Ultrarunners shine at USATF 100 Mile Road Championships

Written by Howard Nippert. Photos by Howard Nippert.

The 2019 USATF 100 Mile Road Championship was hosted by the Jackpot Ultrarunning Festival this past Saturday and Sunday, February 16-17 in Henderson (Las Vegas), NV. Runners looped the approximately 1.17 mile concrete path in Cornerstone Park 85 times beginning at 8AM Saturday. They had till the 31 hour cutoff at 1:00PM Sunday to complete the 100.1 mile journey.

With mostly clear, sunny skies and temps in the 40’s, the day started crisp and so did the competition.

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In the women’s race, the best bet for the win was 11-time USATF National Champion, Connie Gardner (Akron, OH) (Ohio Assoc), who’s resume of performances is legendary, littered with Championships, records, and U.S. National Team appearances at 24 Hours and 100Km. Also solid picks for top places were Stacey Costa (Castro Valley, CA) (Pacific Assoc) coming off a 3rd place finish at Celtic Winter Classic 24 Hour, local favorite Jen Francis (Las Vegas, NV) (Nevada Assoc) who won the 2018 Nanny Goat 24 Hour and was 3rd at the 2018 Jackpot 24 Hour, Sandra Villines (Mountain House, CA) (Pacific Assoc) who recently set a record for running across the United States, and the dark horse, newcomer Meili Mathuren (Rosamond, CA) (Central Assoc).

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As the day progressed, Gardner emerged into the driver’s seat with a commanding 6-mile lead which survived thru stomach issues to never be relinquished. Gardner won on the new-for-2019 course with an unofficial time of 18:15:45, which awaits ratification to surpass the 55-59 age group American Record held by Sue Ellen Trapp from 2001. The win sealed a true dozen National Championships for Gardner. Speaking afterward, Gardner said, “I got to a point where my stomach was really rough and it slowed me for a while, but fortunately I was able to rally and hold on”.

The fight for the next few positions was fierce thru the day with Costa, Francis, Mathuren, and Villines. After Costa was forced to retire with a knee injury and Francis faded after being the earliest of the female pace-setters, Mathuren made a hard charge at Gardner for a few hours but wasn’t able to eat into her lead. In the late hours of the race, Villines found a second wind and was able to make gains on Mathuren and when the end of the road came, Villines was just 4 minutes behind Mathuren. Mathuren stood mid-podium in 2nd (20:02:27) with Villines on the 3rd podium step (20:06:05).

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The men’s race was equally as stout with a number of big names on the start list including last year’s 100 mile runner-up, Jean Pommier (Cupertino, CA) (Pacific Assoc), Jacob Jackson (Loma Linda, CA ) (Southern CA Assoc) who posted 157.5891 Miles at December’s Desert Solstice 24 Hour, Mark Hammond (Mill Creek, UT) (UT Assoc), who was 3rd at 2018 Western States 100, Sam Skeels (Adrian, MI) (Michigan Assoc) the 2017 Mohican 100 Champ and 3rd in 2018, and Olaf Wasternack (Franklin, TN) (Tennessee Assoc).

Hammond, Jackson, and Skeels set the pace early while Wasternack and Pommier set off on a more conservative pace. As the day wore on, Hammond established himself as the clear leader and never relented cruising to the win in 13:05:30. And Skeels in tow in a solid second (14:07:25). Veteran Pommier showed that you shouldn’t “count out an old man” as his early wisdom in pacing early not only led him to a 3rd place finish, but a new 50-54 age group American Record of 14:47:43, breaking the mark set by Brian Teason (15:02:30) set in 2013. Jackson stayed tough to the finish in 4th with Wasternack staying consistent all day into a 5th place finish.

Race Director, Ken Rubeli said “We’re excited to bring many of the top ultra runners in the country to Sin City’s ‘Jackpot Ultrarunning Festival’. Here we want to promote great competition in a great setting and course for the National Championship race while providing opportunities for all runners to meet and compete side by side with the ‘big guys and gals’ while achieving their own goals in the 6, 12, 24, or 48 hour races. We had many athletes achieve best performances this weekend as well as many reaching their 100 mile distance goals. We work hard to bring a great product to our athletes.”

The 2020 Jackpot Ultrarunning Festival will begin Friday, February 14, 2020.

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