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Amenyogbe, McIlvenna take Whistler 50 Ultra

Vancouver runner makes ultra debut

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Nelly Amenyogbe is still undefeated in ultramarathons.

In her first-ever race longer than the marathon distance of 26.2 miles (42.2 km), the Vancouver resident topped the Whistler 50 Ultra women's field with a time of eight hours, 25 minutes and 46 seconds (8:25:46) to edge out Surrey's Nadia Leach by 40 seconds on Oct. 14.

"I was extremely nervous. It's my first ultra race and I didn't know what to expect," she said. "I like the challenge and I wanted to see what it felt like."

Amenyogbe said she ran with Jessica McBride of Edson, Alta., who was third overall among women and second in the open category, for a significant amount of time, which she said helped to push her. However, Amenyogbe completed her last stage in the same time as the first and eventually put about 13 minutes between herself and McBride.

Amenyogbe noted she does much of her training on trails, so the harder surfaces of the Whistler 50 were tougher on her knees, but she persisted through the 80-kilometre course, which consisted of four laps.

"The loop worked great. At first, I thought it would be hard to run the same thing four times over but it actually worked out very nicely," she said.

After welcoming her son into the world last summer, Amenyogbe had no major designs for this running season as she adapted to her new role, but after performing well in a handful of early-season marathons, opted in July to tackle the Whistler 50.

"I had no gameplan on how I was going to get back into running," she said. "I just wanted to feel healthy.

"I signed up for a variety of races and did reasonably in all of them, so that was a nice confidence booster."

While the cool and rainy weather provided a challenge, Amenyogbe praised the volunteers, noting it's tougher to stand still in those conditions than to run.

On the men's side, Ian McIlvenna had quite the celebration when he crossed the Whistler 50 Ultra finish line just after noon.

The Quesnel resident dropped to his knees and bowed down to the ground, clearly thrilled with his victory after taking the triumph in a blistering 6:08:10 to best runner-up Alex Grimbley from Vancouver by nearly 50 minutes in the overall men's division in the 80-kilometre race. Fellow Vancouverite Hozumi Nakai took third.

"It's a long day and you never know, it could end in one stride," McIlvenna said. "All day long, you like to think 'OK, I got this sewed up' or 'I'm doing really well,' but it can all go away in a heartbeat.

"You just try to stick to your training, stick to your form and externalize, making sure everything is right on the outside while your mind is sharp on the inside."

While some runners opt to lie in wait, McIlvenna's strategy was to secure the lead from the get-go, and it worked, as he found and maintained a winning pace.

"I led gun to tape and I was lucky to do that but that's just how I race," he said. "I know what pace I have to run at and if there's someone that's going off at a ridiculous pace, then they can go. I know what I have to do and usually, I go out harder than most people.

"You listen to the guys around you and how they're breathing. If they're breathing hard right off the start, you know that they're going to blow up right away."

McIlvenna said while he didn't love the weather on display, he finished in quick enough time to avoid the worst of it.

"I didn't get rained on at all. It was cold, but we're Canadians," he said.

McIlvenna said it's been an up-and-down year for him as he had a rough go at the Ottawa Self-Transcendence 24-Hour Race in July followed by a better showing in September at the Mount Robson Marathon in the 50-km division.

"It wasn't that good. This was a definite high point," he said. "This is the icing on the cake. It ends the year quite well."

Grimbley, meanwhile, was coming off a disappointing result at the Finlayson Arm race but rebounded by not only achieving his time goal, but the bonus of medalling.

"I was just trying to break seven hours, so this is fantastic," Grimbley said, adding he was challenged by two other runners for the first half of the race, but dropped them on the third of four laps. "I was trying not to get distracted by a lot of the other runners running around me."

Grimbley noted the chilly weather was far from a hindrance, as it provided him his ideal conditions.

"The races I do well in are always the freezing cold ones and as soon as it gets to 20 degrees (Celsius) I don't do as well," he said.

He added a number of his friends were running the relay, so every so often a member of his "cheer crew" would pass by with some encouraging words. Grimbley noted some of his other friends were past Whistler 50 Ultra champs.

"They're going to rip me for not winning," he said.

Lastly, the top three relay teams were Coast Mountain Brewing, VFAC Men and Surrey Fire 1.

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