Ashley Arnold December 28, 2011 TWEET COMMENTS 0

Running for Red, White and Blue - Page 4

I think about the first time I drove a stick, how many times I stalled my then boyfriend's old red Honda. I feel like that car now, puttering as I try to find another gear. Energy drains from my shoulders and my quads; everything feels heavy from the taxing climb.

The stragglers in the men's race are yelling ahead to others, telling them to move out of the way as the women charge down the quad-pounding descent. I try to relax and think of falling down the hill, but I keep leaning back. I feel like I'm in one of those dreams where you are running as fast as you can, but barely moving. Everyone is hurting, I can tell by their contorted facial expressions. I start to think about the hurting and slip back to fourth.

Suszeck passes. Wow, I think, she's tan. Suszeck, the 2008 Miss Figure of Colorado and former go-go dancer by night and marathon runner by day, has won five marathons over her career. "Trail running is something I really love," she says. "But marathon running engrossed me. I was trying to sustain myself off of prize money, but it was hard."

Meanwhile, Enman is over a minute ahead and the rest of the field struggles to keep up.

With one lap to go, I see Hobbs on the sidelines, snapping photos. If it weren't for her and Kirsch, none of us would be here. Says the women's team manager, Ellen Miller, "We get a lot of requests from women interested in qualifying for the team. I credit Nancy for that. She has devoted her life to developing mountain and trail running in the U.S."

The first World Mountain Running Championship was held in 1985; 10 countries competed and one U.S. runner attended. It wasn't until 1990 that the United States put together its first men's team and 1995 its first women's team. Had it not been for Hobb's persistance, this date might have been much later. In the early 1990s, says Hobbs, U.S. mountain-running pioneer Lyndon Ellefson also a founding team member, was fielding the men's team. "He said there were no women that wanted to go to Worlds," says Hobbs. "I told him: `That can't be right. We need to have women there.'" Three weeks later, she had a women's team.

Hobbs was a member of that first team in 1995 and competed at the World Mountain Championship, held in Edinburgh, Scotland. She finished 67th and the team placed 18th overall. "We were last," she says. "But the cultural immersion was really cool."

After that rough first year, the U.S. women made tremendous strides over the next decade. In 2001, the team finished ninth overall. In 2002, Anita Ortiz (see "Blood Sport," Issue 74, August 2011) led the team with an 11th-place finish. She bettered that mark in 2003, crossing the line in eighth, leading the team to a ninth-place finish.

But 2004 was the real turning point, when the women became the first USMRT to stand on the podium, with a third-place finish at the World Mountain Championship, four years before the men would see a top-three finish. (The men took Bronze in 2008.)

After falling off the podium in 2005, the women came back with a vengeance, taking home Gold in 2006 and 2007. In 2009, they were third and in 2010, won the Silver alongside the men's team.

There are high hopes for 2011.

I crest the first climb on the second lap, when I feel my quads burning. Of course they are burning; you're running a hill. But I can't shake the doubt, thinking about my lack of hill repeats in training. The heaviness in my legs intensifies.

I give in and let off my pace even more—dropping to fifth. As Lund-Lizotte passes me on the short section of singletrack she says, "Good job, Ashley." I know she is sincere, but all I can think is, I'm not doing a good job. She pulls ahead. I soon drop to sixth place, seventh.

I am eighth when I finally crest the hill. Realizing the race is nearly over—4.8 miles is short—I mentally pull myself together and maintain my position. But the race's final outcome had already been decided.

While I struggle down the final descent, Enman glides through the finish. Later, she says, "I have been trying to make the team for four of five years now and am psyched to finally pull it off." She is minutes ahead of second place, finishing in 32:59.

Suszeck sweeps through the line next, in 34:45. "I can't say that wasn't painful," she says. "But I loved every minute of it." And while Suszeck also has her sights on making the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon team, she says, "There is a part of me that wants to be a competitive mountain runner more than going to the Olympics."


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