If they awarded assists in footraces, Denali Foldager deserves two for the boost she provided Tuesday night in the Turnagain Arm Trail Run.
Eric Strabel and Najeeby Quinn crushed their own records on a glorious evening, with Strabel shaving 70 seconds off his 2010 men's record and Quinn lopping a minute off her 2006 women's record. Afterward, both thanked Foldager, a race rookie, for spurring them along.
Foldager, 24, is Strabel's fiancee and Quinn's newest rival. A former NCAA Division II all-conference runner for Cal State-Stanislaus, Foldager got credit from Strabel for helping him improve his speed on the flats and from Quinn for pushing her during the eight-mile run over rolling and often technical terrain.
"I had no idea that chick had trail speed like that," Quinn said. "Dang, Denali chased me down. That was great."
Quinn, 34, won the women's title in 1 hour, 56 seconds, beating the record of 1:01:56 she set eight years ago. Second-place Foldager was a little more than a minute behind in 1:02:05, the third fastest women's time ever recorded on the Rainbow-to-Potter route. Third place went to two-time Olympic skier Holly Brooks, whose 1:04:00 ranks as the seventh fastest on that route (the race changes directions each year).
Strabel, 32, who shook up Alaska's mountain running world last summer when he broke Bill Spencer's revered Mount Marathon record, made the run in 50:12, obliterating his 2010 mark of 51:22. Allan Spangler was second in 53:06, the fifth fastest time ever on the Rainbow-to-Potter route, and Brent Knight was third in 53:14, tying the sixth-fastest time.
"I've been doing a lot of flatter running to get my road speed back up, so I have to think Denali for that," Strabel said. "I came through McHugh faster than I ever had before, which was surprising because I didn't feel very strong on the uphill. But I felt really good on the downhills and graduals, and that was the speed part."
A track runner who is becoming a trail runner, Foldager said Strabel's lone disappointment last year at Mount Marathon was his speed on the small portion of the race held on pavement. They started running together in their neighborhood, and Strabel made gains with his speed on flats.
"I made him sign up for the Heart Run," Foldager said of last month's 5-kilometer road race."Every day I was texting him, 'Did you sign up? Did you sign up?' ''
Born and raised in Seward, Foldager is no stranger to mountain running -- she's a three-time Mount Marathon junior champion -- but she is only now becoming been a regular on the Anchorage mountain running scene.
Quinn welcomes the competition. She missed most of the last two summers with various injuries, and last year an injury prevented her from attempting to win a fifth straight Turnagain Arm title.
"I got to the top of that hill (at the start of the race) and said, 'Jesus, I am going to throw up,' '' Quinn said. "Then two miles from McHugh, I saw Denali -- 'oh no, that little mountain runner, she's on my ass.' When I got to McHugh I decided I'd approach those next four miles as a runner. It was great I was able to put it together."
Quinn was ecstatic to take a minute off her personal-best, especially given her lack of training and racing the last two years. Like Foldager, Quinn was a college track runner, but her injuries have led her to do less road running.
"I'm getting more into the cross training, the mountain biking, the skiing, and getting farther from my running roots," she said. "The training's great and I'm stoked with all these mountain runs (coming up). I haven't been competitive since 2007, and I'm really looking forward to getting back into it."
Quinn's only disappointment was finishing so far behind Strabel.
"I wanted to break an hour," she said. "I did not want Eric Strabel beating me by 10 minutes."
At least she was in good company -- Strabel left everyone in his dust.
"I was trying to run comfortably fast," Strabel said. "I just felt really smooth on the graduals and flats, so I let it roll. It felt remarkable."
The race, a fundraiser for the UAA ski team, started at the Rainbow trailhead, goes past McHugh Creek and finishes at the Potter trailhead. Though a bear with two cubs has been spotted on the trail in recent days, no one reported spying one Tuesday.
Victories in the four-mile race, which began at McHugh Creek, went to Brad Benter (21:50) and Erin Hamilton (28:46).
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG