MT. ASHLAND — Katsu Saijo crossed the finish line at the Siskiyou Out Back, accepted awards and beverages with both hands, walked toward a gravel parking lot, cut left, backtracked, spun right and then ... ended up about where he began.

MT. ASHLAND — Katsu Saijo crossed the finish line at the Siskiyou Out Back, accepted awards and beverages with both hands, walked toward a gravel parking lot, cut left, backtracked, spun right and then ... ended up about where he began.

Fifty miles will do that to a person.

The 40-year old Japanese man was anything but wobbly in earning his first victory in the United States after completing the 50-mile S.O.B. course in 7 hours, 16 minutes and 5 seconds on Saturday.

Klamath Falls' Nathan Stroh was second (7:30:45) out of 138 runners and Kimberly O'Donnell of Walnut Creek, Calif., placed third (7:39:25) in the grueling trail run, which begins and ends at the Mt. Ashland Ski Area with plenty of the Pacific Crest Trail and Forest Service Road 20 in between. Participants competed in 50-mile, 50-kilometer and 15-kilometer races that offer views of Mt. Shasta, Mt. McLaughlin and the Siskiyou and Cascade mountain ranges.

Saijo — who is sponsored by California-based outdoor clothing company Patagonia — was a long-distance harrier at the University of Tsukuba and has worked as a professional running coach the last 13 years. He is considered one of the standouts of trail running in Japan, translator Taka Yamada said. His testing ground is often Mt. Fuji.

In his first U.S. competition, Saijo secured eighth out of 108 at the 2013 Waldo 100K Ultramarathon that begins at the Willamette Pass Ski Area in the Oregon Cascades.

Saijo and three others flew from Tokyo to San Francisco before driving to Ashland on Wednesday for the 16th annual S.O.B. Their plan was to hit the ultramarathon before taking on a 50-mile run in San Francisco next Saturday.

The course was tough, Saijo said, but "you need to enjoy it to go that long."

Surprisingly, the man behind Saijo was in no hurry to catch him.

There are more important things, the 42-year-old Stroh said, like life itself.

He quit smoking four years ago and took up his wife Amy's hobby, running.

"I smoked for 15-some years," said the affable 1990 Klamath Union High graduate, who has worked as a custodian at the school for the last 16 years. "I went to my doctor a few years back and they said to me, 'You're 38. You only have another year or two to let your lungs get back in shape because they won't heal after 40.' I don't know if that's true or not, but she scared me."

He started out slow, going on short jogs with Amy. Stroh was never an athlete, but soon he was running three days a week. Shin splints and sore knees told him to give up, but he refused. Instead, Stroh shifted his focus to triathlons before returning to running. Three days became four.

Stroh won a half marathon in May and took third in the Mt. Hood 50-mile race two weeks ago.

And there he was on Saturday, about eight minutes behind the leader at the halfway point, his chest pulsing with life.

The S.O.B. was just supposed to be training for the Pine to Palm 100-mile Endurance Run on Sept. 13, but when another runner passed Stroh during the second half, "I ended up just running hard at the end."

That runner — women's champion O'Donnell — came close to breaking Stephanie Howe's record 2012 run of 7:34:35. The 24-year-old also came close to saving some money in her first 50-mile race.

The former 400 hurdles competitor at Harvard and her boyfriend, eighth-place overall finisher Ryan Neely, were late to register for the S.O.B., and it was full.

"We emailed the race directors," said O'Donnell, "basically saying, 'Hey, we have never run one but we're good at 50ks.' Well, they were like, 'We don't usually do this, but if you guys want, you can come to our race and on race day give us double in cash, and if you get the course record we'll give it all back.' So we were obviously going for the course record."

The veterinary technician and assistant dropped a flock of runners around the 22-mile mark on a trying uphill climb to take over third place. She and Stroh later jockeyed for second until the final five-mile hill. By then, O'Donnell was fading, Stroh was surging and Saijo was comfortably ahead.

"I finished it really hard," said O'Donnell, who dedicated her effort to her grandfather James Dobbie, a Scotsman who passed away on Thursday. "I had to walk a lot of it. ... I didn't walk the whole first half though, which I was really proud of."

As for that money? The race is a benefit for the Pacific Crest Trail Association, Mt. Ashland Ski Area and the Ashland Watershed Trails Plan.

O'Donnell paused to observe the picturesque view on the mountain and smiled.

"For this?" O'Donnell said. "I'm happy to (pay). Just look around."

Ashland's Ryan Ghelfi, 25, defended his 50k title with a win out of 272 runners in 3:38:43. The former Southern Oregon University runner will make more memories on Mt. Ashland when he gets married here in September.

Corvallis' Emily Kalenius, 34, was first among women and 10th overall (4:12:38) in the 50k.

In the 15k, Medford's Trevor Palmer (58:09) finished first out of 260 and Gold Hill's Janelle Ralph (1:13:55) was the women's champion.

Southern Oregon Out Back


MEN — 1, Katsu Saijo, 40, Yokohama, Japan, 7:16:05; 2, Nathan Stroh, 42, Klamath Falls, 7:30:45; 3, Saravanan Mylsamy, 39, Klamath Falls, 7:40:25; 4, Scott Becker, 31, Medford, 7:52:08; 5, Ryan Neely, 25, Walnut Creek, Calif., 7:55:26.

WOMEN — 1, Kimberly O'Donnell, 24, Walnut Creek, Calif., 7:39:25; 2, Karen Wang, 42, Tigard, 7:44:51; 3, Becky Kirschenmann, 41, Klamath Falls, 7:52:08.


MEN — 1, Ryan Ghelfi, 25, Ashland, 3:38.43; 2, Ryan Matz, 27, Chico, Calif., 3:52:47; 3, Jeremy Tolman, 37, Eugene, 3:54:15; 4, Blake Zufall, 19, Redding, Calif., 4:04:21; 5, Timothy Olson, 30, Ashland, 4:05.14.

WOMEN — 1, Emily Kalenius, 34, Corvallis, 4:12:38; 2, Becka Kem, 33, Ashland, 4:15:12; 3, Susan Barrows, 39, Bend, 4:27:40; 4, Beverly Anderson-Abbs, 50, Red Bluff, Calif., 4:42:14; 5, Jody Chinchen, 34, Weaverville, Calif., 4:42.26.


MEN — 1, Trevor Palmer, 30, Medford, 58:09; 2, Timothy McPherson, 17, Jacksonville, 1:00.29; 3, Marshall Genn, 24, Grants Pass, 1:04:42; 4, Hunter Bennett-Daggett, 31, Portland, 1:06:25; 5, Mark Loewenstein, 42, Ashland, 1:08:05.

WOMEN — 1, Janelle Ralph, 32, Gold Hill, 1:13:55; 2, Neeka Goodwin, 37, Grants Pass, 1:19:26; 3, Christie Hill, 35, Grants Pass, 1:22:31; 4, Kristen Ball, 50, Roseburg, 1:24:09; 5, Emily Campbell, 24, Corvallis, 1:24:44.

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email Find him online at