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Taking it to the top

Hundreds of runners braved 90-degree temperatures Saturday to run 13.3 miles uphill, each with their own reason for reaching the Mount Ashland summit under their own power.

For the 39th annual Mt. Ashland Hill Climb run, about 290 runners lined up in Lithia Park at 7:30 Saturday morning, according to race director Joseph Chick, all seeking to tackle the half-marathon route through the Ashland Watershed that finishes more than a mile higher than where they started.

The race was a "bucket list" item for Sean Grunwald of Medford, a first-timer at the event. He's had experience as a trail runner and has wanted to run the race for years, but was never able to get time off work for the event.

"It's like two races," said Grunwald, who was hanging out with other hill climbers near the Mt. Ashland Ski Lodge after finishing his run. It took him about 2 hours to get from Lithia Park to the lodge, and then another 30 minutes to reach the top of the summit, calling it "kind of brutal."

"You're scrambling on your hands and knees," Grunwald said.

Although Grunwald made it to the top on his own strength, he opted for a lift down to the lodge.

"I don't need both sides of my legs to hurt tomorrow," Grunwald said.

Holding her blue ribbon and drinking a Hansen's Diet Ginger Ale, women's winner Susan Barrows of Bend said the race is one of her favorite events.

"It's a real sense of accomplishment," said Barrows, who finished in 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Former University of Oregon runner and defending Pear Blossom champion Cole Watson was first up the mountain with a time of 1 hour, 51 minutes, Chick said.

Second-place finisher Matt Palilla of Bend grabbed a beer from a Standing Stone Brewing tent outside the lodge after finishing the race in 1 hour, 56 minutes.

He said the beer at the end is his favorite part.

"It's a classic race," Palilla said.

Luke Brandy of Ashland and his sister Sarah Brandy of La Grande were also running the race for the first time.

"I heard about this, and it was so hardcore I had to do it," Luke Brandy said.

Sarah Brandy said she liked the varied terrain through the watershed, especially the parts that weren't completely uphill.

"It was nice to have those breaks in the run," Sarah Brandy said.

Luke Brandy called it "magical" to run from Lithia Park through the pine, true fir and hemlock forests.

The two Brandy siblings, both Type 1 diabetics, said they had little trouble managing their blood sugar through the race. Both took advantage of snacks offered along the way and carried glucose tablets.

"I'm used to maintaining it in adverse conditions," Luke Brandy said.

Sarah Brandy praised the technology available to diabetics today. She said her continuous glucose monitor communicates with her iPhone, providing her a graph so she can see when her blood sugar is dropping before it gets below normal levels. The sole time her blood sugar dropped below normal range required only a couple button presses on her insulin pump.

Playing Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" through a PA system outside the ski lodge, Chick said this was the third year he's volunteered as race director. All proceeds from the event go to the Ashland Woodlands and Trails Association.

"The vibe is just great," Chick said, then pointed to a view of Mount Shasta from the mountaintop. "Plus the views ain't too bad."

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Susan Barrows of Bend tops the Mount Ashland summit Saturday en route to winning the women's title at the 39th annual Mount Ashland Hill Climb run with a time of 2 hours and 15 minutes. Photo by Andy Atkinson
Former University of Oregon runner and defending Pear Blossom Run champion Cole Watson reaches the summit of Mount Ashland Saturday to win the Mt. Ashland Hill Climb 13.3-mile run. Photo by Andy Atkinson