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One fast S.O.B., plus stunning views for the runners

Some days everything just falls into place.

Erik Skaggs had a day like that on Mount Ashland Saturday when he lowered the course record at the 31-mile Siskiyou Out Back — also known as the S.O.B. — by 3 minutes and 17 seconds.

"I did a lot more 20- to 30-mile long runs this year a month out. I was feeling better today (compared to last year) through the whole race. It's the first time I haven't walked in an ultra," said Skaggs, 26, of the high-altitude course with long, steep climbs and descents.

This victory held special significance for Skaggs.

Last year he also broke the course record. Only problem was, so did Pear Blossom record-holder Max King, who finished five minutes ahead of Skaggs, taking the lead after an epic struggle that lasted more than half the race.

This year, Skaggs, of Ashland, led from the start, finishing in 3 hours, 39 minutes and 19 seconds, a whopping 20 minutes and 2 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Rod Bien of Bend.

Bien's time would have been fast enough for a victory in most of the race's 11 annual runnings. The course weaves between the Pacific Crest Trail and a gravel Forest Service road, and averages 6,500 feet in elevation.

Skaggs had a secret this year.

He wore a pair of experimental, light-weight running shoes made by New Balance. Dubbed the "MT 100," these mountain running shoes will soon be available for public purchase. It would appear they passed the test. Skaggs and fellow national-caliber ultramarathoners and part-time Ashland residents Tony Krupicka and Kyle Skaggs — Erik's younger brother — helped develop and test the shoe for New Balance, their sponsor.

Anne Hitchcock of Auburn, Calif., won the women's race in 4 hours and 35 minutes in her first attempt at the S.O.B. course.

"This is my third ultra. It was a long grind on the hill from mile 23 to 28 on the way back. I was lucky to be distracted by the scenery," said the 30-year-old winner.

Hitchcock placed 12th overall, finishing 5 minutes and 21 seconds ahead of second-place Teresa deBlieck of Boise, Idaho.

The course features panoramic views, including several of Mount Shasta. The weather was mild and sunny with good visibility this year, unlike last July, when haze from California forest fires interfered.

Race officials rang a cow bell to herald the approach of each runner to the finish line at the Mt. Ashland ski area parking lot. A grazing allotment abuts part of the course and runners often hear bells during the race. Cow bells serve as prizes for top finishers, with the largest going to the winner.

"You have to be one big bull to wear the winner's cow bell," said Rob Cain, race co-director.

Volunteers put in more than 100 hours of trail maintenance to prepare the course for the race, which has gotten more popular each year. The races filled by June 1.

"This year we had more people in each of the two races — 200 this year after 175 last year," Cain added.

In addition to the ultra-marathon, a shorter 15-kilometer — 9.3 mile — race started after the longer race was set in motion.

Five friends and teammates from the Linfield College cross-country team dominated the 15K race this year.

Marci Klimek of Phoenix won the women's race in 1 hour, 9 minutes and 32 seconds.

"When you get through that first hill the rest is a lot better, and you enjoy the downhill on the way back," said Klimek, a 21-year-old Linfield student who also won the Ashland Fourth of July race the previous Saturday.

Chris McIsaac of Olympia, Wash., won the men's 15K race, defending his 2008 victory. McIsaac traded off the lead in the first half of the course with his Linfield teammate, Tyler Davis of Talent, before pulling away past the halfway mark.

"I went out more conservatively. I knew I had to go hard on the uphills, so Tyler wouldn't catch me on the downhills," McIsaac explained.

Both Davis and Klimek were standout runners at Phoenix High School.

Volunteers staffed four aid stations on the course. To provide a smile and diversion for tired runners, aid stations had themes this year, including "'80s: big hair and bad music," and "Forest Gump: '70s attire," according to John Price, race co-director.

The way Price sees it, the recent interest in ultra-marathon running is understandable.

"In economic hard times, endurance running takes off. Look at trail running since 9/11, the running boom in the '70s, and the Race Across America in the Great Depression," Price said.

For the 164 runners who finished the S.O.B. ultra-marathon, their accomplishment last Saturday will make hard times feel easier.

Daniel Newberry is a runner and a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at dnewberry@jeffnet.org.

One fast S.O.B., plus stunning views for the runners