Ricklefs, Gardner Win USA 100K Titles at Edmund Fitzgerald
Olson and Hubbard, Nelson and Heaslett also make USA Team

By Charlie Mahler, Running USA wire

DULUTH, Minn. - (October 19, 2002) - Chad Ricklefs of Boulder, Colo. and Connie Gardner of Medina, Ohio won their first USA national road titles at the Edmund Fitzgerald 100K here today. The pair prevailed against gusty winds and temperatures in the 30s, a strong field and, of course, the 62 mile distance itself.

The two earned automatic spots on the USA team for the 2003 IAAF World 100K Challenge in Taipei. The top three finishers for men and women earned the berths. The remaining three spots - for a total of six per gender - will be selected by the USA Track & Field Mountain, Ultra and Trail-Running Committee prior to the competition scheduled for next November.

Ricklefs, 35, clocked seven hours, nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds for his victory - an average of 6:53 per mile. Duluth's favorite-long-haired-son Dusty Olson, 29, finished second in the men's competition at 7:17:02. Bloomington, Minnesota masters runner Charles Hubbard, 41, was third in 7:23:29 (and first master).

Gardner, 38, ran 8:30:31 for her win - roughly 8:10 pace per mile. Laura Nelson, 37, of Waynesboro, Maryland was second in 8:47:49, while Ann Heaslett, 38, of Madison, Wisconsin who sought to become ultrarunning's first three-time national champion in a single year finished third in 8:53:03.

Ricklefs built his win on a bold move made after the 30K aid station. He separated himself from Hubbard after the two of them had built a five minute lead on the loosely formed chasing group that included Olson and defending Edmund Fitzgerald champion Mark Godale (who would eventually finish 4th in 7:39:59.) Ricklefs passed 26.2 miles in roughly 2:52. Although Ricklefs lost pace in the late-going - splitting 3:23 for the first 50K and 3:46 for the second - Hubbard suffered much worse in the 30K homestretch on Lake Superior's North Shore and the fast-closing Olson would have needed a longer course to run down the eventual winner.

The win gives Ricklefs, a cross country skier-turned-biker-turned-champion ultra-marathoner, his third major victory in the last 12 months. The urban and regional planning graduate student won the JFK 50 Miler last November and set a new course record in winning the Leadville Trail 100 Miler last August prior to "The Fitz."

"The cold wasn't too bad," Ricklefs said of the conditions. "It's the wind. It would come in surges and slow you down a bit. The dirt sections were pretty muddy so that slows you down a bit in the snow and stuff. I was a little bit slower than I wanted to be. Just to come away with a win - you take whatever time you get, especially in a national championship."

Ricklets, who was an alternate for the 2002 World Challenge but when called upon was unable compete due to injury, was pleased to gain a spot for 2003. "Definitely, it was a goal of mine," he said. "It's pretty important."

Gardner's win came via the opposite strategy of Ricklefs - sticking close-by her rivals for as long as she could. Gardner, Nelson, Heaslett formed a loose pack the held together through 50K. Even at 70K, the three women were still within four minutes of each another. Gardner's even pacing - 4:14 for the first 50K, 4:16 for the second - found her running much stronger than her challengers coming home.

"You know what I said last night?" the first-time champion asked rhetorically. "'I'd really like to get an 8:30!' I had 4:15/4:15 - I had it even! When I went through at 4:15 I went, 'All right, maybe I'll get my 8:30.'"

Breaking away from her competitors was a mixed blessing for Gardner, however.

"I was hoping to keep that pack together," she said. "I liked the company. I didn't pull away. I never made a move. I just kept running. I was just running."

Prior to her success today, Gardner doubted whether she had the speed for "shorter" races like the 100K.

"I'm good at running slow," the Gardner joked. "I think that's what I'm good at. Like today, when I finished coming down the hill I was thinking 'too bad this isn't a hundred, because I could get a pretty good hundred mile time today.' It was a good day for me; I can't run much faster when I'm out there."

Rounding out the top four for women was Tania Pacev, the USA's top finisher at the 2002 World Challenge, who finished fourth in 9:04:08 and first master. Over the point-to-point 100K course from Finland, Minnesota to the outskirts of Duluth, a hearty 48 runners (38 men and 10 women) finished the race.

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