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Murphy, Hazlett win Alpine Meadows 50

Prior experience a factor in victory, both say

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If you're heading into the belly of the beast, it's helpful to know your way around.

In the case of Mike Murphy and Jeanelle Hazlett, their experiences running the Whistler Alpine Meadows 50 in 2016 helped catapult them onto the top of the podium for this year's race on Saturday, Sept. 23 as part of the Coast Mountain Trail Series.

"It made a big difference that I ran that race last year," Murphy said. "That course is so demanding that you're at a disadvantage if you haven't covered it before.

"The second half of the course is really, really tough."

On the 55-kilometre course, Murphy broke the six-hour threshold by finishing in a time of five hours, 59 minutes and 19.4 seconds (5:59:19.4) to beat Chris Jones by just over eight minutes and Mike McMillan by just over 18 minutes.

Murphy explained the wisdom he gained after competing last year said he should hold back a bit early in order to be more explosive later.

"I definitely metered my output on the first half knowing that the second half is quite a bit harder than the second half of most 50K races," he said. "It's got a lot of vert and a lot of technical (features). It's really hard on the body to climb again after doing such a long descent in the first half."

Murphy said he and a small pack started the first climb of the race together, but he and Jones separated themselves shortly after.

"I've raced Chris several times before, so I knew that he was fast," Murphy said. "I put in a bit of an attack at the top of the first climb and managed to get away from him and expand on that for the rest of the race."

Murphy explained he had strong bookends to the season, but had sagged in the middle after some signs of overuse in late June and early July.

"I was in great shape in the spring but kind of overdid things a little bit," he said. "I took three to four weeks (off) right out of the middle so it allowed me to come back in good shape at the end of the year."

On the women's side, Vancouver's Hazlett outran her closest competitor, Alicia Woodside, by nearly 20 minutes and Samantha Drove by over 23 minutes.

Hazlett credited her victory to teammates from the Pacific Northwest Trail Runners who came out to support her en route and at the finish line.

"That's always a huge driver, knowing you're going to see some of your favourite people out on course and they're there to support you and cheer you on," she said.

Hazlett said she wasn't sure about her positioning until she received complete confirmation that she'd overcome an early deficit and had overtaken the field.

"I wanted to be sure that I went out with a good pace but not too hard in the first tarmac section before you start climbing. I knew I was in a decent position," she said. "I thought there was at least one female ahead of me at that point that was maybe in the front of the pack, but I wasn't sure.

"I was just running my own race. I was catching up to and passing people as we started to climb and when I came to one of the first main aid stations, a few of the people on course said 'You're the first female!'"

From there, Hazlett maintained her strength and held out until the finish.

"I do love, and I'm really good, at runable climbs," she said. "It played to my strengths that way. It's such a phenomenal course, running way up into the alpine for the first half of the 50-km.

"It's a really tough but beautiful section after you leave the alpine aid station, where the heli-drop was. It's a little bit technical and very bouldery. You go to the peak summit where you have these beautiful views of Whistler. Then you get to run all the way down the mountain and do it again."

In addition to racing, Hazlett leads trail clinics, which she credits for her strong performance this year — she's hit the podium on two other occasions this season.

Race organizers also offered two shorter distances. Tom Nelson and Eleanor Greenwood won the 25-km race and Jessie Mcauley and Ingrid Bonter were victorious in the 12-km contest.

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