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Braje To Defend U.S. 50-Mile Crown

Crosby-Helms leads women's field; 2008 Olympic marathoner Brian Sell will serve as event's starter.

Crosby-Helms leads women’s field; 2008 Olympic marathoner Brian Sell will serve as event’s starter.

From: Running USA

BOALSBURG, Pa. — Todd Braje never had to look over his shoulder en route to capturing last year’s USA 50 Mile road title at the Tussey Mountainback, convincingly winning the race by more than 42 minutes.

While Braje of Arcata, Calif. will be back to defend his national title on Saturday, October 16, at the 11th Mountainback, he is in for a fight this time.

Not only is this year’s ultramarathon the largest in event history with 116 entrants, it also might be the most competitive.

The men’s field is highlighted by Michael Wardian, one of the most prolific long distance runners in the United States, who will be making his Mountainback debut.

Wardian of Arlington, Va. is a two-time U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier and the winner of countless races across the country including last Saturday’s ING Hartford Marathon. He’s also won USA 50K and 100K titles and has been a frontrunner at international ultramarathon championships. Last year, he collected his second straight USATF Ultra Runner of the Year Award.

Wardian said his goal is not only to win Saturday, but to break the course record of 5:48:34 set by Eric Grossman in 2008.

Braje, who won last year’s Mountainback in 5 hours, 57 minutes, 18 seconds, picked up another U.S. title this year when he won the USA 100 Mile Trail Championship in Ohio last July. Mark Godale of Aurora, Ohio, who was runner-up to Braje at the national 100 miler, also will be in Saturday’s race.

Michael Arnstein of New York City is another title contender. Last year, he placed second at the prestigious JFK 50 Mile in Maryland in 5:50:58, recording the 4th fastest time in the 47-year history of the race.

Other top contenders include: David James of Somers, N.Y. who recorded the world’s fastest 100 mile time of 2009 (13:06:52); trail standout Jason Bryant, of Elkin, N.C. who placed third at the 2008 Mountainback in 6:15:16; and superstar veteran Howard Nippert of Pembroke, Va.

While Nippert, 45, might be the oldest runner in the lead pack Saturday, he seemingly is the most proven. His résumé includes four top 10 finishes at the World 100K Championship (2004-07).

The women’s field is led by Devon Crosby-Helms of San Francisco who placed fourth at the World 100K in 2009.

While Crosby-Helms made the trip to Central Pennsylvania for last year’s Mountainback, the flu prevented her from racing. If she’s healthy Saturday, she probably can’t be beat.

The women’s course record is 6:36:16, set by Anne Lundblad in 2007.

Crosby-Helms won last year’s JFK 50 Mile in 6:29:21, breaking Lundblad’s course record there by 21 seconds.

Larissa Abramiuk of Wayland, Mass., who won last year’s Mountainback in 7:26:26, said she hopes to be in the race again Saturday. But a hamstring injury has had her recently sidelined.

Veteran Connie Gardner of Medina, Ohio, a perennial frontrunner at ultramarathons across the U.S., also is a contender. She was the women’s champ last month at the USA 24 Hour Championship in Ohio.

Brian Sell, the 2008 Olympic marathoner who currently is a grad student at Penn State, unfortunately won’t be competing here, but he will serve as the honorary starter. Proceeds from the event will support the current renovation project for Centre House, the emergency shelter program of Housing Transitions, Inc. in State College, Pa.