The roughly 14-mile Windfall Lake Trail Challenge Run featured a little bit of everything for members of Juneau's Southeast Road Runners Club on Saturday morning.
The runners had to run around Windfall Lake, find their way through swampy Spaulding Meadows, cross some slick boardwalks, ford Montana Creek with water up to their waists, and find their footing on a section known as "The Corduroy," where the trail is made up of hundreds of side-by-side logs.
But it was a route-finding exercise near the end of the course that proved to be the key for most runners, with overall winner Wesley Brooks and women's winner Breea DeSloover making different choices to get to the finish line.
As the runners came off Montana Creek Trail onto Montana Creek Road, the runners could stay on the road or they could take a shorter but not widely known side trail to the finish line near Skaters' Cabin. Brooks chose to run the trail to the finish, while DeSloover picked the road.
"I think it went really well," said Brooks, who will be a freshman at the University of Alaska Fairbanks this fall but doesn't plan to run in college. "I love running on the trails. I like the roots and stuff. You have to pay more attention."
"I'd rather take the road because I'm prone to getting lost," said DeSloover, who will be a sophomore runner at Pacific Lutheran University this fall. "I'd rather take awhile than get lost. I get too frustrated when I get lost."
Brooks covered the approximately 14 miles in 1 hour, 47 minutes, 2 seconds to beat runner-up Steven Schmitz, who finished along the road in 1:51:54. Tracy Rivera edged Mark Pusich for third place, both finishing along the trail in 1:54:03, with Glenn Frick taking fifth in 1:54:06. The side trail near the end of the race is known as "Glenn's Trail," and is named for Frick who said the course was the slowest he's ever seen it because of the recent rainy weather.
In the women's race, DeSloover was running for most of the race with Maria Eley but Eley slowed near the end of the race because she wasn't feeling well. After Eley was dropped by DeSloover before the road, Eley decided to try the shortcut but ended up taking the wrong trail.
"At one point I was following an animal trail up this hill, trying to find the main trail, and I fell back into a big hole," said Eley, who will be a junior runner at Wheaton College this fall. "I was stuck in the hole for about 10 minutes before I could figure out how to get out. I was back there for about an hour, and I think I was climbing Mount McGinnis."
DeSloover had the top women's time of 2:06:51, good for 14th place overall. Erin Mitchell, who had her own route-finding problems earlier in the race, edged Karen Nanseth in a sprint for second place as both runners posted times of 2:18:20. Debbie Groves was the fourth woman in 2:23:45 and Kim Rivera was fifth in 2:28:37, while Eley ended up being the 12th woman in 2:49:35.
Early in the race, Dave Pusich led a group of runners down a wrong trail around Windfall Lake and Pusich said he ran about three miles out of his way before having to double back to the main trail. Pusich, who is usually one of the top racers in local wilderness runs, finished eighth in 2:00:04 and said he thought he lost about 20-30 minutes because of the wrong turn. Mitchell said she took a similar wrong turn in that area, but it wasn't because she followed Pusich.
"I passed everybody twice," said Pusich, who was late and started the race a minute or so after the main pack. "Me and this guy went to the right around Windfall Lake and the trail petered out. When we went back, I guess eight people had followed us down this trail."
"It beats me," Mitchell said when asked how much extra she ran. "It was mostly just time, because we had to stop and look for the right trail. We made our own mistakes. It was fun."
Brooks and Schmitz took the early lead, especially after Pusich took his wrong turn. Brooks said he lost Schmitz at the top of the Windfall Lake Trail, about five miles into the course where it feeds into Spaulding Meadows and was alone pretty much the rest of the way. Schmitz said he didn't see any other runners after Brooks left him.
"It was pretty good," Brooks said. "The boardwalk was slick and the corduroy was rough and slow. At Spaulding Meadows there are some long straightaways, so I wanted to have a pretty good lead so if anyone saw me in the distance they wouldn't think they could catch me. I wanted to work on the mental part."
"We were really close until then, at Spaulding Meadows," Schmitz said. "Then my calves started seizing up and I was just holding on."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.