1996 Crown King Scramble 50K Report

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Crown King Scramble 50 Km
Lake Pleasant to Crown King, Ariz.
Mountain Roads – March 23, 1996

Arizona’s premier ultra drew record numbers this year with the most competitive field and most ideal conditions to date. Just under 200 runners started the tenth annual Arizona Road Racers Crown King Scramble 50 Km.

Starting just north of Phoenix in the Lake Pleasant Regional Park, the course rises from 1,200 feet elevation at the start to just under 7,000 feet at 29 miles. It then drops down to 6,000 feet at the finish in Crown King, nestled in central Arizona’s Bradshaw Mountains.

A rolling climb on improved dirt roads with views of Lake Pleasant behind them await runners for the first half of the race. Runners who have done the race before describe the first half as being almost flat, even though there are some significant climbs. In relation to the second half, the first half is flat!

At 15 miles, runners turn onto an unimproved rocky road where, in past years, they would face thigh-deep stream crossings as well as multiple steep climbs and descents. An absence of snow and water on the course this year stimulated fast times by a deep field of fleet runners.

In the early going the race was led by 2:20 marathoner Travis Grappo of Las Vegas, Nevada, with Rick Stuart, the three-time winner and course record holder, five time Wasatch 100 winner, “Mud & Guts” Miller, and an unknown Scotsman Dermot McGonigle, following close behind.

Heading into the mountainous section of the course at mile 15, Grappo and McGonigle had pulled in front y several minutes. Grappo broke away and led by two minutes at the aptly named 23-mile aid station (“Fort Misery”), but McGonigle closed the gap on the final three-mile-long hill and then pulled away on the final downhill into Crown King, breaking the tape just over four hours. Grappo finished a scant 1:53 later. Both runners destroyed the previous course record of 4:16 held by third-place finisher Rick Stuart.

Last year’s women’s winner, course record holder (5:03) and four time Olympic Marathon trials qualifier, Angela French, bypassed this year’s race, leaving two-time winner Sherry Johns as the heavy favorite; her chief competition was expected to be USA 100 Km Team member Lorraine Gersitz, 1994 winner Julie Arter, and Pueblo Nuevo 100 winner Pam Reed.

Johns, intent on being the first woman to break 5 hours, set the pace. Running in the second pack of men, the 41-year-old separated herself from the other women and ran uncontested for the entire distance, setting a new course record of 4:54. She is entered in the Western States 100 Mile this year, and she will definitely be a threat to be the first masters woman to reach the finish at Auburn.

Spaced apart about every 8 miles, lavish aid stations with volunteers in costume enthusiastically provided for the runner’s needs. The “Blues Brothers” were at work at the Mile 8 aid station, and an Elvis, sitting atop an overlook a third of the way up the three-mile final push to the top, serenaded runners by name as they dug down deep towards the finish. After the race, athletes voted to see who would get the “Best Aid Station Award,” with the Mile 27 aid station edging out Mile 8.

Thanks to Race Director Linda Van Tilborg, with outstanding help from Bev Gray, Randy Wilfong, Bruce Wise, and James Drechsler, the 1996 Crown King Scramble was a great race. The start of the race was warm – probably low 60s, but it never really warmed up the rest of the day. A cold front was moving through northern Arizona, so Crown King was besieged by people and never-ending wind. It looked like it might rain or snow, as in the previous two years, but the weather was almost ideal for the runners despite the 6,000 feet net elevation gain and nearly 10,000 feet total elevation gain.

Post race festivities ran on all day and included a fabulous lasagna dinner in the bar overlooking the finish line. Every runner was cheered into town. Finishers received a terrific silk jacket. All in all it was a great day.

Author: Joe Galope
Reprinted with permission from Ultrarunning Magazine Vol. 16, No. 1 – May 1996

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