The first time was a charm for Jeff Howard.
Molly Mitchell used her experience from her first crack at the Race to Robie Creek course to put up a far better second attempt.
Howard and Mitchell, both 25 and from Boise, won the men’s and women’s competition, respectively, in the 39th annual race that climbs more than 2,000 feet and descends nearly that much along the way.
“You feel pretty good about the 5-mile mark, then it gets brutal,” Howard said. “I was crawling the last 10 minutes (of the ascent), but I was just trying to tell myself, ‘Everyone’s crawling slower than I am.’
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“Then when you come over that peak, you’re like, ‘OK, I did the tough part.’ But the downhill, my quads are wrecked. You can’t really let go, because you’re kind of braking the whole time.”
It was every bit the grueling run Howard had heard the last six years as a Boise State distance runner. Now a graduate assistant on the track and cross country staff, he won with a time of 1 hour, 15 minutes, 9.5 seconds.
Running alongside fellow first-timer Erik Teig, who took second, Howard decided to push hard over Aldape Summit, uncertain if that was the best strategy or not.
“I was like, ‘This might bite me in the butt if I overextend myself,’ but once you get to that peak and you start rolling downhill, you don’t feel like you can get caught. But if somebody was close, I might have,” Howard said.
Teig took second in 1:17:30.2. Even though temperatures were a pleasant 60 degrees at the start, all that effort meant a sore champion.
“I’m going to have to get in the ice bath, for sure,” Howard said.
Mitchell, on the other hand, had a much better idea of what to expect. She ran the race for the first time last year, finishing sixth among all women with a time of 1:40:40.8. On Saturday, she bettered that by more than 7 minutes, the first woman across the finish line in a time of 1:33:42.6.
“A little surprised at how much time I shaved off,” Mitchell said. “Last year, I went out way too fast. I got really overexcited. There’s so many people at the start, you just want to get to the front, so my first couple miles were so fast, then I was just kind of exhausted the rest of the race.”
With more knowledge of the course and field, Mitchell paced herself, knew the terrain and finished nearly 3 minutes ahead of second-place Amber Nickelson (1:36:08.2).
“Being able to see what the course is like, (the first time) I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into,” Mitchell said.
Howard and Mitchell could defend their titles next season, but neither was certain. No champ of either gender from the last decade was entered into Saturday’s race.
Howard, whose wife, Marisa, is a former All-American at Boise State, hopes to return, though he’ll finish his GA position after this track and field season. He’s hoping to top Markus Geiger’s mark of 1:14:17.1 from 2013, the best since chip timing was introduced.
“I knew the record was 74 (minutes). ... I’m happy to be close,” Howard said. “Maybe next year if I’m still in the area, make a run for the record.”
Said Mitchell: “Right now, I feel like I did my first time, saying, ‘Never again.’ But I came back, so I probably will (again).’’