Anchorage man, Oregon college star run to Big Wild Life marathon wins

bbragg@adn.comAugust 18, 2013 

Give it up for Jerry Ross, the longtime Anchorage runner who dominated the Big Wild Life Runs without breaking a sweat.

Ross helped persuade training buddy and veteran marathoner Tom Ritchie to go for a grueling hat trick that resulted in Ritchie's triumphant run through the rain Sunday for his first marathon victory.

And he provided training and motivation for wife Monica Ross, who placed third in the women's marathon but celebrated like a champion for reaching, despite injury, her summer-long goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

Ritchie and Ross were among more than 2,000 runners who ignored the rain to flood downtown streets for the Big Wild Life's three races -- the marathon, half-marathon and 5-kilometer run.

Ritchie, 39, didn't decide until Saturday to enter the marathon. His legs have had a tough summer -- Ritchie ran the Mayor's Marathon in late June and the Crow Pass Crossing the 24-mile backcountry race two weeks ago, and he wasn't sure if his body could take another marathon so soon.

"Crow Pass, that one beat me up," Ritchie said. "But I've never won a marathon, and I thought I had an opportunity here to win one. And Jerry kind of committed me to doing it."

Ritchie ran the 26.2-mile, Boston-certified course, which starts and ends downtown and uses the Coastal Trail and Chester Creek Trails, in 2 hours, 38 minutes, 43 seconds. He enjoyed a comfortable three-minute margin over runnerup Marc Bergman of Austin, Texas (2:41:39).

At the halfway mark, Ritchie owned a slim, 11-second lead over Bergman. By the 20-mile mark, the lead had grown to 1:47. He maintained a 6:02 mile pace during that stretch, significantly speedier than the 6:10 he averaged in the first five miles.

"My goal was to take it easy and stay in the front but not push it in the beginning," Ritchie said. "I never knew how big my lead was until I turned around at Goose Lake. I knew then if I relaxed, I'd win."

Ritchie said his training has been limited since the Crow Pass, a notorious administrator of bodily harm. Besides legs that needed rest, knee pain in recent days impacted his training.

"It's nothing severe, but that was another deciding factor," he said. "It felt pretty good yesterday."

The marathon marked the end of Ritchie's summer racing plans, as well as the end of his summer vacation. He's back at work this week at South High, where he teaches P.E., serves as athletic director and coaches wrestling, a sport that, like marathon running, requires a good measure of mental fortitude along with physical strength and endurance.

"I always think about wrestling toward the end of a marathon," Ritchie said.

Monica Ross was thinking about another marathon toward the end of her race Sunday.

Wearing a black "Will Run For Boston" headband, Ross easily met the 3:45 women's qualifying time for Boston, finishing third in 3:09:43.

Katie Conlon, a 23-year-old from North Dakota who recently wrapped her collegiate running career at Oregon, won the women's race in 3:05:51. Meredith Salony of Cambridge, Mass., was second in 3:08:24.

But neither was more jubilant than Ross, who screamed "I did it! I did it!" as she finished.

The Rosses decided after April's bombings in Boston that they wanted to be part of the scene next year at the world's most famous marathon. Meeting the 3:45 Boston standard is, in theory, not a huge challenge for Ross, even at age 47. She won the Mayor's half-marathon in June but she injured her hamstring after that, jeopardizing her goal.

"I've never gone into a marathon so unprepared," a tearful Ross said. "My body was so broke down. I had no 20-mile runs in after the (Mayor's half-marathon).

"Jerry said, 'All you have to do is qualify. Just qualify.' I had my family out there all along the course cheering for me -- that's what it's all about. This is the happiest I've ever been at the end of a race."

1 down, 50 to go

Sunday's marathon was the first for women's winner Katie Conlon, but it doesn't look like it will be her last. Not by a long shot.

Conlon, 23, said she and her sister Maggie have decided to run a marathon in every state. Alaska wound up first on the list, but the sisters can't cross it off quite yet.

Maggie was a spectator Sunday, her knee wrapped in a brace. "She injured her hamstring playing kickball," Katie said.

The sisters made the trip anyway -- "there's good tickets from Seattle," Katie said -- and they don't seem bothered that their to-do list still has 50 states on it.

"We're not too sad to come back," Katie said. "It's beautiful."

Support group

Amanda Leathers' first half-marathon wasn't a solo effort.

The Anchorage woman ran the race with a group from Tragedy Assistant Program for Survivors, a nationwide support group for people who have lost loved ones in the military.

Matthew Leathers was a Navy SEAL commando who went missing on a training mission in the waters off Hawaii's Kaena Point in Februarty. He and Amanda had two children, ages 2 and 5.

Leathers was one of about 60 women who took part in last week's five-day TAPS Widows Retreat. Women from all over the country came to Anchorage for a series of activities that included the Big Wild Life Runs.

"It's good to be with other people who know what's going on with you," Leathers said.

Leathers, who said she had never run farther than eight miles before, did the 13.1-mile half-marathon in 2:07:17, placing 182nd among 673 women.

Girl power

Three women registered top-five overall finishes in the half-marathon and 5-K.

In the half-marathon, UAA All-America runner Susan Tanui breezed to the women's victory in 1:21:45, a time that placed her fifth in the field of 1,011 half-marathoners.

Allan Spangler of Anchorage won the race in 1:19:10, 11 seconds ahead of Matthew Komatsu of Anchorage. Tanui finished more than three minutes ahead of women's runnerup Amy Baker of Austin, Texas.

In the 5-K, Kate Maker (18:40) and Jenette Northey (18:47) finished 1-2 among women, and 4-5 overall. The overall victory went to Service High's Gilly Szweda Mittelstadt (18:10), who was nine seconds ahead of second-place Brian Haviland.

Nice wheels

Clocking Sunday's fastest marathon time was Grant Berthiaume, a wheelchair race from Tucson, Ariz., who finished in 2:32:36, about six minutes ahead of Ritchie.

Berthiaume, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a construction accident, was a member of the three-man 50 Ability Marathon team. He, Paul Erway and Aaron Roux are attempting to compete in 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 weeks. Sunday's race was their 27th.

The three are raising money for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, which provides support for the paralyzed and funds research for spinal cord injuries.

Reach Beth Bragg at or 257-4335.

Big Wild Life Runs

Top 5

(complete results at

Moose's Tooth Marathon

Men -- 1) Tom Ritchie 2:38:43; 2) Marc Bergman 2:41:39; 3) Benjamin Gherardi 2:43:55; 4) Ben Sauvage 2:45:13; 5) Rick Lader 2:46:43.

Women -- 1) Katie Conlon 3:05:51; 2) Meredith Salony 3:08:24; 3) Monica Ross 3:09:43; 4) Erika Burr 3:13:21; 5) Rachael Campbell 3:22:20.

Wheelchair -- 1) Grant Berthiaume 2:32:36; 2) Aaron Roux 3:50:07; 3) Paul Erway 4:27:29.

Handcycle -- 1) Ira Edwards 2:56:04.

Skinny Raven Half-Marathon

Men -- 1) Allan Spangler 1:19:10; 2) Matthew Komatsu 1:19:21; 3) Alan Stoll 1:20:14; 4) Joe Rogat 1:21:16; 5) Eric Vilce 1:23:28/

Women -- 1) Susan Tanui 1:21:45; 2) Amy Baker 1:25:21; 3) Emma Bohman 1:26:51; 4) April Nelson 1:30:19; 5) Michelle Baxter 1:30:35.

Snow City 5-K

Men -- 1) Gilly Szweda Mittelstadt 18:10, 2) Brian Haviland 18:19; 3) Brad Benter 18:28; 4) Sebastian Szweda Mittelstadt 19:23; 5) Christian Sis 19:38.

Women -- 1) Kate Maker 18:40; 2) Jenette Northey 18:47; 3) Jordyn Bruce 20:49; 4) Rebekah Carr 22:16; 5) Rebecca Windt 22:16.


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