JP Donovan repeated his title in a record-breaking Squaw Mountain Run in near-record fashion on Saturday.
Minimizing drag with a shirtless approach, the 25-year-old Incline Village resident took the win ahead of 2007 champion and last year's runner-up Galen Burrell in a time of 28 minutes, 50.2 seconds to Burrell's 29:38.3.
Donovan's time was only one-tenth of a second off the modern course record of 28:50.1, set in 2008 by Shiloh Mielke of Weaverville, N.C.
“Oh, no,” Donovan said with a laugh when told about his near-record, of which he was completely unaware. “I guess that means I have to do it again next year. Dang it.”
While Donovan flirted with the course record, event organizer Sally Jones said the 574 participants did in fact set a new modern-era record — since Auburn Ski Club took over the historic run in 2007, when participation had dwindled to 280.
The race, now in its 32nd year, starts at the base area of Squaw Valley and climbs 2,000 vertical feet in 3.6 miles to High Camp, at 8,200 feet. It's part of the La Sportiva Mountain series.
In impressive fashion, Donovan shaved more than a minute off his winning time from 2011 (29:52) to handily outdistance Burrell, who caused Donovan some concern after beating him in June in the Montrail 6K Uphill Challenge, which followed a similar course up Squaw Valley. But it was all Donovan on Saturday, despite the fact that his original plan of attack fell through.
“It went pretty well,” he said. “My plan was to start behind about 20 people and go out easy at first and then attack them after the first hill where it got flat. But when we got going, everybody else sat back just like I was doing.
“So I basically just changed my mind and decided to go faster and try to stay away from people and try not to let them catch me. So my original plan went out the window.”
Although he led the race throughout, Donovan said he felt the threat of Burrell, whom he battled all the way to the top in last year's run, lurking behind.
“I don't know how far back he was, but it wasn't too far. We were basically racing even though we weren't next to each other,” Donovan said. “He might as well have been running shoulder to shoulder with me, because I felt the pressure, for sure.”
Alex Varner of San Rafael finished third in a time of 30:48, Sean Woods of Gypsum, Colo., was fourth in 32:23 and Alex Taylor of Truckee was fifth in 32:26. They were followed by Jorge Maravilla of Alpine Meadows in 32:37.2, Austin Meng of Truckee in 32:37.7 and Spencer Eusden of Soda Springs in 33:03.
Conni London of Auburn was the top female and 26th overall in a time of 37:32.2, while Truckee ultrarunner Gretchen Brugman was second in 39:48.7 and Dolores Bergmann of Chester was third in 40:01.
“It is really fun,” Brugman said of the event. “There are a lot of people, and there's a lot of hanging out at the finish line. They had beer and music, and it was a beautiful day, so it was great.”
As for the run itself, Brugman, who finished a 100-mile ultramarathon last month, said it was “just as hard as it usually is.”
“Mentally, going in I think, ‘Well it's only 3.6 miles. It's so short. It will be over so fast.' I forget that it tends to hurt quite a bit,” she said.
Among other top local finishers, Michael Collins of Truckee was 11th in 34:11 and Ross McMahan of Incline Village was 14th in 34:47. Maryellen Benier of Truckee was the eighth woman in 41:40 and Annika Taylor of Truckee was ninth in 41:58.
Once again, Delbert Wichelman of Oakland, now 89, was the oldest finisher, posting a time of 1:20:30.
Proceeds from the run benefit Auburn Ski Club's Junior Nordic ski programs and the Tahoe Forest Cancer Center.
Find complete results at www.squawmountainrun.com and photos at www.capturethemoment.net.