Ashland runner Erik Skaggs asserted himself early in the 31st annual Mount Ashland Hill Climb Run, winning the uphill half marathon in — hour, 53:01 minutes, beating last year's winning time by a full four minutes.




Excellent conditions and stiff competition resulted in some exceptional times. Skaggs' time is the second-fastest in Hill Climb history. Evelyn Dong, 23, defended her women's title, besting last year's time by more than eight minutes and setting a women's course record in 2:08:40 (11th place overall).




Skaggs, 26, was followed by Zach Violett, 26, from Bend in 1:57:23; and Richard Bolt, 37, from Portland in 2:00:29.




After running in the lead pack for a short period Skaggs surged and quickly left everyone in the dust, running most of the race by himself. Former race winner Ian Solof put in a strong burst and appeared to join Skaggs for a brief period but ran out of gas near Four Corners, about seven miles into the course, and dropped out at the Mount Ashland lodge aid station.




Behind Skaggs the race formed in several groups with a gaggle including Violett, Matthew Barnhart and John Leuthold, with Richard Bolt trailing just behind. Before the lodge, Violett separated himself from those three to take second and Bolt managed to pass Barnhart and Leuthold in the last couple of miles to secure third place.




Among the women, Jenn Shelton, 24, set a blistering first-mile pace, giving Dong some pause.




"I thought, 'Wow, if she's going to keep this up I am in deep trouble,'" Dong said.




Dong took matters into her own hands, however, and quickly moved ahead on the steep uphills. Shelton finished second in 2:29:45. Ixel Sanchez, 22, followed in 2:37:53.




Some debate exists about the fastest way to ascend Mount Ashland once competitors arrive at the ski area. Race organizers decided to mark two ski slope routes to prevent people from trying to climb rock faces or running around the mountain out of sight. The routes were marked "Hard and long" and "Harder and shorter." Most of the elite racers chose the more direct route. Almost no one actually ran the final ascent.




Said Violett: "It seems like a slow, plodding hike &

not so much a run, but your heart is pounding and your lungs are searing."




A mini-competition was waged between the Bend cross country skiers (including Violett and Dong) and the local running community, the skiers wearing their sponsors' red outfits and the local runners wearing their "Rogue Valley Runner" pale green tops. The Rogue Valley Runner group might have prevailed in the imaginary competition, but with runners in the top 10 from Portland, Eugene and San Francisco, the competition has clearly spread beyond Ashland and Bend.




Highlighting the difficulty of the event is the fact that just 70 percent of the registered participants completed the 13.1-mile course (5,600-foot vertical feet up to the summit). Two-hundred and fifty racers registered but only 177 completed the ascent from the Ashland plaza to the summit of Mount Ashland. Many participants reached the lodge, looked up the mountain to the summit and decided that they have done enough.




Physical Therapy Associates therapists were on hand at the lodge parking lot to help runners and walkers after the event. Live music and ample amounts of food and beverages, including Standing Stone beer, helped the participants savor their accomplishment.