Sunday, July 9, 2006

From park to peak a real ordeal in July heat

Race to Mount Spokane tests even marathon-fit runners

Staci Spencer, 30, cools down after running in the Let's Climb a Mountain race on Saturday. (Jed Conklin The Spokesman-Review )

Best solo times


Yukon Degenhart, 4:46:47

Mark Mansfield, 5:08:56

Robert Towne, 5:20:44


Karice Scott, 5:46:07

Amanda Bergquist, 6:04:12

Shawn Lawson, 6:04:40

Solo runners and relay teams didn't just cover 34.3 miles of asphalt and gravel in the heat Saturday. They scaled a mountain.

More than 200 trekked from the Clocktower in Riverfront Park to the summit of Mount Spokane in the annual Let's Climb a Mountain run, organized by the Bloomsday Road Runners Club.

About 20 participants made the journey alone, while others ranging from teenagers to people in their 70s ran shorter distances as part of six-person relay squads.

Starting at 6 a.m. amid cheers from a crowd of onlookers, the solo runners wound northeast from downtown, headed north on Market Street and traveled through rolling fields on Mount Spokane Park Drive.

Relay runners, some wearing colorful team T-shirts and clutching cups of coffee or energy drinks, started a half hour later.

The caffeine-fueled team members overtook many solo runners by the time they reached Mount Spokane State Park. There, the runners began the grueling ascent along tree-lined switchbacks, gaining 3,370 vertical feet before reaching the top.

The fastest runners reached the finish line – and expansive views of nearby lakes – within five hours, but some were expected to take six or more.

Runners said they came for the challenge and the camaraderie of the uphill run.

The first solo runner to arrive, Yukon Degenhart, 33, of Spokane, made the trip in four hours, 46 minutes, 47 seconds, besting last year's male solo record by more than 20 minutes. It was the first Let's Climb a Mountain for Degenhart, who last raced competitively six years ago and said he was overweight in January following knee surgery.

"By March I was getting in decent shape, and I thought I might as well try, you know," he said. "I looked at previous results, and I knew I could be up there."

Other participants praised Degenhart, who coaches track at Mead Middle School.

"That's crazy, dude," said a young male runner in passing. "You need to get your head checked out."

Curt Kinghorn, owner of sponsor Runners Soul, called solo ultra-marathoners a "very, very unique breed."

"They'll walk. They'll run. But they won't quit," he said. "That's the key, I think. They're really tough."

Rubbing his legs before the race, Spokane native Mark Mansfield, now a resident of Norway, said the run is the type of event that he likes.

"The personality of the race is characterized by the hill," he said. "You basically run a marathon, and then the race starts."

He finished second in five hours, 8 minutes, 56 seconds, kissing his infant son after crossing the finish line. His family made a surprise trip to watch him race. It's the family time and camaraderie among runners that attracts him, he said.

Several relay teams ran across the finish line together, including women's open team Dangerous Curves, a group of mothers wearing matching light blue tank tops who finished in four hours, 47 minutes, 50 seconds. Sporting Spam T-shirts, the Nooners, a men's masters squad that has competed in the race for about 15 years, included members aged 45 to 70. They will probably run it again after forgetting how hard it is, said team member Andy Nicoll, 70, of Spokane.

"Actually, we'll forget in about two hours," he said jokingly.

Ron Edwards, assistant track coach at Gonzaga Prep who ran in the event himself about 25 years ago, watched his girls' team finish. The run is challenging and was primarily a workout for his runners, he said.

"Especially the last three legs are really difficult," he said.

A bevy of volunteers dispatched water, staffed medical stations and guided runners along the route while support teams drove alongside some runners, shouting encouragement. Other volunteers at the top grilled hundreds of hot dogs and offered cold drinks that many finishers eagerly scarfed down.

Jean Greene, a volunteer from Spokane who helped at the summit, said she's run every leg of the race during relay runs in past years. She said the fifth and final leg, which is the steepest, is the hardest for the runners.

"I think they're just so full of dedication and determination," she said. "It's very inspiring."

Amanda Bergquist, 22, placed second in the solo female open division with a time of six hours, 4 minutes, 12 seconds. A marathon runner, she has competed in two IronMan events, she said. Her goal was just to finish, she said.

"I was like, OK, somebody's in better shape this year," she said. "This is just a sort of recreational, having fun, staying in shape kind of thing for me."

"I think they're crazy," said her mother, Diana Kimball. "They're nuts."

Even Degenhart said he would think twice before running it again.

"Man, that was the hardest thing I've ever done," he said. "Now you know what to expect, so it makes it worse."

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