Liz Stephen, former U.S. Nordic ski racer, wins Twisted Fork ultramarathon despite efforts to embrace retirement
The Park City Running Company hosted the inaugural Twisted Fork race on Saturday. The 39.8-mile ultramarathon covered trails around the Spring Creek Trailhead,Mormon Flat and up to Big Mountain Pass before finishing at the Newpark Amphitheater in Kimball Junction.
Canice Harte, race organizer and president of Park City Running Company, said he was surprised by the breadth of competitors involved, who traveled from 18 states and three countries.
One performance he wasn’t surprised by: Liz Stephen’s fifth-place overall finish and first-place finish among women.
Stephen had worked with Park City Running for some of the summer, and Harte said despite Stephen’s reticence to run an ultramarathon, he knew she could be a contender.
“We kept teasing her that she was going to win, even though she was telling us she wasn’t competitive,” Harte said.
The recently-retired U.S. Nordic skier and three-time Olympian said she was simply out to have fun with a fellow runner.
“I have been really reluctant to race at all since I retired,” Stephen said. “I have no interest; I don’t do intervals anymore. I honestly just went out there to have a great run in the woods with Chris (Antinori) and have it be a little longer than I’ve ever done.”
At the starting line she said she felt no pressure to compete, and for most of the race she was able to hold a conversation with Antinori. Then, while passing the second-to-last aid station, she heard that she was in second among women.
“I feel really bad because I, like, took off,” she said. “I guess I’m still competitive very, very, deep down — like, it takes 36 miles for it to come out or something, but I definitely just started hammering. And I feel really bad because Chris and I ran the whole race together until I just, like, spazzed out and left.”
Stephen finished the race with a time of 6 hours, 42 minutes and 26.87 seconds – 10 minutes ahead of Antinori and 15 minutes ahead of Caroline Wallace, the women’s runner up.
Wallace was followed by Elizabeth Butler, who finished third in the women’s category with a time of 7:09:35.22.
“I didn’t think it would matter at all, but somewhere deep down I still wanted to fight,” Stephen said. “I don’t think it’s about the win or the placing you get, but it’s about the effort; and I wanted to at least try to give a good effort and see what happens. But honestly the whole focus was just to go out and enjoy having a bib on my body again, and that was a complete success in every way.”
Stephen said she has no plans on competing in any upcoming races.
“I just take life as it comes right now, and it’s been really nice,” she said.
Gary Messina finished first overall with a time of 5:54:20.43. He was followed by Dominick Layfield with a time of 6:16:37.16, and Travis Swaim with a time of 6:22:21.03.
Harte said there were two meta-races, where racers could compete to win stages of the ultramarathon, including the final sprint to the finish and an aggregated timing of the race’s two major climbs: up Flying Dog trail, and up the Mormon Flats trail to Big Mountain Pass.
“Some people went crazy on it,” Harte said. “One person on the King of the Mountain passed the leaders up to the top and then, like, collapsed, and 20 people went past, then he repeated it again at the next time. He made his race to be the race within the race.”
Leaders of the uphill sections in the men’s and women’s divisions were named King and Queen of the Mountain, respectively. Stephen, known for her climbing ability in the cross-country skiing world, beat Wallace to earn her crown with a time of 1:25:51; less than 2 seconds ahead of Wallace. Joseph Taylor also won by less than 2 seconds, beating out Messina for the title of King of the Mountain with a time of 1:11:33.
The sprint section was even closer, with Sarah Bush beating Caitlin van Den Berg by less than half a second, and Jared Anderson winning over Dave Lemke by just a little more than second. Bush finished the section in 1 minute and 22.22 seconds, while Anderson finished in 57.52 seconds.
Harte said he was genuinely surprised with the turnout and how well the race went, and plans to host it again next year.
“I think it could turn into a positive thing in the community,” he said. “We just have to see how it develops.”
For a full list of results, go to http://www.irunutah.com.
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