Gearing up for international races, two of Flagstaff’s elite runners took time to close out the Summer Run Series with convincing performances at the Gaspin’ in the Aspen 15K on Saturday morning.
Fresh off his narrow victory in the men’s open three-stage category at the prestigious TransRockies Run last week, Mike Popejoy left the field right from the start and came within 16 seconds of the course record, while Sara Wagner likely wrapped up her 10th series title in 11 years. Official Summer Run Series final standings will be announced shortly.
“I did have the record in mind, but also wanted to run by feel,” said Popejoy, who was gunning for Andrew Benford’s 2014 mark of 51:31. “I've been doing a lot of steep uphill training, so I wanted to use this race as a way to get some speed going on the trails again.”
Popejoy will compete in the Vertical Kilometer at The Rut in Montana next week, and his primary training focus is the North American Mountain Running Championships in Golden, British Columbia, Canada, in one month.
Other than a recent training run, this was Popejoy’s first foray on the Gaspin’ course at the Nordic Center.
“My wife Myra (who placed third in the 30-39 age group) and I did an easy run on the course to preview it, so I knew what to expect, but it was still harder than I anticipated,” the winner said. “It's some fairly rugged terrain, and I think the extra 1,000 feet of elevation plays a role too.
“I’d say it was a race that epitomizes Flagstaff running – hard and beautiful.”
While the Popejoys were new to the course, Wagner is quite familiar with the high-elevation classic. She held off Michelle Wesson by more than a minute to take the win before heading to Pruske, Slovakia, this week to compete in the World Master’s Mountain Run Championships.
“It was one of those magical days when everything came together,” said Wagner, who won nine consecutive series championships from 2007-15. “The conditions were perfect and I felt amazing.”
Will Drexler won the men’s master’s. He was consistently in the top three all summer while competing in all seven series races. He says it doesn’t bother him to run a strong race and still finish seven minutes behind the winner.
“It’s just fun to be out here,” Drexler said. “When you get in your 40s, you don’t worry about that.”
Kate Penney of Paradise Valley was the women’s 5K winner, while Alex Petersen took the men’s 5K title.
For some 300 runners in the 15K, 5K and kids 1K, Gaspin’ is a perennial favorite because of the beautiful course and, in particular for the 15K runners, the payoff of pushing through the new-growth aspen stands on the backside of the course.
Mike Hartman can be reached at 556-2255 or at email@example.com.