Had JP Donovan known he was a split-second off the modern course record in last year’s Squaw Mountain Run, he might have found an extra burst of speed in his final kick.
He settled for his second consecutive victory in the long-running annual event, posting a time of 28 minutes, 50.2 seconds — one-tenth of a second off the modern record, 28:50.1, set in 2008 by Shiloh Mielke of North Carolina.
“Oh, no,” Donovan said when told after the race about his near record, of which he was completely unaware. “I guess that means I have to do it again next year. Dang it.”
Donovan, 26, will look to defend his back-to-back titles when the 33rd annual Squaw Mountain Run hits the slopes of Squaw Valley on Saturday at 9 a.m.
“I haven’t signed up yet, but I’m planning on doing it for sure,” said Donovan, a 2005 Incline High grad. “I’ve been running with the kids on the (Incline) high school cross-country team, so we’ll see how well they trained me.”
The classic fundraising race, which now benefits Auburn Ski Club’s Junior Nordic ski programs and Tahoe Forest Health System Foundation, starts at the base of the mountain and climbs 2,000 vertical feet in 3.6 miles to High Camp, at 8,200 feet.
Last year the run attracted 574 participants, setting a modern-era record — since Auburn Ski Club took over the event in 2007, after participation dropped to 280.
Each of the past two runs Donovan had to hold off runner-up Galen Burrell of San Francisco. He finished less than a minute ahead of Burrell (29:38.3) last year after leading from the start, despite ditching his game plan early.
“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,” Donovan said after last year’s run. “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.”
This year, Donovan said he’s on the lookout for fellow Incline High grad Mike Sunseri, the runner-up finisher in Truckee’s Firecracker Mile on July 4. Sunseri, a 2010 Incline grad, placed fifth in the 2010 Squaw Mountain Run and was third in 2009.
“I’m hoping that Mike Sunseri comes this year. I’m due for a good butt-kicking from him. He could definitely beat me,” Donovan said. “If he shows, it should be interesting to see what happens.”
In last year’s run, 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 37:32.2. Truckee ultrarunner Gretchen Brugman was second in 39:48.7 and Dolores Bergmann of Chester was third (40:01).
Eighty-nine-year-old Delbert Wichelman of Oakland was the oldest finisher, posting a time of 1:20:30. Wichelman, one year older and still chugging up hills, plans to participate again Saturday.
Those seeking a more leisurely experience may also participate in a guided flower walk along easy rolling terrain.
Registration is still being accepted. Cost is $40 ($25 for 18 and under) at the Salomon store at Squaw on Friday from 4-7 p.m., or $45 ($30 for 18 and under) on race morning.