The 14th annual Siskiyou Out Back trail races Saturday at Mt. Ashland featured a new 50-mile addition to the traditional 50-kilometer ultramarathon.
For Southern Oregon University student and men's winner, Ryan Ghelfi, it was the perfect debut for his ultrarunning career.
Strategy was the hard part.
"The first half was easy, I was trying hard not to go too fast — but sure enough I did go too fast," the 24-year-old Ghelfi said shortly after delivering a winning time of 6 hours, 32 minutes, 42 seconds.
Beginning at the Mt. Ashland ski lodge, both the 50K and 50-mile course heads out 16 miles to Jackson Gap near Dutchman Peak. The 50K course then heads back to Mt. Ashland while the 50-miler continues approximately 8 miles downhill to a turnaround.
Ghelfi ran shoulder to shoulder with two-time S.O.B. 50K winner and fellow Ashland runner, Erik Skaggs.
Then disaster struck.
"Erik sprained his ankle early on in the race and couldn't keep going — he dropped out at mile 22 — so then I was by myself," Ghelfi explained.
Ghelfi continued looking over his shoulder, expecting someone to catch him.
"Then I went out really hard with 20 miles to go," said Ghelfi. "There were two really big hills on the way back — 2,000-footish climbs — and they were struggles."
At the tape, Ghelfi was more than 21 minutes ahead of second place finisher, Jace Ives, another Ashland runner.
The women's 50-mile race proved more competitive, said winner Stephanie Howe of Bend.
"Jenn (Shelton) and I ran together for most of the race, we kind of went back and forth, we could pretty much see each other," said Howe.
With about 9 miles to go, Howe made her move.
"I came out of the aid station first and put my head down and started going and didn't see her again," said Howe.
With a finishing time of 7:34:35, Howe finished nearly 33 minutes ahead of runner-up Shelton.
Ultrarunning is fairly new to Howe, who is known locally as the three-time defending champion of the Mt. Ashland Hill Climb. Saturday's race was her third 50-miler, all run in the past three months.
Howe, 28, is also an international-caliber cross country skier. Her recent ultrarunning success, she said, changes her focus.
"I'll be competing less in winter skiing," said Howe. "I'm going to take some time off (from racing ultras) and when I'm ready I will eventually try some longer races."
In the classic 50K race, another more familiar Bend runner brought home the gold.
Max King broke the course record he set last year on a snow-altered course by more than 2 minutes. His time of 3:33:11 gave him a margin of victory of 24:01 over runner-up Gary Gellin of Menlo Park, Calif.
"I was running with Gary Gellin for about 10 miles or so, then I took off on a hill," King said of his winning strategy.
King, 32, is a former standout runner at Crater High School. He has turned again to ultrarunning after competing in the Olympic Trials steeplechase, an event where he placed sixth. King followed the same path after the 2008 Olympic Trials.
This time, however, King has a new twist planned.
"This fall I'm going up in distance," said King. "A lot further than I've ever gone."
His big fall race is the Ultra Race Of Champions, a 100-kilometer race in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains.
"I'm kind of testing it out," King explained. "I know I'm stronger at short distances, but right now that scene isn't as competitive as the longer ones are."
The biggest surprise at Mt. Ashland Saturday was the women's 50K race. Former Phoenix High standout runner Marci Klimek smashed the women's course record set in 2008 by 7:03 in her first ultramarathon. Her time of 4:04:50 beat all but the top two male finishers.
"I really tried to be patient for the first 20 miles, conserve energy the first half, and let it go for the last 10," Klimek explained. "It worked out, but I did a lot of walking."
Klimek, 24, currently lives in Bend. She entered the race on a whim.
"My fiancé (Scott Gage), he started talking about the race, he wanted to do it," said Klimek. "I was like, 'If he's doing it, maybe I'll try it.'"
The pair ran neck and neck until the last mile.
"It was kind of a little competition," said Klimek, who then looked at her fiancé and laughed. "I caught him in the last mile."
For complete results of the Siskiyou Out Back trail races, go to www.siskiyououtback.com
Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. You can reach him at email@example.com