Rosie Brennan came to Saturday's Alaska Run for Women in need of a morale boost.
She left with a course record.
Running what she said was her first road race since high school, the Olympic cross-country skier outdueled Anna Dalton by four seconds to win one of Alaska's largest footraces.
Both women beat the well-respected record set in 2002 by Chris Clark, who set the 5-mile standard of 27 minutes, 36 seconds two years after placing 19th in the 2000 Olympic marathon in Sydney, Australia.
Brennan, a 29-year-old member of Alaska Pacific University's nordic ski team, used a late surge to win in 27:31.
Dalton, a 28-year-old who was coming off a record-breaking performance in the previous week's Twilight 12K, was close behind in 27:35.
Until Saturday, Clark was the only woman to break the 28-minute mark in the 26-year-old race.
Speed matters at the Run for Women — the race typically attracts a competitive field of elite runners — but it's not all that matters. In 26 years, it has raised nearly $5 million in dollars and donated mammograms.
Saturday's event attracted more than 5,000 participants and unofficially raised nearly $150,000 in donations for breast cancer charities.
Little girls and old women, some fast and some slow, filled the Sullivan Arena parking lot as the morning began with a hint of sunshine.
A giant American flag hung from the ladder of a fire engine parked on 16th Avenue, providing a burst of red, white and blue in what was otherwise a sea of pink, the signature color of breast cancer awareness.
Hundreds wore pink caps designating them as breast cancer survivors. They received pink carnations as they crossed the finish line at the Anchorage Football Stadium. Leading the way for the survivors was Lisa Keller, who finished 32nd overall in 35:34.
Brennan said she doesn't have many personal connections to breast cancer, although she knows that likely will change as she grows older. According to the American Cancer Society, one out of eight American women — 12 percent — will be diagnosed with the disease.
"Which is what this race is all about," Brennan said. "If your neighbor can fight, so can you."
Brennan knows what it's like to fight. She just battled through one of the most difficult seasons of her cross-country skiing career.
She joined the APU team in 2011 and enjoyed almost immediate success. By 2012 she was a regular on the World Cup circuit.
Entering the 2017-18 ski season, Brennan was an integral part of a strong American women's team that also included APU skiers Kikkan Randall and Sadie Bjornsen.
She was a contender to ski on the Olympic relay team — she helped the Americans to a bronze medal at a World Cup relay race in 2015 — but things went poorly for her in Pyeongchang, South Korea. In her only Olympic race, the 15-kilometer skiathlon, she placed 58th.
"I had the worse race of my life," she said. "I had mono and it went undiagnosed. I didn't know I had it till I got back here (at the end of the season).
"The whole experience was really challenging. It took a long time to recover."
Brennan started feeling better physically in recent weeks, but she came to Saturday's race in need of emotional healing.
"I needed to do something to get my head back in the game, so I picked this race," she said. "I'm so psyched. I feel like I've recovered from mono and I'm ready for winter."
Brennan said she had no idea what to expect in her return to road racing. She ran the Run for Women casually with some friends a few years ago, but other than that she had not raced on pavement since high school.
And so she let a real runner — Dalton — guide her.
"I tried to match her strides," Brennan said. "I was counting my steps and watching her."
Dalton, one of the city's top road racers, set a torrid early pace. She built a lead during the largely uphill first mile, but when the race hit the Coastal Trail around the two-mile mark, Brennan caught up.
"Rosie ran a really smart race and just sat on me the whole time," Dalton said. "I didn't think anyone would stay with me.
"Oh, well. I think we were both under or close to the record."
Dalton said she covered the first mile in a swift 5 minutes, 33 seconds, "which was stupid of me," she said.
"You made me pay for running that hill too hard," Dalton told Brennan.
Even so, Brennan suspected Dalton could still outkick her. She didn't want the race to be settled on the AFS track, so in the woods behind the stadium, about a quarter-mile from the finish line, she seized control.
"I was not going to do a 100-meter dash," Brennan said. "I was going to do a 400-meter dash because we've been doing one-minute strides (at ski practice)."
Brennan and Dalton destroyed the rest of Saturday's field. They finished more than two minutes ahead of third-place Caroline Pennacchio of New York.
And while they set themselves apart with their speed, their pink singlets made them part of the crowd.
Though some runners wore tu-tus and boas, T-shirts bearing messages — some funny, some somber — dominated the scene.
Kathi Texeira, 47, wore a T-shirt bearing the names of 11 women from Utqiaġvik who have had breast cancer. Her name was one of them.
"We're all still alive," said Texeira, who went through treatment in 2010 and has come to the Run for Women every year since.
A team of women who work for the Alaska Court System wore "Save the Racks" T-shirts. On the front was the outline of a big, antlered animal and on the back was a beat-cancer slogan: "Not fast — just furious."
Among the 30 members of the Hakuna Ma Tatas team were Teresa Tramp, an eight-year survivor, and Debbie Brooker, who just finished treatment after catching her cancer early thanks to a yearly mammogram.
The veteran of several races, Brooker said the experience was different as a survivor.
"It's very emotional," she said as tears filled her eyes, "and I don't have my sunglasses."
Henrietta Morgan, 72, wore a pink cap and carried a pink carnation as she waited for her husband to join her near the finish line.
She's an 18-year survivor of breast cancer who credits her church, her family and her faith for seeing her through it.
"At times during the chemo, it took all I had to get off the couch, but my daughters and my husband said, 'You can do it,' so we made it," she said.
Asked if the Run for Women is an important day for her, Morgan smiled.
"Sure," she said. "Every day is important to me. I'm standing upright and I'm walking."
Saturday's Top 10
Rosie Brennan 27:31; 2) Anna Dalton 27:35; 3) Caroline Pennacchio 29:53; 4) Morgan Ekemo 30:06; 5) Darcy Dugan 30:58; 6) Lia Slemons 31:09; 7) Lauren Fritz 31:36; 8) Holly Brooks 31:56; 9) Emily Evans 32:03; 10) Samantha Longacre 32:13.
Run for Women champions
1993 — Laura Downey, 36:52 (10k)
1994 — Suzanne Ray, 28:27
1995 — Heidi Gerken, 28:23
1996 — Chris Clark, 28:26
1997 — Kristi Waythomas, 29:06
1998 — Kristi Waythomas, 28:27
1999 — Chris Clark, 27:53
2000 — Chris Clark, 28:00
2001 — Chris Clark, 28:23
2002 — Chris Clark, 27:36
2003 — Liz Wilson, 28:17
2004 — Najeeby Quinn, 28:24
2005 — Esther Jurasek, 30:04
2006 — Najeeby Quinn, 28:46
2007 — Kikkan Randall, 29:54
2008 — Kristi Waythomas, 29:38
2009 — Kristi Waythomas, 29:56
2010 — Kelsey Jones, 28:19
2011 — Najeeby Quinn, 29:39
2012 — Kikkan Randall, 28:18
2013 — Susan Bick, 29:11
2014 — Hallidie Wilt, 28:49
2015 — Anna Dalton, 28:59
2016 — Denali Strabel, 29:40
2017 — Kikkan Randall, 28:41
2018 — Rosie Brennan, 27:31
Top 19 all-time performances
1. Rosie Brennan, 2018, 27:31
2. Anna Dalton, 2018, 27:35
3. Chris Clark, 2002, 27:36
4. Chris Clark, 1999, 27:53
5. Chris Clark, 2000, 28:00
6. Liz Wilson, 2003, 28:17
7. Kikkan Randall, 2012, 28:18
8. Kelsey Jones, 2010, 28:19
9. Chris Clark, 2001, 28:23.0
9T. Heidi Gerken, 1995, 28:23.2
11. Najeeby Quinn, 2004, 28:24
12. Chris Clark, 1996, 28:26
13T. Suzanne Ray, 1994, 28:27.5
13T. Kristi Waythomas, 1998, 28:27.9
15. Holly Brooks, 2012, 28:31
16. Hallidie Wilt, 2012, 28:35
17. Kikkan Randall, 2017, 28:41
18. Kristi Waythomas, 1994, 28:44
19. Nicola Ratcliffe, 1995, 28:45