Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Getting Ready To Worship The Wulf

Wulfman’s CDT-14K

2011 Race Preview

So, who’s going to rule the divide this year?  Can Big Bird regain the overall title again this year and defend his odd-year crown?  Will some new faces to the event master the route from Pipestone to Homestake?  Will Bazz’s trail acumen and altitude training overcome the road speed of Sarah the flatlander?  Can the old men make up ½ of the top ten finishers?

In an event that has become known for hot and exciting racing in its short, 4-year history – 2011 looks to continue the trend.  Both the men’s and women’s races have some intriguing story lines.  So, without further adieu, let’s get to the preview.

Starting with the women – we look to have a real contrast in styles in the potential front runners.  The favorite role would have to go to Michelle Bazzanella (Bazz), with long-time connections to Helena & Butte.  She’s the 2010 champ (Homestake to Pipestone route) and has finished no lower than 3rd place in any of the first 3 editions of the race.  As the Muddy Buzzard’s #4 open women’s runner of the year, she’s a classic trail runner whose stride is perfect for the course ups and downs; and, she should have no problem with the altitude (varying between 6,360’ and 7,700’).  She’s already proven her trail mettle in 2011 with a solid 2nd place female finish at the Don’t Fence Me In 12K in Helena.

In contrast to Bazz the mudder, you have Sarah Graves the roadie (and the Buzzard’s #2 open women’s runner of the year for 2010).  With a pedigree that includes a 2:47 marathon PR and participation in the elite field of the Boston Marathon, Sarah has put out some top level performances at all distances from the mile to the marathon.  While she mostly sticks to the roads, her win at the 2010 Montana Cup shows that she can also hammer on the trails.  But, can she overcome the altitude and Bazz’s familiarity with the course?  And, will these two push each other to a new course record (1:04:10 set by Nicole Hunt in 2009) (which could mean a $150 pay day for hitting the sub-65:00 premium time and the CR)?

As exciting as the competition between these two could be – let’s not forget about some of the other runners.  Including Bazz, this year’s race includes 5 of the top-10 finishers from 2010.  Maurie McLaughlin of Butte finished 3rd last year; and, has the benefit of being altitude trained and familiar with the course.  Beth Shumate of Clancy quietly shows up at trail runs around the state and consistently finishes near the front.  Can she improve on her 5th place finish from 2010?  And, can all of these ladies hold off the charge from the younger crowd?  Bekah Kirtley (18) of Fromberg and Olivia Wood (16) of Anaconda finished 6th and 7th respectively last year.  Wood has the #12 all time performance on the N-S course and comes off a great season for the Copperhead XC & Track squads.  We also have a potential dark horse in Haley Chura of Atlanta.  Chura’s sister (Hannah) and mother (Elizabeth) of Gallatin Gateway were both top 15 finishers in the 2009 version of the N-S course.  Could they have given Haley some tips on the course and strategy??

And, let’s not forget about our “mature” ladies.  The over-40 race has some unique twists and turns of its own.  As the Buzzard’s 2010 Open Women’s Runner of the Year, Nicole Hunt would normally be a hands down favorite for the master’s title (if not the open title).  But, she’s currently in the second trimester of her 2nd pregnancy; and, she’s slowed down just ever so slightly.  Will she still be able to place near the top of the master’s category even while running for three (that’s right – Nicole & Ray are expecting twins!!!!)?

Or, will the N-S course’s #1 Age-Graded master, Elizabeth Chura of Gallatin Gateway, pull out the win.  We also have Demaris Taylor of Helena returning – having placed 13th overall in 2010.  And, let’s not forget Sherry Vogel of Butte.  Or, Billings’ own ageless wonder – Debbie Magilke.  The age-graded master’s placings should prove very interesting indeed.

The biggest fireworks of the day are likely to come at the front of the men’s race.  2010 champ and University of Montana steeplechaser is back to take a whack at the Pipestone to Homestake route.  Reynolds has got some young legs, which tend to be a help on the long downhill sections of the race.  And, his performances in the steeplechase show that he’s fit and fast.  Plus, the coordination and endurance that are necessary to run elite steeples tend to be a pretty big benefit on the trails.

Of course, he’ll have to contend with 2008 and 2009 Wulfman Champ and 2010 runner-up Thomas “Big Bird” Jodoin of Helena (the Buzzard’s 2010 #2 Male Runner of the Year).  Big Bird had a bit of an injury snafu at the AOH St. Pat’s Day Run in Anaconda in March.  But, as evidenced by his win at the Don’t Fence Me in 12K in mid-May, the hammy seems to be coming around and Thomas should be ready to go.  He’s also the most experienced on this course; and, should be ready to rock and roll.

The third leg of the Wulfman trifecta team is likely to be Jimmy “The General” Grant.  Much like Sarah Graves on the women’s side, Jimmy is known as more of a roadie.  But, he has been known to put a foot in the dirt on occasion.  On the road, he’s had a very solid last couple of years.  He was the Buzzard’s Male Runner of the Year in 2009 and # 3 in 2010.  Already this year he scored a big win with his 31:39 10K at the Missoula Riverbank Run.  And, he followed that up with a 38:24 12-K at Bloomsday to finish 32 overall (out of 50,000 +). 

But, wait – just like a TV infomercial – that’s not all.  Including Reynolds and Jodoin, 6 of the top 10 finishers from the 2010 Wulfman will return this year, and 10 of the top 15.  Plus, we have a new face in Christian Heck of Bozeman, 2008 3rd-placer Dewey Peacock of Bozeman, trail ace Brian Wieck of Helena, 2008 4th-placer Matt Edwards of Bozeman and youngster Josh Panasuk of Butte.

But the story within the story on the men’s side may very well be the shuffling of the old farts.  As it has been every year, the master’s field is looking to be deep and fast.  And, the sub-plot will be to see how many of the over 40 crowd can crack the overall top 10.  In 2008 and 2009, there were 2 masters in the top 10.  In 2010, there were 4 in the top 10 and 2 in the top 5.  Some of the best of Montana’s old men will be at the CDT-14K. 

41-year old Pat Judge of Helena is having a racing resurgence since turning 40.  His last 2 years have probably been amongst his best since Y2K.  The Muddy Buzzard’s #2 Master’s Runner of the Year, Pat will be running at the outside edge of his typical racing range.  And, he’s typically more of a road and track guy; but, solid performances at the Don’t Fence Me In 5-K and the Montana Cup show that Pat can also crank it up on the trails.

Mike Telling (42) of Dillon has a history of fast and furious racing at the Wulfman with overall placings of 2nd, 7th and 5th.  History would show that when Mike toes the line, he’s ready to race.  And, that’s doubly so when he races along the backbone of the continent.  As the 2010 # 3 runner on the Buzzard’s Master’s list, Telling clearly has the pedigree.

Jeff Braun of Butte, at 47, has had an incredible last couple of years on the racing scene – at a wide variety of distances and surfaces – good enough to rank as the Buzzard’s #5 Master of the year in 2010.  Can Jeff continue his string of fast finishes?  Living and training in Butte, Jeff will have altitude training in his ditty bag – together with an intimate knowledge of the CDT.

Kirk Keller, 50, of Three Forks has the #1 over-40 Age-Graded performance at the CDT-14K.  After some injuries in 2010, will Kirk be ready to return to form in 2K11?  He’s been in the top 10 overall before – can he find that magic again.

But, the biggest factor in the master’s race could be the presence of Bozeman’s Scott Creel (48 – and just days away from B-day 49).  Scott has been on a bit of a racing hiatus in the last couple of years while he focused on his wildlife research, his kids, and some other outdoor pursuits.  But, he had a successful return to the track in February with his 3rd place finish at the Montana Men’s Master’s Mile (M4) in 4:42.  And, as the course record holder at the Bridger Ridge Run, Scott’s trail racing prowess and pain threshold are legendary.  If Scott’s at the starting line, look for him to be ready to hammer.

So, lot’s of excitement is brewing as we approach the 4th Annual Wulfman CDT-14K.  And, lots of questions will be answered on the morning of the 18th.  But, a few things we can be pretty certain of.  The racing will be hot and fast, the race management will be exemplary, the post race festival will be trail running’s best social event of the spring, and each and every one or the competitors will get their money’s worth.

The Buzzard is circling the skies above Butte and just waiting for the time to swoop in and take part in the suffer fest along the divide.

See you on the roads, tracks and trails

The Muddy Buzzard

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