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Desert Dash: U.S. Trail Marathon Championships

"Awesome, hard an technical," says the men's champion.

“Awesome, hard and technical,” says the men’s champion. 

On a spectacularly clear but chilly Saturday morning, more 300 runners gathered at the Prichard Canyon trailhead, just outside of Moab, Utah, to test themselves on one of the country’s most difficult marathon courses.

Race director Danelle Ballengee launched the Moab Trail Mararthon last year to rave reviews from runners. Using her knowledge of desert trails, a series of remote canyons and seemingly impassable slickrock mazes, Ballengee designed a stunning course that both challenged and inspired runners.

This year’s event hosted the U.S. trail marathon championships, the seventh and final USATF-sanctioned trail championship race of 2012.

Cody Moat, 34 of Fillmore, Utah, came ready to win and took the title 3:08:27. With a background in Spartan Races and collegiate cross-country running, Moat was able to excel on the technical course, although he did say he thought he would run faster, and described the course as, “awesome, hard and technical.”

Thanks to a dry course (in comparison to a rain drenched route in 2011), Moat’s time was 24 minutes faster than last year’s overall winner. Justin Ricks, 32 of Pueblo West, Colo., finished second in 3:14:40 and masters runner Jason Bryant 40, of Elkin, N.C., rounded out the top three with his 3:17:07 finish.

In just her second marathon and third trail race ever, Kerri Lyons, 24 of Salt Lake City, raced to a commanding women’s division win in 3:27:48.

“My approach was to go out, do my best and see what happened,” said Lyons, who finished second at the XTERRA National Trail Championships in September near Ogden, Utah.

Moat and Lyons took home $400 apiece for their victories.

Megan Kimmel, 32 of Silverton, Colo., finished a strong season of USATF racing with a 3:32:08 runner-up finish. Kimmel, who won the USATF 10K Championships in North Carolina August and placed second in the half-marathon championships in Bend, Ore., in June, said, “There was sweet singletrack and a fun mix, but I could have done with out some of the sand.”

The final spot on the women’s podium was secured by 2011 U.S. Mountain Running Team member Michele Suszek, 30 of Littleton, Colo, in 3:37:12.

Nancy Hobbs, chair of the USATF Mountain Ultra Trail Council, said the timing, route, popularity of the Moab Trail Marathon and Ballengee’s support of top competitors were just some of the reasons for its selection as the national championship race.

“For trail, USATF is not looking so much for exact mile markers, but a well-marked route, the ability to keep people on course and environmental sensitivity,” commented Ballengee, who personally spent three days marking the course.

From field leveling sand, desert slick rock and vistas stunning enough to make you forget the punishing climbs that preceded them, ropes, tunnels and ladders, the route favored those best able to adapt to varying terrain.

“When I get a note from the RD that athletes are still trying to get in and the race is closed, that’s a testament to the popularity of the event — and the course,” said Hobbs when asked about racer response to the route.

The day also included a half-marathon and 5K adventure run, with close to 1000 finishers between the three events. For more information, go to the Moab Trail Marathon website.

USATF Trail Marathon Championship
Moab Trail Marathon, Nov. 3, Moab, UT

Men’s Results

1. Cody Moat, 34, Fillmore, UT, 3:08:26, $400
2. Justin Ricks, 32, Pueblo West, CO, 3:14:39, $300
3. Jason Bryant, 40, Elkin, NC, 3:17:06, $200
4. Kalib Wilkinson, 28, Flagstaff, AZ, 3:20:22, $100
5. Ryan Bak, 31, Bend, OR, 3:22:24, $50

Women’s Results

1. Kerri Lyons, 24, Salt Lake City, UT, 3:27:46, $400
2. Megan Kimmel, 32, Silverton, CO, 3:32:06, $300
3. Michele Suszek, 30, Littleton, CO, 3:37:10, $200
4. Melody Fairchild, 39, Boulder, CO, 3:43:37, $100
5. Stephanie Howe, 29, Bend, OR, 3:44:35, $50