The lady train put on a show Saturday as it rolled 22.5 miles across the Crow Pass Trail, even though its leader turned into a caboose after running off the tracks.
Christy Marvin captured her fifth straight Crow Pass Crossing victory in dramatic fashion, edging Ann Penelope Spencer by 23 seconds and Jessica Vetsch by 30 seconds.
It was the closest women’s finish in the 35-year history of the race.
In 2015 Marvin beat Holly Brooks by 27 seconds, and in 1999 Tina Boucher led a group of three runners separated by less than two minutes. But there’s never been anything as tightly contested as Saturday’s race for first place.
Or as confusing.
“I thought we were racing for second and somehow I won,” Marvin said.
That’s because for most of the race, Marvin, Spencer and Vetsch thought they were chasing Hannah Lafleur. And for more than half of the race, they were.
Lafleur’s attempt to follow her win at Mount Marathon with a win at Crow Pass was derailed when she went the wrong way in the wilderness race, held on an unmarked trail that starts near Girdwood and ends at the Eagle River Nature Center.
Lafleur was the first woman to reach the top of Crow Pass about 3 miles into the race and was the first woman to cross Eagle River, reaching the midway point of the race two minutes ahead of her pursuers.
“Then I got lost,” she said.
Around the 16-mile mark, Lafleur said, “somebody in front of me turned around and said, ‘We’re going the wrong way!’ So we turned around and ended up in some boulder field.”
The group of about six runners encountered “really stinky, swampy, belly-high black mud,” she said.
Then came the jolt of reality.
“We looked back the way we came from and could see runners across this marsh,” Lafleur said. “I thought, ‘Welp, there goes the race.’
“I took it as part of the adventure of running a race like this. It’s unmarked, it’s primitive — you get whatever the wilderness serves you.”
Meanwhile, the battle for second place between Marvin, Spencer and Vetsch became a battle for first place.
That jolt of reality came about 3 miles from the finish line courtesy of spectators along the trail, Spencer said.
“I realized we were running for first after I passed Jessica and people were yelling, ‘You’re in first! You’re in first!’
“What???” she said.
Marvin surged passed Spencer in the final mile to win in 3 hours, 39 minutes, 46 seconds. She placed 14th overall in a field of 144 runners. Spencer was next in 3:40:09, followed by Vetsch in 3:40:16. Lafleur took fourth place in 3:45:11.
“We had an awesome lady train,” said Marvin, 38, using a term coined at last year’s Crow Pass Crossing when Marvin forged an 18-minute victory but the next half-dozen women ran together for much of the race.
“We were finding the trail together, talking to each other. … It’s the most entertaining Crow Pass I’ve ever had. We had a blast.”
Marvin, who has been flirting with Nancy Pease’s 1990 course record of 3:26:20 for the last several years, lowered her expectations this year because she had knee surgery over the winter and is still cautious on downhills.
She typically owns a healthy margin over other women, so getting to run with Spencer and Vetsch made for a new experience.
“It’s easier to pace with the girls,” she said. “The guys run different sections faster and different sections slower, so it throws you off your pace.”
“And they smell so much better. These guys reek. And the sweat they leave on the bushes, it’s slimy.”
The women said that, among other things, they talked about their kids — Vetsch has four, Marvin three and Spencer has a dog named Noodle.
“I kept picturing my toddlers,” said Vetsch, 33. “My 4-year-old daughter kept me going — when we go uphill in her chariot (stroller), we always sing, ‘Don’t give up! Never give up!’ ’’
Spencer, 24, was singing a similar refrain, for different reasons. She suffered a stress fracture in her femur 18 months ago and was not able to run for eight months.
“I appreciate every minute out there,” she said.
As the three women swapped stories, Marvin said the day left her thinking of one of her favorite quotes: “The miracle isn’t that I finished but that I had the courage to start.”
“People shouldn’t let the fear of losing keep them from doing their best. Get out there and try it,” she said. “It was fun to have a group like this today, because we all inspire each other to higher levels.”
Crow Pass Crossing
1) Christy Marvin, 3:39:46; 2) Ann Spencer, 3:40:09; 3) Jessica Vetsch, 3:40:16; 4) Hannah Lafleur, 3:45:11; 5) Lauren Fritz, 3:49:09; 6) Julianne Dickerson, 3:52:53; 7) Michaela Keller-Miller, 4:02:13; 8) Katie Krehlik, 4:06:46; 9) Jenna Difolco, 4:16:56; 10) Julie Johnson, 4:17:33; 11) Sarah Freistone, 4:36:06; 12) Emily Evans, 4:36:39; 13) Carly Venzke, 4:39:33; 14) Alejandra Legate, 4:42:23; 15) Jackie Stark, 4:44:52; 16) Greer Gehler, 4:45:30; 17) Natalie Dawson, 4:53:16; 18) Mara Menahan, 4:53:17; 19) Jocelyn Kopsack, 4:58:26; 20) Milissa Lewis, 4:59:20; 21) Meredyth Richards, 5:01:19; 22) Susan Casey, 5:02:28; 23) Melanee Stiassny, 5:11:45; 24) Sara Bryan, 5:13:34; 25) Emily Funk, 5:23:06; 26) Erin Larson, 5:23:27; 27) Rachel Gernat, 5:26:45; 28) April Rezendes, 5:26:55; 29) Leah Legate, 5:37:40; 30) Gina Robinson, 5:53:26; 31) Heidi Conway, 5:53:26; 32) Michelle Humphrey, 5:54:57; 33) Clarissa Dougherty, DNF; 34) Danielle Grimaldi, DNF; 35) Lena Nazarek, DNF; 36) Nancy Long, DNS