For the top three women at Saturday's Crow Pass Crossing, it was all about the car.
No, wait. It was all about the dogs. Or maybe the dog hair.
Before Kiersten Lippmann motored past the competition for her third straight victory in the 24-mile wilderness footrace through Chugach State Park, she was at the wheel of a Honda CR-V that contained the top three finishers.
The trio -- first-place Lippmann, second-place Jessica Vetsch and third-place Guerun Platte -- formed a carpool after meeting each other at Friday's mandatory safety meeting.
Lippmann volunteered to drive the group to Girdwood for Saturday's 7 a.m. start, but she didn't have time to vacuum her car, which she shares with three big dogs. The women arrived at the Crow Pass Trailhead wearing fur.
All three made it to the end of the trail, at the Eagle River Nature Center, in four hours.
"We had the winning car," Platte said. "It was the dog hair."
Lippmann, 33, led the way in 3 hours, 44 minutes, 44 seconds. Her time of 3:44:44 was the slowest of her three winning times, but it ranks 14th all-time among women.
"The first goal was to win but I also wanted to set a better time, but the trail was hard," Lippmann said. "The rocks were slippery, and my shoes were really slippery."
Also conspiring against her was high water at the Eagle River crossing, a beaver pond that wasn't there last year and required a detour, stinging bees and an obstacle course of fallen trees.
"There were a lot of downed trees," she said, "so you were jumping over trees, going under trees, going around trees," Lippmann said. "The river itself was extremely scary. I almost fell in. It was up to my waist -- higher than I've ever seen."
She and two men linked arms as they crossed the river, a slow process that Lippmann said was a time-killer.
"Any variable can throw you off," she said. "The river crossing slowed me by five minutes."
Fifteen minutes behind Lippman, her carpool passengers dueled for second place. Vetsch, a 28-year-old race rookie, prevailed in 4:00:10. Platte, 23, was 47 seconds back in 4:00:57.
Platte, a 2008 East High grad who attends Lawrence University in Wisconsin, finished with a big, bright blood stain on her running tights, a souvenir from the fall she took early in the race.
"My knee was throbbing the whole time," she said. "I was excited to get to the river to ice my knee. It gave me a new appreciation for ice-cold water."
Lippmann reached the finish line with no visible wounds and was greeted by Tessa, a 7-year-old German Shepherd who is one of Lippmann's three canine running companions -- and a source of some of the fur clinging to her car seats.
Tessa, Tikko and Abby serve as pacesetters and protectors on training runs with Lippmann, a conservation biologist who is a former skier and runner for UAA.
"You do a lot of wilderness loops out there by yourself," she said. "It's great to have three dogs (in case of) bears. It's better than two."
Dogs were a recurring theme among the top women. Before Vetsch was a runner, she was a musher.
"I was a dog musher in high school," said Vetsch, whose maiden name is Butler. "I did the Junior Iditarod and the Junior Quest. That's how I started running -- I had terrible dogs, so I'd get off the sled and run beside it. So I thought, why not get rid of the dogs?"
When she went off to college, she sold her 20-dog kennel. Now she's back in Anchorage with a husband, two kids, ages 5 and 3, and one dog.
"I set the goal that when I had each baby, I would do a marathon a year later," she said. "I realized I don't like road racing, but I love the mountains."
Lippmann is drawn to the mountains too, which makes Crow Pass one of her favorite events. "It's a challenge, it's totally Alaska and there's no other race like it that I know of," she said.
Saturday's victory makes Lippmann the third woman to win three or more races in a row in the 30-year history of Crow Pass. She joins Nancy Pease, who won six of her record nine titles consecutively (1985-90), and Kjerstin Lastufka, who won three straight from 1996-98.
Also making history was Ellyn Brown, who became the first woman 60 or older to enter the race. She finished in 5:18:52, an effort that came 23 days after she sliced 10 minutes off an age-group record at Seward's Mount Marathon.
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG