:57:04; 21. Chuck Platt, 31, 1:58:04; 22. Brian Nelson, 35, 1:58:38; 23. John Caouette, 38, 2:00:09; 24. Glenn Merrill, 33, 2:01:20; 25. Sid Barrett, 54, 2:03:07; 26. Dan Robinson, 35, 2:03:40; 27. Neil Slotnick, 45, 2:04:28; 28. Craig Farrington, 49, 2:06:11; 29. Paul DeSloover, 54, 2:07:34; 30. Jason Smith, 28, 2:08:40; 31. Gordon Taylor, 51, 2:09:26; 32. Dirk Miller, 41, 2:11:29; 33. Philip Dierking, 17, 2:18:42; 34. Ron Heintz, 45, 2:18:43; 35. Clayton Hawkes, 49, 2:20:59; 36. Nick Pugmire, 22, 2:21:25; 37. Arnold Liebelt, 38, 2:22:06; 38. Peter Carter, 43, 2:23:07; 39. Jim Ustasiewski, 38, 2:32:06; 40. Tim Davin, 17, 2:34:11; 41. Chris Grisafe, 22, 2:34:12.
Women -- 1. Brandy Weston, 19, 1:54:29; 2. Lachelle Crotteau, 28, 1:57:09; 3. Breea DeSloover, 20, 2:00:27; 4. Dawn Walsh, 41, 2:07:36; 5. Kelly Larrabee, 31, 2:10:36; 6. Joan O'Keefe, 40, 2:11:46; 7. Janeann Twelker, 49, 2:15:17; 8. Molly Krehlik, 17, 2:17:38; 9. Annie Fox, 18, 2:18:45; 10. Sarah Carter, 27, 2:23:08; 11. Deborah Rudis, 48, 2:23:18; 12. Jean Mason, 38, 2:28:10; 13. Amy Carroll, 35, 2:28:25; 14. Kim Rivera, 42, 2:35:39; 15. Debbie Groves, 40, 2:35:40; 16. Jamie Bursell, 39, 2:38:16; 17. Erin Smith, 37, 2:40:33; 18. Carrie Pusich, 36, 2:41:09; 19. Stacy McKeown, 29, 2:48:09; 20. Deborah Craig, 50, 2:52:52; 21. Jeanne Foy, 39, 2:53:01.