As Danny Connolly ran down the final stretch of the Mid Mountain Marathon on Saturday morning, he was thinking about all the times he hasn't finished a race strong.
That drove him to increase his stride length on the downhill portion of the race, leading to a better finishing time, which would prove to be critical.
Though Connolly, who had a time of three hours, 22 minutes and 52 seconds, only finished third in the Mid Mountain Marathon, behind race-winner Ted Russell (3:15:37) and second-place finisher Steve Cuttitta (3:19:57), his time was good enough to vault him over Dominick Layfield for the overall Triple Trail Challenge title.
The Triple Trail Challenge, which adds up runners' times from the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase, Park City Marathon and Mid Mountain Marathon, was a battle between Connolly and Layfield entering Saturday.
Layfield, who finished with a time of 3:28:46, said he didn't realize until too late that the Triple Trail Challenge title was at stake.
"I was just kind of cruising down the final descent and enjoying the fact that I wasn't going to have to push it," he said. "Then I realized, 'Oh, Danny's going to take the Triple Trail Challenge!' so for the last mile I picked up the pace. But I came in five minutes behind him and in the previous races I had about a three-minute lead."
Connolly said he's just happy he was able to finish a marathon with a fast mile.
"I think what saved me this time was the downhill finish," he said. "Had it been flat or uphill, it would have killed me."
He also said he got a little bit of help from Mother Nature, in the form of some timely shade.
"The cloud came out just in time. In the exposed part," he said (most of the Mid Mountain Marathon is on singletrack trails with tree cover), "there was some sun. I was thinking 'Where's that cloud?' and it came right after that. So that was nice the sun zaps me more than anything."
With the sun out of the picture, he was able to post a time he was very happy with.
"I think I paced myself a lot better this time I had a really slow mile 26 a couple weeks ago [at the Park City Marathon]," he said. "However I can do it, I'm trying to make that last mile my fastest mile, or at least a faster mile. I had to finish strong today. I was so glad I was able to do that."
With his nearly six-minute victory over Layfield, Connolly vaulted into first place in the TTC, finishing with an accumulated time of 8:25:04, just edging out Layfield (8:27:05).
Layfield said he enjoys competing against Connolly and looks forward to their next battle.
"It would have been nice to beat Danny, but he had a great race today," he said. "He really nailed the pacing. Usually he goes out a little too fast and gets ragged at the end. I keep catching him at the end of races, but today I never even saw him in the distance."
Both runners enjoyed the new Mid Mountain course, which added distance and elevation change.
"In past years, this was always like a mile short 25.2 or so," Connolly said. "But this time, it was definitely even longer 26.5 miles almost. I actually prefer [the trail change taking runners over Iron Mountain] because it's not so rubbley. It's kind of better running up and over instead of through the rubbley stuff the other way."
"It was a smoother trail and there was more climbing," Layfield added. "It added about 15 minutes to the race time."
Elizabeth Butler won the women's Triple Trail Challenge with a combined time of 9:45:05. Gemma Arro Ribot won the Mid Mountain Marathon in the women's division, placing 10th overall with a time of 3:44:41.