FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ASHLAND, OREGON (August 6th, 2011)
The idyllic town of Ashland, Oregon is known for three things; the award winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival, world famous Lithia Park, and one of the best ultra-running trail scenes on the planet. Among the many race offerings to be found here is the Mt. Ashland Hill Climb Run. This event boasts the second largest climb of any mountain running race in the United States. The course gains 5,700 feet in elevation (more than a vertical mile). Only the Pikes Peak Ascent in Colorado climbs higher. After starting in beautiful downtown Ashland’s Lithia Park, runners climb continuously to the summit of Mt. Ashland 13.3 miles away.
Top mountain runners from across the U.S. come out for this challenging event. This year, which marked the 34th running of the race, saw a record number of participants. Among them was 43 year old Bennington, Vermont resident Tim Van Orden. In 2010 Van Orden became the first person over the age of 40 to break two hours in this race when he set a new Masters course record in a time of 1 hour, 55 minutes, 33 seconds. “I fell in love with this race when I ran it last year,” said Van Orden. “You basically run a half marathon that climbs 5,000 feet and then you are faced with a ridiculously steep final two tenths of a mile that climbs another 700 feet. It’s like running up Mt. Washington and then running up the Empire State Building” he added. Van Orden didn’t shy away from the challenge this year as he clipped two minutes and nine seconds off of his record and finished 3rd overall, in a time of 1 hour, 53 minutes, 24 seconds.
The race was won by 29 year old Ashland resident Erik Skaggs in a time of 1 hour, 51 minutes, 54 seconds. Skaggs was the 2010 U.S. 50k Trail Running Champion and the 2009 U.S. 100k Trail Running Champion. In last year’s Mt. Ashland Hill Climb, Skaggs finished second to U.S. Mountain Running Champion Max King and had no intention of settling for silver in this years race. “We went out a little too hard, as usual” said Skaggs. “Will (Meade) was with me through the first half” Skaggs said. “I tried to run hard after that because it’s a pretty good climb and I pulled away from him” he added.
Runner-up 29 year old Will Meade, from Santa Monica, Calif. was running the race for the first time. “I had no idea what to do, so I just tried to keep Erik in sight, but he slowly pulled away at around seven miles in” said Meade. A few miles later Meade was surprised to find Van Orden running next to him. “I caught Will around mile 10,” said Van Orden who would eventually finish thirty-three seconds behind Meade. “I could see Erik and Will not too far ahead and they were slowing down. So I put in a good surge to catch up. It was probably a mistake. I ran a 5:40 mile for that section and really suffered for it.” Said Van Orden. “Will started to pull away before mile 12 and I didn’t have anything left to stay with him.” he added. Van Orden wasn’t the only one with nothing left towards the end of the race. “Half a mile before the lodge (the 12 mile point), I looked back and there was Will,” said Skaggs. “I thought, ‘Oh my God’ — I was at a low point right there. That low point lasted pretty much for the rest of the race.” he added. Skaggs was reduced to a power hike with his hands pressed down on his knees to get him through the final section. Despite fearing the worst, Skaggs finished 57 seconds Meade to seal the win.
The near 50 percent grade at the finish reduces most runners to climbing on all fours as they scale the summit. The top three were no exception. “The altitude really got to me at the end. My legs were so tired and I was gasping for air. I had to stop a few times and almost fell backwards down the mountain.” Said Van Orden. “I wasn’t certain I could make the finish line, but I looked up and saw Will only thirty feet ahead of me and he was stopped and Erik was only about seventy feet ahead and he was really struggling, so I pushed on” he added. Seventy feet on a trail that steep translates into a minute and a half gap. “The final stretch is really deceiving” said Skaggs. “I turned around and saw Will and Tim right behind me and I thought they were going to catch me, but it takes a long time to move a short distance when it’s that steep” he added.
The women’s race was not nearly as close. Two-time defending champion Stephanie Howe led the women’s field from start to finish. Her time of 2 hours, 11 minutes and 40 seconds was the second fastest women’s time ever run. Howe, 27, who hails from from Bend, Ore. is a world-ranked cross-country ski racer. The women’s runner-up was Michelle Barton of Laguna Niguel, Calif., finishing in 2 hours, 22 minutes, 30 seconds.
Van Orden will be back in Ashland in early November to compete in the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon, which serves as the 2011 U.S. Trail Marathon Championships.