Mountain Creek Brings Pain, Climbs, and Rewards
Prior to holding the Tri-State New Jersey Ultra and Beast Weekend, the course profile was released for the Mountain Creek location in Mount Vernon, New Jersey––home to the largest ski mountain in the state with a vertical rise of 1,040 feet and a summit elevation of 1,480 feet (that’s about a quarter mile rise, top to bottom, in vertical ascension).
While the stats for Mountain Creek looked imposing, racers weren’t expected to make the climb just once: before taking into account the 30 miles of running or 60 obstacles needed to complete the ultra course, studying the vertical feet gained and lost in elevation profile revealed some true insanity. Spartans would be subjected to an elevation change of more than 10,000 feet in both incline and decline circumventing the course, with a max slope grade of 33%. With a start time of 6:00 AM, this Spartan Ultra was billed as the ideal race of its kind to bring the best of OCR and ultra-endurance sports together. The results didn’t disappoint.
Canadian Ryan Atkins Elite Runner Set the Ultra Pace
As dawn broke over the Mountain Creek site in Mount Vernon, the Spartan elite moved methodically through every rise and fall along the way. Ryan Atkins dictated the pace from the outset. Atkins, a Canadian endurance pro who grew up playing hockey, rugby, and mountain unicycling, was coming in hot on the heels of a race victory in muddy conditions from Seattle’s Super course the week prior. There, he finished 8.5 miles in just over an hour. Here, in New Jersey, Atkins blazed through 30 miles and 66 obstacles in a surreal time of 6:01:34.
Coloradan Rea Kolbl Crushed the Ultra Distance
For the elite women category, Coloradan Rea Kolbl finished the ultra distance as the first woman and fourth overall (for either gender) in a heart-stopping 7:23:47. Kolbl’s background as a long-distance trail runner and gymnast helped her in this race as she finished ahead of the second female elite racer, Ashley Etue, by more than an hour and a half.
Kolbl had this to say about her experience: “New Jersey and I are at peace now. I finished my first Spartan Ultra in 7:23 with one missed spear and the first place trophy. It was such a blast and so much more than I expected it to be! My absolute favorite part was the second lap with all the Beast and Ultra runners on the course. People often thank me for cheering them on, but I don’t think all you of you realize just how much that helps me too––positive energy flows both ways and all of your words of encouragement make me run faster and have happier races. One thing that surprised me was how scared of being cold I was. Especially after the dunk wall, hypothermia memories from last October came rushing back, and I probably spent over 10 minutes of racing time adding layers whenever I felt even slightly chilled. But I’m so happy I came back and ended the race with memories of pretty forests, steep ascents, and hellos and high fives.”
Mountain Creek Ultra Podium Finishers
In addition to Ashley Etue’s second-place finish in 9:01:31, Kelly Sullivan, from Westminster, MA finished on the podium in third, running the ultra course in 9:12:30. In second for the elite men, Ivan Santana, hailing from Mexico, finished in 7:14:47, while Craig Winters finished in third in a time of 7:19:22.
Mountain Creek Beast Race Recap
The elites also laced it up for the Spartan Beast event, which spanned more than 30 obstacles and 13 miles. Ryan Kempson, who finished strong in the mud at last year’s Tri-State event, shared prior to his arrival in New Jersey this year: “Maybe this time around Mountain Creek will be a touch warmer. Tempting to jump in the Ultra where all the competition is going to be.” Needless to say, Kempson finished the Beast distance and finished it well. He maintained his lead in the final stages by crossing the line ahead of second-place finisher Josh Riedinger in a time of 2:21:57 to 2:24:48. Third for the men went to podium-veteran Luke Bosek, who crossed in 2:32:45.
For the women, Lindsay Webster, fresh off her victory at the Seattle Super the previous week, won the Beast event in a time of 2:47:09, 23 minutes ahead of second-place finisher Heather Gollnick, who crossed in 3:10:14. Cali Schweikhart, last year’s winner on the course and an area native, finished third in 3:14:12.
Conditions were moderate and dry, with temperatures perfect for the entirety of the weekend, which saw Spartans of all abilities try their luck at the Ultra, Beast, and Kids variably distanced events. And while the refrain of “That wasn’t easy…” was heard well throughout the weekend, it was inspiring to see Spartans surmount some of the toughest climbs on a brutal Mountain Creek course. Next stop on the calendar will be opportunities for elites to compete at Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge, in Bigfork Montana at the Montana Beast and Sprint Weekend on May 4th and 5th.