Jim Sojourner/Durango Herald
LA PLATA CITY
Caitlin Prescott and Leah Fein pounded the dirt road, eyes on the last 20 yards of gravel and on each other after running more than 14 miles of trail in the La Plata Mountains.
Neither one of them seemed to notice the black and white flash squeaking in from behind until it was too late.
Crown Sadie the border collie queen of the 2012 Kennebec Challenge Mountain Run.
“She’s a bit of a sprinter,” Prescott said of her panting training partner. “She got us all at the end there.”
But it turned out Sadie skipped out on a good portion of the race. The doggy disqualification left Prescott the women’s overall winner by a margin of just 2 seconds for a time of 2 hours, 37 minutes, 4 seconds.
Durango’s Fein was the second woman across the line in 2:37.06 on a chilly morning that morphed into a dog-day afternoon in La Plata Canyon for the almost 60 competitors.
Brendan Trimboli was the 2012 overall champion in 2:04.10.
Prescott and Fein duked it out for first and second for most of the nearly 14.5-mile trail race that skirts the La Plata peaks, climbing from the 9,160-foot start line to about 12,200 feet and back down – from Jeep trail to goat trail to Jeep trail.
“They’re hard; they’re steep,” said Prescott, a Durangoan who’s run the Kennebec Challenge a few times. “You either have to run or speed-hike up them.”
Prescott also was the first woman – and third runner overall – to finish the Kendall Mountain race this year.
After finishing the Hardrock 100 less than a month ago, Fein said it was difficult to keep pace with Prescott on such a “short” race that left her with too little in the tank of the final sprint.
“I could see her down the road for the last three or four miles,” said Fein, a first-time Kennebec runner.
“No, I didn’t have another gear. Now, if the race were maybe 20 miles longer.”
Still, there are advantages to the 85-miles-shorter variety of race.
“It was super fun, and I have the whole rest of the day to hang out,” Fein said. “It’s very civilized.”
Angela Ochoa, another Kennebec rookie, finished third in 2:52.28.
“Oh my goodness, it was hard,” said Ochoa, who started running several years ago after kicking a long-time smoking habit. “But it was like a life accomplishment.
“Mentally, several times I wanted to give up. I was like ‘I just can’t do it,’ but I pushed through,” she said, describing “three miles of slipping” on loose rock. “I don’t think anything can prepare you for this.”
In the men’s field, Marco Zuniga said he called the winner before the 8 a.m. start.
“I said if I didn’t win, whoever did was going to be flying,” Zuniga said. “I predicted it.”
Trimboli was the flier.
Not bad for another Kennebec Challenge inductee who wasn’t even planning on running the race a couple of weeks ago and had no idea the trail climbed more than 3,000 feet in elevation.
Not bad training for Utah’s Wasatch 100 next month, either.
“I take a while to warm up,” the first-year Durango transplant said. “Sometimes it takes an hour before I start feeling good.”
That played out just right to catch men’s runner-up Tyler Curtis, who led the race until the final few miles. Trimboli caught him on the downhill, about 10 minutes out from the finish.
“If he was going to win, I was going to make him work for it,” Trimboli said.
And work the Colorado School of Mines runner did, although he said he took it easy on the downhill and on the “6-inch-wide goat trail” up top to preserve his ankles – and the rest of his body – for his final college cross country season.
“It’s a little frustrating. I really would’ve liked to win,” said Curtis, who trailed Trimboli by 21 seconds for a 2:04.31 finish.
Zuniga staggered across the line third in 2:13.30 after taking a slip on the scree up top.
“I’m surprised I didn’t rip my shorts, man,” the 40-year-old told the 24-year-old Trimboli, whom he called “Wonder Kid.”
“I love this,” Zuniga said. “I love hills. I just didn’t have it (Saturday). I was hurting after a mile and a half.”
This year’s Kennebec Challenge was hosted in memory of Durango’s Alex Tejada, a long-time sponsor and volunteer for the race along with his wife, Beth Crane. Tejada died in June from complications of diabetes at the age of 61.