Patrick Baldwin and Maggie Shearer can now consider the XTERRA Mission Gorge Trail Run a mission accomplished. They took top honors at the 15-kilometer race held on Sunday, February 3, at San Diego, Calif.
Baldwin, who is a landscape architect from Encinitas, Calif., was the first overall finisher. He completed the course in 1 hour, 4 minutes, 13 seconds, which was more than five minutes faster than the other top runners.
"The trails were in good condition, a little slippery on the downhills from the rain the night before, but good running conditions," said Baldwin, 36. "I think the first hill is the toughest of all the climbs on the XTERRA SoCal Series - it's a wall!"
It was the second straight year that Baldwin won the race, and he said his experience from last year played a key role in his victory this year.
"I knew after climbing the steep initial climb that I'd have a long recover descent, followed by some beautiful rolling single track," he said. "So I pushed hard early so I could relax a bit later … knowing the course of any race is a key."
The Mission Gorge race is renowned for a steep climb known as "1,000 Steps" because it resembles a straight-up staircase. Baldwin had already built a significant lead by the time he reached the steep section, but said he still ran as hard as he could - and stumbled a few times - because he was not sure how far ahead he was.
"It's such a steep, rocky climb that it's easy to lose site of the steps, especially when working hard in a race," he said. "The legs and arms were a little bloody at the finish."
As he approached the finish line, Baldwin saw his family in the crowd and grabbed his infant daughter so that they could cross the winner's tape together.
Robert Verhees from San Diego was second with a time of 1:09:41, and Phillip Slama from Phoenix, Arizona, was third in 1:10:13.
Shearer placed 12th overall and was the first overall female. She finished with a time of 1:15:45, and improved on her placing from last year, when she took second place at this race.
"I find the Mission Gorge race to be the most technical course of the XTERRA SoCal Series," said Shearer, 35. "This year the trails were wet and had some large pools of water. The rocks were a little slick and that made some of the climbing and descending a bit more challenging."
Shearer, who works as a pharmaceutical representative in Trabuco Canyon, Calif., said she was with a pack of runners that went off-course for a few minutes before finding their way back.
"I was the lead female for most of the race until a few of us made a wrong turn and got a little off track," said Shearer. "Although I raced last year it was a slightly different run this year. Last year the course had slight variations due to trail closures and it was about a mile longer."
Despite the detour, Shearer was able to hold on to first place, and hold off Hannah Rae Finchamp - the teen sensation of XTERRA off-road triathlons. Finchamp placed second with a time of 1:16:36. She is the 2012 women's amateur world champion of XTERRA triathlons.
The race featured a capacity field of close to 600 runners, including more than 200 who competed on a 5K short course.
It also happened to be run on Super Bowl Sunday, and the race finished early enough for runners to make it back home in time to watch the football game.
"I'm happy to say that I did make it to the game after the race," Shearer said. "Our neighbors always through a great Super Bowl party, and it is a short walk over - which is good after a tough race."
The XTERRA Mission Gorge Trail Run was the fifth of seven races on the 2012-13 season schedule for the XTERRA SoCal Trail Run Series. The next race in the series will be the XTERRA Black Mountain Trail Run on April 14 at Rancho Penasquito, Calif. To register for a race in the series or learn more about it, please visit www.trailrace.com.
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