East Coast companions make easy work of Spring Creek Memorial | SteamboatToday.com

East Coast companions make easy work of Spring Creek Memorial

Austin Colbert

Recent Lehigh University graduate Ryan Mahalsky competes in Saturday's Spring Creek Memorial 9-mile trail run in Steamboat Springs. Mahalsky won the race in 1 hour, 7 minutes and 32 seconds.

— Of the three, Emily Ritter, a senior All-American in the steeplechase for New Jersey's Rider University this past season, was best equipped to handle Saturday's Spring Creek Memorial nine-mile trail run in Steamboat Springs.

However, in the month since she competed at the U.S.A. Track and Field Outdoor Championships in Oregon, Ritter has done little in the way of training and opted to tackle Saturday's five-kilometer race instead. This left her two companions to tango with Spring Creek's rigorous main event, which features a lot more downed trees and uphill hauls than the courses they are used to back east.

"It was fun for most of it. I think she was pretty good with it," said recent Lehigh University graduate Ryan Mahalsky, an honorable mention All-American distance runner for the Pennsylvania-based school. "We didn't plan to run this race. We didn't know about it until two days ago. We went to a couple of local runs so we could find more people to train with, and everyone told us to sign up for this race."

Despite diving into the unknown, the duo proved their All-American honors were no mistake by winning their respective races, with their third companion, Alex Fitzgerald, also taking third in the nine-miler.

Saturday's Spring Creek Memorial was the sixth race of the summer season as part of the Steamboat Springs Running Series, with the nine-mile run counting toward the overall series championship.

"In school we definitely do some pretty big races. But over the summer time, we are just base training," Ritter said. "Delaware (her home state) is pretty flat, and I'm pretty much at sea level. Coming out here, there are a lot more hills and the altitude, so we just kind of wanted to see how training would be out there. This is our first time out here, so it's nice."

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Ritter met Mahalsky in Oregon at the outdoor track and field championships and stayed in touch. The reason they found themselves in Colorado was because of Fitzgerald, who has a family friend with a condo in Steamboat and wanted to spend the summer training in the mountains. He reached out to as many fellow runners as he could, and ultimately, found three others to join him for a month in Steamboat: Ritter, Mahalsky and a third Lehigh University runner who didn't compete in Saturday's races.

"A lot of top schools come out to the west, mainly Colorado or Utah, to train at high altitude," said Fitzgerald, a New York native who still has another year left at Lehigh. "We do have trails on the East Coast, but this is more like an obstacle course for us. We got to jump over a couple of logs. We haven't really done a race like that ever. Our cross country races are 8Ks and 10Ks on golf courses and grass, pretty much. So this is a lot different for us."

The course began at the Spring Creek Reservoir, located at the beginning of Spring Creek Trail near Steamboat Springs High School. The 5K course was an out and back, while the nine-mile race took runners toward Buffalo Pass via mostly private land used only for this race. The true distance of the race was closer to 9.5 miles, as event organizers were forced to add a half mile to the course to avoid cutting through a piece of public land the city wanted to keep wild.

For this reason, race director Cara Marrs is considering all the nine-mile times to be new course records to account for the extra half mile. Mahalsky won the nine-mile race in 1 hour, 7 minutes and 32 seconds, a little more than two minutes ahead of second place finisher Josh Smullin, of Steamboat. Fitzgerald was third in 1:09:53, with Watkins Fulk-Gray (1:11:24) and Jesse Wilkins (1:14:16) taking fourth and fifth, respectively.

Finishing sixth in the nine-mile race was the top overall female, 28-year-old Anna Mae Flynn, a math teacher from Lake Tahoe, California. Flynn, who runs for Salomon Running, a Spring Creek Memorial gold sponsor, competed in Aspen's Power of Four 50K trail run last weekend.

"My legs were kind of feeling a little beat up over the week. I've been hiking a lot of 14ers over in Leadville over the past week and just enjoying Colorado," Flynn said. "This is exactly what I love to do. The course was awesome. I guess a mile or two in it went off trail, and you're bushwhacking and jumping over logs and all that kind of stuff. That's the fun part."

Had Ritter decided to compete in the nine-mile race instead, Flynn and runner-up Penelope Freedman, of Steamboat, might have had a lot more competition. Flynn won the women's nine mile in 1:17:33, with Freedman coming in at 1:20:32. Then there was Ritter in the 5K, cruising through the course in 21:06, the race's top overall finisher (men included), which is a course record according to Marrs.

"It's cool. I didn't think I broke it, so it was a nice surprise to finish the race and hear that I broke the record," Ritter said. "I heard that if I did the nine-miler, it would have been more steeplechase-esque, but I just started my training back up. Three miles was more appropriate for me today."

The next Running Series event is the Steamboat Stinger on Aug. 16, which includes both a full and half trail marathon.

To reach Austin Colbert, call 970-871-4204, email acolbert@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Austin_Colbert

2015 Spring Creek Memorial trail run results

9-mile race, men

  1. Ryan Mahalsky, 1:07:32
  2. Josh Smullin, 1:09:39
  3. Alex Fitzgerald, 1:09:53
  4. Watkins Fulk-Gray, 1:11:24
  5. Jesse Wilkins, 1:14:16

9-mile race, women

  1. Anna Mae Flynn, 1:17:33
  2. Penelope Freedman, 1:20:32
  3. Stacie Womack, 1:22:27
  4. Katherine Zambrana, 1:24:56
  5. Lindley Greene, 1:26:16

5K race, men

  1. Wyatt Mortenson, 21:27
  2. Cooper Jones, 21:58
  3. Benjamin Lingle, 22:10
  4. Travis Linsacum, 22:52
  5. Paul Hughes, 23:27

5K race, women

  1. Emily Ritter, 21:06
  2. Lauren Offerman, 21:15
  3. Heather Gollnick, 22:21
  4. Lila Crowley, 22:33
  5. Maggi Congdon, 22:53