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Colorado Springs' Shannon Payne and Joe Gray win at Mount Washington Road Race

2014 Mount Washington Champion Shannon Payne of Colorado Springs takes the top spot on the podium with second-place Valentina Belotti (left) and Brandy Erholtz (and baby) in third. (Photo provided by USA Mountain Running Team/Joe Viger)

In only her second attempt at racing uphill, Colorado Springs runner Shannon Payne scored one of the biggest prizes in mountain running on Saturday, winning the Mount Washington Road Race in New Hampshire.

Payne, 28, covered the brutally steep 7.6-mile course in 1 hour, 10 minutes, 12 seconds, battling through 25-degree windchill and 30 MPH winds at the mountain's 6,289-foot summit. It was the fifth fastest time by a woman in the race's 54-year history. Only three have run faster in the last 25 years, and Payne's time is the second-fastest among U.S.-born women in that time.

Italy's Valentina Belotti, a three-time runnerup in the World Mountain Running Championships, was second in 1:11:58. New mom Brandy Erhotz of Evergreen, a two-time Mount Washington champion, finished third in 1:15:38.  

With the win, Payne, who runs for the Boulder Running Company/Adidas elite team, has qualified for the USA team that will compete in the World Mountain Running Association Long Distance Challenge at the Pikes Peak Ascent on Aug. 16.

“I don’t know how to (run an all-uphill race) very well," Payne said. "I kept thinking, ‘Well, the course will flatten out soon,’ but it never does. But going uphill in really short strides, the way you have to here, is good for my running form.”

Joe Gray, the defending USA Mountain Running champion who lives and trains in Colorado Springs, made it a sweep for area runners, charging to the summit in 59:10 to capture the men's title, his first at Mount Washington. He also became just the eighth runner to eclipse the 1-hour mark. Eric Blake (the 2013 Mount Washington and Pikes Peak Ascent champ) was second in 1:00:01, with Sage Canaday finishing third at 1:01:30.

“I felt pretty good the whole way,” said Gray. “I knew we’d have a good strong race. Eric is always strong, and it makes you nervous if he’s behind you. I figured I could win it, but I knew it was going to be a barn-burner.”

Gray had already qualified for Team USA and the WMRA's Long Distance Challenge race at Pikes Peak, but has not committed to the team.

Payne, a University of Colorado Colorado Springs grad who spent most of her career running cross country and track, caught the attention of the mountain running community with her win at the Black Canyon Ascent last month. In her first uphill race, she missed Kim Dobson's race record by seconds. Dobson holds the women's Pikes Peak Ascent record at 2:24:58.

Payne's coach, Cody Hill, owner of the Boulder Running Company store in Colorado Springs, said she is made for running on steep terrain.

"With Shannon, it's all about gutting it out," he said. "She has a huge aerobic engine. I thought she could win (Mount Washington), I didn't realize she would go and do it."

Payne trained in Cheyenne Cañon with Simon Gutierrez, former Mount Washington race winner. Gutierrez was impressed with her times on the winding and steep cañon  blacktop.

"Simon said 'I don't think you realize how fast she is running uphill," Hill said. "This is just the perfect thing for Shannon. She can run uphill under duress for long periods of time."

Payne and Gray will race at the USA Mountain Running Championships at Loon Mountain Resort on July 6. The top runners there will qualify for the USA World Mountain Running Championship teams.

If Payne qualifies for the USA world team - the top four women at Loon make the cut - Hill said Pikes Peak will become more of a training run for the world championships at Casette di Massa at the foot of the Apuan Alps in the Tuscany region of Italy on Sept. 13. If she misses a world championship berth, Pikes Peak will be the year's goal race.

"I think she can do really well on Pikes Peak because it's all up, but the trail isn't real technical," Hill said.

Colorado Springs-area runners filled the Top 10 at Mount Washington. Zach Miller finished fourth in 1:02:56. Gutierrez placed sixth and won the Masters' title. Pete Maksimow finished seventh. Team Colorado captured the team title.

TOP WOMEN
1 Shannon Payne 28 Colorado Springs CO 1:10:12 
2 Valentina Belotti 34 Temu, Italy 1:11:58 
3 Brandy Erholtz 36 Evergreen CO 1:15:38 
4 Kasie Enman 34 Huntington VT 1:17:12 
5 Denise Sandahl 33 Bow NH 1:17:21 
6 Larisa Dannis 26 Strafford NH 1:22:00 
7 Layce Alves 34 Rockport MA 1:24:12 
8 Diana Davis 28 Exeter NH 1:24:39 
9 Ashley Krause 37 Easthampton MA 1:25:37 
10 Regina Loiacano 41 Gloucester MA 1:25:56 

TOP MEN
1 Joseph Gray 30 Colorado Springs CO 59:09 
2 Eric Blake 35 West Hartford CT 1:00:01 
3 Sage Canaday 28 Boulder CO 1:01:30 
4 Zach Miller 25 Manitou Springs CO 1:02:56 
5 Ryan Bak 32 Bend OR 1:03:28 
6 Simon Gutierrez 48 Colorado Springs CO 1:05:11 
7 Peter Maksimow 35 Manitou Springs CO 1:05:46 
8 Emanuele Manzi 36 Temu, Italy 1:06:27 
9 Justin Freeman 37 New Hampton NH 1:06:29 
10 Dan Princic 34 Reading MA 1:06:34 

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