Eeva Latosuo's sixth-place finish in last year's Crow Pass Crossing proved promising, but her sole goal in Saturday's 25th edition of the marathon-length backcountry race was simply to improve her time.
She accomplished that, but also bagged some bonus bounty -- the women's championship.
Latosuo, 38, covered the run through the Chugach Mountains from near Girdwood to the Eagle River Nature Center in 4 hours, 2 minutes, 46 seconds, to improve her personal-best in the race by 8:39.
"I couldn't believe it,'' Latosuo said. "Total surprise.''
Latosuo was the third woman over the top of Crow Pass four miles into the race of about 24 miles and was second to halfway point crossing Eagle River. She trailed Paige Brady, who was first to the river -- that earned Brady a $100 gift certificate from Skinny Raven -- and didn't take over the lead until about four miles remained.
"My only goal was to beat my time from last year, and I did,'' Latosuo said. "That was how I was pacing myself.''
While Latosuo was reeling in the victory, rookie Jaime Bronga, 18, was reeling in runners and turning her debut into a runner-up finish in 4:05:21. She earned the women's Rookie of the Year award.
"I ran it earlier this year in 5:45, stopping a lot and making sure I knew the trail,'' said Bronga, who will run and ski for UAA in the fall. "I thought, 'I can knock 45 minutes off that.' I ended up blowing that away.''
Race director Michael Friess is the UAA running coach, and Bronga, who finished with her father, Tom (4:05:21), said she had to convince her new coach to let her compete in the grueling race.
"I had to bargain a little bit, promise not to get hurt,'' said Bronga, who came away unscathed.
She said the farther she ran, the more she realized she could run close to four hours.
"I'd get to a point and think, 'I could do 4:30,' '' Bronga said. "Then, 'I could do 4:15.' I was pretty surprised. I've done a lot of training, a lot of preparation for this, but you never know how you'll do.''
Brady, 23, took third place in 4:07:42. Greta Lewanski, 27, finished fourth in 4:07:55, and Abby Rideout claimed fifth in 4:12:43.
Kyle Colburn, who finished 22nd among women in 5:18:01, was honored as the Most Inspirational Runner after stopping to aid a men's runner who suffered a cramp. She massaged out the cramp, sacrificing about 10 minutes on her time to help out.
That was a high point of the race, as was the victory by Latosuo, who after she finished could still hardly believe she won.
"That's crazy, just crazy,'' she said. "I can't believe it. I still can't believe it.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog online at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
25th Crow Pass Crossing
From Crow Pass Trailhead to Eagle River Nature Center
1) Eeva Latosuo 4:02:46.7; 2) Jaime Bronga 4:05:21.2 (Rookie of the Year); 3) Paige Brady 4:07:42.9; 4) Greta Lewanski 4:07:55.9; 5) Abby Rideout 4:12:43.1; 6) Suzanne Drinen 4:16:12.5; 7) Gail Taylor 4:19:29.0; 8) Ellyn Brown 4:34:04.7; 9) Meghan Kuklok 4:34:29.7; 10) Paula Hope 4:35:31.7; 11) Danielle Pratt 4:38:00.2; 12) Gina Robinson 4:41:10.8; 13) Becky Warren 4:41:28.2; 14) Pam Richter 4:46:10.4; 15) Laura Carpenter 4:46:37.6; 16) Amy Koehn 4:49:29.3; 17) Amber McDonough 4:52:48.1; 18) Susan Casey 4:55:30.8; 19) Diana Evans 5:02:34.9; 20) Jana Ozturgut 5:07:40.2; 21) Guerin Platte 5:11:46.6; 22) Kyle Colburn 5:18:01.3; 23) Kristen King 5:20:28.2; 24) Lissa Wright 5:20:38.2; 25) Emily Grossman 5:21:59.4; 26) Sue Sears 5:29:50.2; 27) Lana Davis 5:36:16.7; 28) Teresa Doyle 5:40:22.6.