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Star Tribune

Former Minnesotans show mettle at ultra running's biggest race

We reported back in April that former Minnesotans are dominating the ultramarathon scene, and they continue to back that up.

More evidence came Saturday in northern California at arguably the sport’s most prestigious race.

Brittany Peterson of Pocatello, Idaho, (and formerly of Carlton, Minn.) finished second among women in the Western States 100-mile race. Coincidentally, another former Minnesotan, Courtney Dauwalter, led the race through 80 miles before dropping out with an injury. That opened the door for Peterson, who crossed the line in 17 hours, 34 minutes – the fourth-fastest time for a woman at the event. (She’s shown below in an image from iRunFar.com.)

“I was so happy with how I executed,” Peterson said in an email to the Star Tribune. “I knew I was capable of this result, but so many things can happen in 100 miles so I’m grateful for the army of people (my coach, pacer and crew) that kept me going. I’m very in tune with my body and effort levels, so I felt in control and recognized what I needed to keep going at that pace and keep chasing for the podium.”

Peterson recalled a touching encounter when she passed a fading Dauwalter. “Despite battling injury and disappointment of being slowed to a limp, she greeted me with the most genuine enthusiasm and was so ecstatic for my race,” Peterson added. “This is why I love the sport, and why Courtney is one of the shining stars in it.”

Dauwalter, of Golden, Colo., who starred in cross-country and Nordic skiing at Hopkins High School, was attempting to defend her 2018 title at Western States. Clare Gallagher of Boulder, Colo., and Peterson filled the void over the final 20 miles. Gallagher held on to win in 17 hours, 23 minutes.

Peterson said she was injured in March and early April, missing a few big races on her schedule, and she was doubtful about her fitness for the grueling Western States. In hindsight, she said her focus on recovery and rest might have worked in her favor last weekend.

Western States is the oldest 100-miler, with massive climbs and drops through the northern California mountains from Squaw Valley to Auburn.

Ladia Albertson-Junkans, whom we also featured in April and who grew up in Stillwater, finished 31st among women in 26 hours, 40 minutes.

Peterson shared a sweet moment between the two friends early in the race, and that included thoughts about Minnesota's beloved Gabe Grunewald, who succumbed to cancer in June:

“I got to share the sunrise with Ladia at the top of the escarpment in the early miles. A group of us women all linked arms and looked over Lake Tahoe at the sunrise together. This basically embodies Ladia’s spirit and energy. She gave everything out there, did it with grace and a smile and shared the higher purpose of running #bravelikegabe. Her encouragement before, during, and after is incredibly meaningful!”

Peterson went on about “other Minnesota rock stars” at the race, too. Rachel Drake, formerly of White Bear Lake and a Nike teammate of Peterson’s, paced her husband, Tyler. Stephanie Howe Violett, a dominant runner and skier during her high school days at Forest Lake, interviewed Peterson at the finish line “where we mutually agreed that tater tot hot dish is the best hot dish!” 

Regarding men’s results, Jim Walmsley, 29, defended his 2018 title — and lowered his men’s course record. He won in 14 hours, 9 minutes, breaking his mark by more than 20 minutes. Jake Lawrence of Mankato finished 24th among men in 19 hours, 38 minutes.

See more online about the race at wser.org.

Event is all about connecting to outdoors activities

Looking for a way to help children make an outdoors connection?

It’s established knowledge that adults who were given opportunities to do things in the outdoors as children are more likely to participate in outdoors activities as adults. A free event Friday in Maplewood will give people of all ages the freedom to try several activities — from fishing and canoeing to archery and bicycling. The St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department, with help from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Ramsey County Parks and others, will put on “Take Aim at Summer Fun” from 4-8 p.m. at Keller Regional Park.

All of the equipment for all of the activities is free to use. Learn more about the event online at bit.ly/eventOW.