If nothing else, Saturday's Salt Lake Classic served notice to the rest of the running community that a couple of new kids have moved into town and, well, watch out.
Meet Pam Witt, a petite southern transplant complete with southern accent who took up running five years ago to combat loneliness (huh?). On Saturday, she was running all by her lonesome anyway after leaving defending champion Cheryl Harper behind and easily won the women's 10K. Earlier, another stranger, one Tamara Sayre, a lean, long traveling road racer out of Nevada, dropped into town just long enough to win the women's 5,000, and then dashed home again, leaving a lot of people to wonder, "Who was that?" Then there was Clayton Johnson, who isn't new to Salt Lake City, only to the sport. He's been running all of three years, but no matter. On Saturday he knocked off a couple of track stars to win the men's 10,000.About the only predictable race of the day was the men's 5,000. Jay Woods, the former BYU miler, won the race while stif-ling a yawn. But behind him came another new face, Greg Stromberg, a seasoned veteran of, ahem, three years who could become a new force on the local running scene.
And so it went Saturday. Some 1,000 runners turned out for the 5,000 and another 2,200 for the 10,000, but with all of the prize money dumped into the elite relay, there were few elite names in the crowd. Defending 10K champ Henry Marsh was at the Jenner track meet in California. So was Doug Padilla. Paul Cummings, Ed Eyestone and Paul Pilkington were in the relay. So were non-residents Don Janicki, Danny Aldridge and Danny Gonzales.
Not surprisingly, the performances were down, if anyone cared. Woods opened the 5K with a 4:36 mile, but then slowed progressively the rest of the race and killed time by watching his motorcycle escort perform figure eights in front of him. "You look a little too fresh," friends told Woods after the race. Woods' time was 15:18, which was still enough to beat his nearest challenger by 32 seconds. The 35-year-old Stromberg, who moved to Bountiful from California two weeks ago, rallied late in the race to finish second in 15:50.
"I was just too sore today," said Woods. Which was understandable. On Monday he did a hard track workout, on Wednesday he ran in a small 1,500-meter race at BYU and qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials and on Thursday he ran 20 training miles.
Woods, whose erratic performances were chronicled in the Deseret News last summer (he dropped out of the Classic 5K, for instance), is having his best season in memory this year after suffering through several dismal years. He placed third in the indoor national track and field championships at 3,000 meters last winter. He has consistently run in the 3:42-3:43 range at 1,500 meters (a 4-flat mile) and expects to go faster. "I won't peak for another month," he says. "I'm starting to regain my confidence."
So, too, is Witt. Since moving to Utah a year ago from her native North Carolina, she has been reluctant to race again. "Maybe I was chicken," she says. "After you get out of it, you lose your nerve." Witt originally began running only when she found herself in a new town with nothing to do and no one to do it with after work each day. Then she discovered she had talent, if not nerve. She came out of hiding two weeks ago and won the Heart Association race, and on Saturday she tried the Classic, but wasn't exactly cocky.
"Are you Cheryl Harper?" Witt asked as she passed her at three miles. When Harper said yes, Witt replied, "Oh, I'm in the wrong place. I need to be running behind you."
But she didn't. Witt pressed on and finished with a personal record of 36:08, leaving Harper second in 37:13. It was a promising performance, especially considering Witt's training (no track work and 40 miles a week).
"I like to run because I like to eat," she says.
Harper, in the meantime, is biding her time. "I'm still recovering from the marathon," she said, referring to the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon. But her husband, Hawk, was having none of it. "I'm glad Witt is here," he said. "It will make some of these women runners around here run harder. They're getting complacent."
Sayre could scare off complacency, as well. A former middle-distance runner for Colorado State, she drove to Salt Lake City from her home in Ely, Nev., on Friday just to find some good competition. She found it in Stacy Tangren, a former 2:08 half-miler for the University of Washington who lives in Farmington. Sizing each other up at the starting line, they knew who their commpetition was before the race began, even if they were strangers. "I knew she was good when I saw her," said Tangren. "Just by the way she looks and the way she warmed up." Tangren and Sayre ran together for two miles before Sayre moved. Sayre finished in 17:08, Tangren in 17:43.
The best race of the day proved to be the men's 10K. Bryan DeVries, a Weber State distance runner, pushed the early pace and led most of the way, with Johnson and Doug Stutz, a former BYU steeplechaser, giving chase. Johnson grew impatient, but the veteran Demetrio Cabanillas urged him to hold back. Johnson finally overtook DeVries just outside the park and never surrendered his lead.
"You don't move until you know you can push it," said Johnson, who finished in 30:51. Stutz was second in 31:05 and DeVries third in 31:14. Score another win for another rising runner.
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