Community: Creel wins another 'Scott Creel Invitational'

By JEFF WELSCH, Chronicle Sports Editor

Mother Nature has tried rain, tried blistering heat, tried buffeting winds.

On Saturday, she even tossed an August blanket of snow and ice at the man who has turned the annual Ed Anacker Ridge Run into his own personal playground.

Doesn't matter.

After 20 miles of ankle-mangling scree, lung-sucking altitude, skin-lacerating tumbles, morale-sapping ascents and muscle-wrenching descents, it's still the same tanned and smiling face crossing the finish line first - albeit on wobbly legs - below the 'M'.

Might as well go ahead and call this thing the Scott Creel Invitational.

All that changes is the age after Creel's name, and the time. The 43-year-old Montana State University ecology professor traversed the snowy crest of the Bridger Mountains from Fairy Lake to the 'M' in 3 hours, 14 minutes and 31.48 seconds, some five minutes shy of his course record but still 11 minutes ahead of Mike Wolfe.

"I feel pretty good, remarkably OK," Creel said as he sat on the tailgate of a pickup truck, eating a banana and nursing quivering quads that battled gravity on the dramatic descent from the 'M' to the parking lot.

"The weather was so engrossing that I paid more attention to what was going on around me than how I felt. The race just sort of shot by."

The autumn-like blast that blew in from Canada caught many of the 230-odd competitors off-guard, moving race officials to "sweep" the course from behind with jackets and shells, lest runners in shorts and polypropolene shirts face hypothermia.

Creel and others said ice formed on the left sides of their bodies when the twisting single-track exposed them to winds from the north. Icicles grew on eyelids and ice crystals formed on leg hair.

"It was pretty wild," said Wolfe, 27, second in 3:25:16.50.

Wild yet relatively tolerable compared to the dehydrating 90-degree temperatures of years past.

Liz McGoff, a Bozeman ultramarathoner whose Montana license plates read "O 2 RN MTS," took advantage the cooler temperatures and the absence of the unbeatable Nikki Kimball to cross the line first in the women's race in 4:31:34.

Behind her was Kristina Trygstad-Saari, 20, whose time of 4:30:02 made her the winner. She had started in a "wave" after McGoff.

"I felt really good today, especially coming off Baldy," McGoff said.

Yes, McGoff fell several times on the rocks, which is customary for a race featuring 6,800 feet of climbing and 9,500 of descending, much of it on loose gravel.

Yes, the fog made it impossible to see much beyond 100 yards, and sometimes no more than 50 feet.

And yes, the below-freezing cold and wind made it difficult to jump-start leg muscles.

Still, it was all more runner-friendly than heat, and the fog mercifully shrouded the summit of 8,914-foot Mount Baldy, which is the Creel Invitational - er, Ridge Run's - answer to Heartbreak Hill.

"If you're at the saddle and you can't see Baldy ... thank goodness for that," McGoff said.

By Baldy, Creel is always alone, running across windswept perches, through occasional pine forests and across the rock, a soloist against the terrain, the elements and himself.

The difference Saturday was that he had company "all the way to Sacajawea," and even trailed 29-year-old Tommy Manning briefly before establishing his superiority just past the 9,400-foot peak.

"Preoccupying," Creel called the competition. “I'm used to getting ahead early.”

Manning ultimately crossed the finish line in 3:39:11 and, like most others, wobbled toward the ready arms of a cluster of spectators bundled against the bluster. The downhill from the 'M' provided the final punishment, requiring runners to use their aching quads as both brakes and propulsion.

"I hate downhills sooo much," Manning moaned.

The only real competitive drama was between Kyle Klicker, 48, and Matt Lavin, 49, who were nearly shoulder to shoulder on the final turn before Klicker captured the fifth spot by a half-second.

"Youth," Klicker quipped, noting his decided age advantage.

As runners crossed the line, their lower legs caked with dried mud and torsos soaked in sweat, some were glassy-eyed, some bordered on catatonic and some mustered faint looks of relief.

Creel was all smiles.

Happy to win? Or happy to be finished?

"Both," he said, chuckling. "I felt pretty good, but I'm happy to be done."