Scott Patterson couldn't repel the wasps, but he handily fended off the competition Saturday to win the Crow Pass Crossing wilderness race with a time that had others buzzing.
Patterson, 21, registered the sixth fastest time in the 30-year-history of the race, coming tantalizing close to breaking the three-hour barrier despite trail conditions described as particularly technical and difficult. A wasp bit him during his run, and another got him while he was hanging out at the finish line.
Patterson made the 24-mile, hazard-filled journey from the Crow Pass trailhead near Girdwood to the finish line at the Eagle River Nature Center in 3 hours, 44 seconds.
The only faster times belong to Geoff Roes and Eric Strabel, who from 2009 to 2011 waged intense duels while rewriting the record book.
"I think that time ranks up there with Strabel and Roes, because theirs came on much better trail," said Harlow Robinson, a two-time champion who placed fifth.
While Roes and Stabel pushed each other to excellence, Patterson posted his impressive time in a solo endeavor. Second-place Andrew Arnold, Patterson's training partner, was nearly eight minutes back in 3:08:28.
"Scott ran a time trial," said third-place Matias Saari, who clocked 3:10:50.
Patterson was six minutes shy of Roes' record of 2:54:44, a mark Patterson admitted to having targeted. Downed trees, a high and flooded Eagle River and uncooperative shoelaces were among the things that put the mark out of reach.
"I had to stop a couple of times to tie my shoes," he said. "They came untied three times."
And that was despite using the special knot he devised successfully last year, adopted after normally knotted shoes kept coming untied during his rookie run in 2011.
He made a characteristically fast start and shed his pursuers quickly. After that his only company was wasps, which left Patterson and many other runners with stings.
"I would've like to have had someone with me, just to push it," he said.
Last year, Patterson became the youngest Crow Pass champion in history at age 20. Crow Pass is often viewed as a race that favors experience -- as Patterson is learning, something as seemingly simple as keeping shoes tied is learned via trial and error -- which means winners are often in their late 20s or 30s. Patterson and Arnold are challenging that notion.
Both are 21-year-old college skiers -- Patterson, a South High grad, skis for the University of Vermont, and Arnold, a Grace Christian grad, is transferring from UAF to UAA. They train with the Alaska Winter Stars and have gone on multiple training runs together this summer.
"Scott and I train five or six days a week and twice a day often," Arnold said. "We roller-ski, hill-bound with (ski) poles and go on mountain adventures. We find a trail that gives good access to a couple of peaks, and we hike around and try to find snowfields. We always keep moving."
Arnold hammered the second half of the trail to grab second place. He said he was about the eighth person to reach Eagle River, the race's midpoint, and he reeled in everyone but Patterson after that.
"The conditions were really slippery," Arnold said. "I fell many times. I fell off the trail twice and landed on my back both times.
"You're filled with adrenaline, but it's still 10 seconds before you can get back up."
Robinson, a 46-year-old running his 11th Crow Pass, said the trail was as bad as he's ever seen it. Saari, 42, disagreed.
"I thought it was OK," he said. "There were not as many obstacles as there could have been."
Saari's time was his second fastest in several races.
"I didn't fall, I didn't cramp, I didn't get stung, I didn't see bears," he said. "I won the over-21 division."
Fourth place went to 25-year-old Cody Priest (3:11:18), who owned a 30-second margin over Robinson (3:11:48), who returned to the race after a six-year absence. Robinson's time was good enough to crack the all-time top 30, an effort for which he was given the Competitor of the Year Award.
"I thought I was sucking," Robinson said, "till I saw my time."
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG