The ups and downs of the nation's 'toughest' half-marathon

Emma Garrard/Nevada Appeal News Service Scott Keith of Carson City runs to the finish during the Escape from Prison Hill Half Marathon in Carson City on Saturday. The event drew 185 competitors.

Emma Garrard/Nevada Appeal News Service Scott Keith of Carson City runs to the finish during the Escape from Prison Hill Half Marathon in Carson City on Saturday. The event drew 185 competitors.

Skinned elbows and knees.

Blistered feet streaking up sun-bleached sandy banks leading up two major hills.

An all-volunteer crew, subsisting without the benefit of an overbearing major corporate sponsor.

But by the three hour-mark, when most participants were gathering for a breakfast burrito, the race that had inflicted so much pain and dirt-caked grins was forgiven.

Welcome to the highs and lows of the Escape from Prison Hill half-marathon.

At dawn Saturday, more than 180 runners, almost all hailing from Northern Nevada, gathered to participate in a grueling 13.1-mile run featuring some 4,000 net feet of altitude gain (and, of course, descent).

Runners came from varied backgrounds, including ultra-runners who usually put themselves to the test on 50- or 100-mile trail runs to first-time half-marathoners, some of whom had never strapped on a pair of running shoes until a few months ago.

"We had a training program," said Scott Keith of Carson City Fleet Feet, one of the race's sponsors. "We had about 18 (runners) train with us, and for four of them - this is not only their first race, but their introduction to the sport."

The fourth annual race, also is the start of the season for some, said this year's race organizer, Dave Cotter, who also is president of the 160-member Carson City-based Sagebrush Stompers and its sister club, the 240-member Tahoe Mountain Milers.

Cotter, who said the race is first in this year's series of four regional trail runs co-sponsored and sanctioned by the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA), said this is a "big race" for competitive runners to "see where they're at."

"The ultra-runners love this course," he said. "It's got the hills and gullies. Today we had the weather. It's just a great run to get out there and work out the kinks."

One of the highlights of the summer race season, Cotter said, will be in July, when the RRCA, along with U.S. Track and Field will host a 50k, 50- and 100-mile race on the Tahoe Rim Trail to crown a national champion.

"It's a big deal (for us) to have that out here this summer," he said.

"It basically goes from Spooner Lake to Mt. Rose. It's a beautiful course."

For some racers, Saturday morning's race finish was a time for celebration, not contemplation of meeting future goals.

"You ask me what I thought?" Carson resident Joe Crawford said. "I'm just glad I finished. And the highlight? It's gotta be the second hill - GPS Hill -once you're up that, it's all down hill.

"But that's a big guy all right."

Tom Moldenhauer, 39, and Ken Gerrard, 52, both of South Lake Tahoe, tackled the run for the second year. They wore shirts emblazoned with "Pain Killers" on the front and "We eat hills for breakfast" on the back.

Moldenhauer and Gerrard joked about the etymology of their two-man running club's name.

"It's pretty simple, it's what we take plenty of after we're done racing," Moldenhauer said. "I'm the old guy, he's the young guy. We wouldn't miss this."

With the top male finisher finishing in less than 1 hour and 40 minutes and the top female crossing the tape at under 1 hour and 55 minutes, no course records were set Saturday.

Judging from those flinging their arms around loved ones at the finish and groups of friends and running partners pointing to the sky on the final descent back to the start/finish at Silver Saddle ranch, the day was less about winning and losing than finishing what organizer Cotter called "maybe the toughest half-marathon in the U.S."

"To see some of these people who've never run come out and train and then take this run on for their first time, it's awesome," Fleet Feet's Keith said. "Absolutely awesome."


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