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2009 Montana Cup Summary

Bozeman Thaws for Muddy Halloween

Evan Eck of Helena reflected his feelings about this Cup on Facebook when he wrote Ran the Montana Cup today. The best course ever! Mud like you can't believe! People slipping and falling right and left. I LOVED IT!! Great day with great people…”
Billing’s Debbie Magilke (at right) uses a snow pile near Deaconess Hospital to clean the mud from her shoes and leggings.

The runners of Bozeman, headed by Meet Director John Zombro, hosted this Montana Cup cross-country meet on the serpentine ski trails adjacent to Lindley Park. The twisty-turning trails had accumulated 15 cm of snow at midweek, but a warming, south wind on the eve of the meet helped melt much of that snow in the hours immediately preceding the races. This turn of weather was good news for “mudders” who run well in slush over muck. Oddly, this was the first time in eighteen Montana Cups that mud has been encountered on the course -- “oddly” because this meet is patterned after old-world European cross country races where anything goes and mud is commonplace. Racing shoes with long metal spikes for traction were a key to success today. Those who had long spikes could corner tightly on the multiple downhill-slanting, tight and slimy turns. Most who wore flat bottomed shoes went where gravity and inertia directed.

Mother Nature’s warm wind had another unanticipated result, which was that directional markings which had been chalked on top of the snow melted into the grass shortly before the races. This fact made the act of physically guiding runners even more important, and unfortunately, the mountain bike rider who was recruited to guide the lead runners through the intricately winding route, could not stay ahead of the runners in some of the muddier sections.

Left to navigate for the group, the lead runner in both the men’s and women’s races did go the wrong way. These were the first instances of runners getting lost in the 18 Cups, a mistake that event organizers have vowed to prevent from happening a second time. This regrettable glitch marred Bozeman’s otherwise detailed and enjoyable hosting effort.

In the men’s race, the mishap turned out to be no big deal as Alan King of Billings quickly corrected himself before regaining the lead and powering away from the other runners to claim his first individual Cup title. The lost leader in the women’s race was not so fortunate. Missoula’s Suzanne Huse sped past an unmanned ninety degree turn, and proceeded to lead seven trailing runners across a short unmarked stretch of open field where they rejoined an earlier course loop that retraced their steps backward to the start/finish area. The front eight runners (including the top four Missoula women) were well clear of the following groups of which Helena runners populated five of the next eight. Helena team organizer and all-around good Samaritan, rick Judge, who was cheering his team’s movement through the course, arrived at the unmonitored corner in time to redirect the ninth and subsequent runners in the correct direction. The eight misguided front runners found their way to the finish line by a route that was nearly a kilometer shorter than the planned course.

Huse who said she did not learn that she had gone the wrong way until minutes after she had finished, reflected on the mishap, saying “At one point during the race I was confused because the biker was so far away (since the race was so muddy my eyes were on the ground for much of the race), I put my arms up and looked around for someone but no one was around so I kept going the way I was going. In my opinion, there are a few reasons why we went off course; there were lots of turns in that same field so I never really knew where I was, and also because the biker wasn't able to lead us the whole way due to the muddy conditions.  In the end, I believe it is no one’s fault, these things happen.”

A widely accepted credo among road and cross country runners is that if you have a possibility of leading a race then you own the responsibility of learning the course before you start, but learning a Montana Cup course can be complicated because of the tradition of secrecy that has kept the race routes unknown until the morning of. The Montana Cup rules state that “Runners may only be disqualified, or removed from team scoring, by ruling of the ‘MT Cup Jury’ (comprised of at least 3 impartial team organizers as named by Meet Director) for … any action that results in an unfair advantage...” The rules also state that the racecourse must be prepared in such a way that “… directional markings are obvious,” and this rule is reiterated in Montana Cup meet guidelines that advise hosts to “Lay out race course in clear and simple fashion (runners think slowly when racing fast) … Ensure that no runner will get misdirected or lost.
Due to the obvious advantage gained by the eight runners who mistakenly cut the course, and in light of contradictory rules related to the issue, Meet Director Zombro called together a five member jury including himself and representatives from Kalispell (Tony Banovich), Helena (rick Judge & Jeff Thomas) and Butte (your author Ray Hunt) to decide if it was proper to include the lost runners in team scoring. After we debated and considered a wide range of excellent points, it was decided (by a three to two vote) to include the misguided runners in scoring. The Jury made an addendum about clarifying these associated rules so that it is crystal clear to future Cup runners that they will be disqualified if they gain an advantage over other runners by leaving the course for any reason. As is easy to imagine, the jury’s decision and its implications were troubling and stressful to runners on both sides of the issue. For more on this subject, see logic behind decision.

Billing’s Alan King (trailing Bozeman’s Gavin Owens here at 1.5K) paced his start and then powered to the finish of the 5.8K course in a winning time of 21:06.

Alan King (see Q&A with Alan), who coaches cross country at Rocky Mountain College in his home town of Billings, gained his first individual Cup title in this his third try at the event. King finished the 5.8K mudfest in 21:06. After starting conservatively while also dodging mud blobs that were launched from the shoe-bottoms of dashing junior runners, King employed a mid race surge to open a five second winning margin over second place finisher Steve Hickman of Bozeman. Only two additional seconds ticked off before Bozeman’s Nordic skiing Olympian, Leif Zimmerman finished third while leaving a roster-tail of mud behind him as he sprinted up the final sloppy slope with runners strewn in his wake.

The fourth male runner who crossed the finish line in 21:20 was also registered for team Bozeman, but he raced wearing the green color of Butte. That runner was Ennis’ sensational Gavin Owens, the ’09 State class B high school cross country champion. Owens had apparently chosen to forego wearing Bozeman’s official golden color in favor of his green Ennis Mustangs uniform. This was a choice he made despite the indication on his entry form that an official team jersey was required, and also in spite of Zombro’s email to team organizers and to race participants in the days leading up to the meet in which he stated “Jerseys for late entrants: …We are asking anyone who has registered in the last week to be prepared for this and to bring along a shirt/singlet, etc. that is the same or similar color to your team.  Bozeman – gold…” Owen’s ill-fated choice of uniforms led to a rules violation appeal that was also decided by the Cup Jury, and we had no real choice but to disallow Owens’ result. Owens’ DQ moved Helena’s John Gilboy (21:23) into fourth overall and first in the junior (0-19 years) division.

Gilboy led Helena’s loaded junior men’s team to a perfect score of 15 points in the Cyppee Cup competition. Gilboy, who attends Helena Capital High School, teamed with his cross-town rivals, Dan Osborne and the brothers Barker of Helena High -- younger brother Matt was the team’s fifth man today, but he is fresh off his State class AA championship from last weekend. Townsend’s Jager Warner was also a member of Helena’s super fast quintet. The Cyppee Cup victory may have been some small consolation for Dan Osborne who tragically missed his final State cross country meet due to illness last weekend.
Even with Owens’ small score lost by Bozeman’s open team, they still had adequate depth to secure a slim victory in the competition for the Montana Cup. Bozeman’s scoring five included Hickman, Zimmerman, Christian Heck (8th in 21:36), team recruiter Dewey Peacock (10th in 21:49) & Doug Neil (15th in 22:31) who totaled the low score of 38, only five points less than the deep second place team from Helena which actually finished six runners before the winning team finished five.

In the men’s Masters Cup competition, John Zombro’s large and talented, home-standing squad came into the meet as twice consecutive owners of what is by far the meet’s largest and shiniest trophy. It has been called the “Zombro Cup,” and at over half a meter in height and nearly 7 kg, it is as impressive to behold as it is an armload to carry.

Butte’s masters men came to Bozeman intent on dislodging Zombro’s stranglehold on the coveted and colossal cup, and they did so by stacking five runners among the top eight masters finishers. Butte’s winning score of 22 points was the lowest yet recorded in the five-year history of that division, supplanting the old low mark of 29 points which was scored twice (’05 & ’06) by earlier versions of the same Butte team. Bozeman also scored very low in second place today with seven runners finishing in the top thirteen for only 35 points – nine points less than their winning total from last year. Butte master Mike Telling, who placed 2nd in the division with a time of 22:10, summed up his team’s feelings well when he said “The Master’s Cup is definitely a thing of beauty, very cool … it’s a great reminder of a great day of racing.”
Zombro recounted the history of that Master Cup trophy since 2007 when he first led Bozeman to claim the older version of the same award. “I had proudly displayed [the old cup] on our counter in the lobby at work [Zombro Physical Therapy].  Vito Sinopoli had been coming in to the office and he noticed it one day and asked what it was all about.  I told him that this was indeed the representation of all things excellent and relayed how our master's team had won this at the recent race.  He then reminded me that trophy-making was what he did for a living and offered to build a trophy which seemed commensurate with how great I was describing the meaning of the MASTER'S CUP.  I then said ‘Well, we'll commission you to do so’, and he replied ‘No, I will donate it’.  Several months later he produced what can only be described as a true masterpiece.  It has been on display at ZPT ever since … Kudos to Butte Master's men and to Vito Sinopoli.  His address is on the bottom of the artwork, in case you want to contact him for future projects.”

Megan Lerch of Missoula running at top speed in her successful push to catch the race leader. Lerch won the race in a shortened-course time of 21:17.

The female’s race went off shortly after the men finished, with Sabrina Monro of Helena jacking the early pace, but Monro gave way to the intense pursuit of Missoula’s ’07 Cup champ Suzanne Huse shortly thereafter. Huse continued to force the tempo as she stretched her competitors out behind in single-file and she later said her race strategy “was to go out hard since that is what I will have to do at Nationals.  The rest of the race was to just run strong and push myself.” Huse, who is in training to compete in the Canadian Cross Country Championships, may have been so focused on executing her aggressive front running plan, that she unwittingly bypassed the unattended turn near 4.3K, and that missed turn pulled her oxygen deprived pursuers along behind. Only Huse’s teammate, Megan Lerch, withstood Huse’s brutal pacing attack, and Lerch then fought back to draw even and then pass near the finale of their shortened course. Their times were 21:17 and 21:22, respectively. Huse’s vulnerability to being passed near the finish came because, she reported, “I was hurting and fell off the pace quite a bit.” See Q&A with Meg for more about Lerch. Nicole Hunt of Butte won a teeth-gritting battle for third place by out finishing Bozeman’s Dani Shahan. Hunt finished six seconds up on Shahan with a time of 21:33.

Lerch and Huse lead teammates Rye Palen (6th in 21:49), and Jenny Newton (8th in 22:46 – the last to take the shortened course) to top eight finishes, and they were joined in team scoring by teammate Aleta Jokisch (20th in 27:12) for the winning total of 37 points. September rumors never materialized for Bozeman’s women forming a hometown all-star squad the likes of which would strike fear into the minds of all competitors, and Helena’s women took advantage by jumping into the second place team position with 49 points.

Bozeman slipped down to fourth place in the open division, but made up for it in Masters’ Cup scoring, where their team was led to victory by Ann Sorenson who won the division with a time of 26:20. Bozeman out-scored the defending champions from Helena 30 to 38.

Helena won the females’ Cyppee Cup with a perfect score of 15. No other teams had five scoring runners. Team Helena’s Chiara Warner, a high school freshwoman who last week won the Class B high school cross country championship for Townsend, lead the way again today for the junior females, placing 5th overall in a shortened course time of 21:43.
Thank you runners of Bozeman for giving a record number of race finishers (239) some excellent memories! Next year, the Yellowstone Rimrunners will host the Montana Cup in or near Billings on Saturday, 30 October, and rumors are already circulating about them having a course that is excellent, exciting and beautiful!