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June 16. 2012 7:11PM

Canaday alone at the top in Mount Washington Road Race

GORHAM — At Hairpin Turn, 5,500-feet above New England, Sage Canaday glanced over his left shoulder to assess his race position. He must have wondered where everybody was.

In his first mountain race ever, Canaday, 26, who moved to Boulder, Colo., to run over the mountainous terrain two weeks ago, outran the field by more than two minutes to win the 52nd Mount Washington Road Race here Saturday.

Canaday's 58:27 was the second-fastest ascent to the 6,288-foot summit. Only New Zealand's Jonathan Wyatt (56:41.0, 2004) has run to the summit quicker.

For the second straight year, Kim Dobson, 28, of Denver, secured women's gold with a 1:09:25 performance. Her time, too, was the second-best by a woman. Shewarge Amare of Ethiopia is the women's record-holder, having completed the 7.6 mile climb in 1:08:20.4 in 2010.

The Mount Washington Road Race is the steepest all-uphill road race in America, and Saturday it served as the 2012 U.S. Mountain Running Championship race with the top six American finishers earning a berth on the American national team.

Joining newcomer Canaday on the team which competes in the world championships on Sept. 2, in the Italian Alps at Ponte de Legno, are Joe Gray, 28 of Newcastle, Wash., Eric Blake, 33, of New Britain, Conn., Glenn Randall of Mesa, Colo., Tommy Manning, 36, of Colorado Spring, Colo., and Tim Chichester, 23, of Mount Morris, N.Y.

Leading the contingent of Granite State runners in the race was North Conway's Kevin Tilton, 30, who finished 18th among the field of elite runners. His 1:05:54 was his second best time in 12 Mount Washington races.

Canaday began his surge to the Mount Washington and U.S. Mountain Running titles as the runners approached the second water station, 2.5 miles into the race. He had a 21:20 three-mile split time and at the top of Quarter-Mile Grade, he led eventual second-place finisher Gray by a half minute and third-place runner Blake by almost a full minute.

Through the second half of the race, Canaday continued to stretch his lead, but he never knew that.

“I had mixed reports (from spectators) of a 150-meter lead and a 30-second lead, and that kind of made me run scared,” Canaday confessed. “I didn't want to die here and have someone catch me. When I looked over my shoulder I felt a bit better.”

Canaday's biggest victory prior to Saturday came with a 10K Ivy League championship for Cornell.

“I've done a lot of trail running, but not mountains,” said the U. S. champion. “I could feel the burn today. I think I found my niche (on the mountains). Today's run kind of confirmed that.”

Both Gray (60:33) and Blake (60:54) are returning from recent injuries (post tibia tendonitis and hamstring surgery, respectively) and said their goal was a top six finish and a position on the U.S. team.

“I'm more in tune with my body since the injury,” said Gray, a former steeplechaser at Oklahoma State. “I knew I couldn't bang with the big guns. It's best to be smart. The competition level in this race was way up, and a bad stretch would have been the end of team hopes.”

Blake, who has won twice and owns six top 3's in eight races here said, “This was my first mountain run since December, and in truth, I didn't know what to expect. I felt healthy and confident, and I feel I know the mountain as well as anyone. So I really came in with the goal of a top six finish.”

World Mountain Running Champion Max King, 32, of Bend, Ore., suffered the day's biggest disappointment. Hampered by a cold, King finished eighth overall and seventh among Americans in 1:02:21, one position away from a U.S. team berth.

King is an exceptional downhill runner, but the Mount Washington course provides no such opportunities.

Six-time World Mountain Running Champion Marco De Gasperi, 35, of Bormio, Italy, in his first Mount Washington appearance, finished fifth in 1:01:38. He said he was not satisfied with his performance as he came here to win. He added that he didn't have the right feelings for victory from the start, and once Canaday took the lead, his legs lacked the strength to maintain the pace.

Dobson, Brandy Erholtz, 34, of Evergreen, Colo., and Kasie Enman, 32, of Huntington, Vt., finished 1-2-3 as they did here a year ago.

Dobson admitted to the obvious nerves prior to a race, but said, “I felt more prepared for this race than I was last year. I knew from my training that I was faster, and I knew what to expect.”

Erholtz ended in 1:12:27, and 2011 World Mountain Running champion Enman, the first American to earn the title, clocked a 1:14:55.

The U.S. women's Mountain Running team will be selected following competition at Loon Mountain on July 8.

Jim Johnson of East Wakefield was the second-finishing New Hampshire runner in 1:07:55 (23rd) and former Olympic Nordic skier Justin Freeman of New Hampton was 24th in 1:08-flat. Brandon Newbould of Nottingham also managed a top 25 finish with a time of 1:08:07.

Abbey Gosling of Laconia paced the New Hampshire women with a 12th place 1:26:18.

Click here for complete race results at coolrunning.com.

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Mark Labore may be reached at mlabore@unionleader.com.


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