Top marathon runners know the trip down Big Mountain and Emigration Canyon is a brutal one. The steep grade and elevation drop can blow up a pair of calves and force even the best runners in the world to abandon the race in agony.
Joseph Chirlee, though, altered his running stride just a bit he placed more focus on his heels than the balls of his feet than he normally does and that strategy paid big dividends and he cruised to a comfortable win at the Deseret News Marathon on Thursday with a time of 2:18:16.
"It's horrible," Chirlee said of the long descent into Salt Lake City from the canyons. "If you are not careful on the downhill, you will not finish this race. You have to control it and not let it affect you."
Still, Chirlee and a group of five other top contenders in the race managed to keep themselves mostly together for more than 17 miles. That's when the 28-year-old Kenyan figured it was time to win.
"At about 18 miles, we were still together," he said. "I realized we had to make a decision. There were five of us, and I decided it was time to get a result. So I went."
He ran alone for the final few miles and found himself on the final stretch without a challenger. That gave him the opportunity to break out a smile and raise both arms as he crossed the finish line.
Jynocel Baswell, a 21-year-old Kenyan, took second at 2:19:31 while Edward Korir rounded out the podium in third at 2:19:51.
Four-time Deseret News Marathon winner Jonathon Ndambuki was fourth at 2:20:33.
Provo's Sasha Pachev was the top local finisher, crossing the line with a time of 2:34:43, good enough for eighth overall.
"There's a high-quality runner this year," Pachev said, noting the markedly faster times in the 2008 race compared to the 2007 running of the event. "The way this course is set up, it hurts you. So it's not for everybody. But this year it seemed like there were some better runners. It was a good race."
Logan's Seth Wold, however, looked to have the position of top Utahn in the bag midway through the race. But Pachev said Wold may have been sick or injured and unable to close out the race with his usual strength.
"I passed him around 17 miles and ran with him for a while and told him he needed to finish the race," Pachev said. "I was surprised to catch him because he is running so strong this year. He's really good."
Wold was ninth overall, but finished almost 11 minutes behind Pachev at 2:45:26.
Holladay's Bill Cobler was the third Utahn to finish and 10th overall at 2:45:45, winning the master's division race as well.
For Chirlee, the race nearly turned into disaster when he developed some leg problems over the final few miles.
"I think it was at mile 25 when I felt my legs like they were not moving," Chirlee said. "The leg was numb. But I worked it out to finish strong."As winner of the race, Chirlee picked up a check for $2,008. Pachev, as the first Utahn across the line, won a $500 prize, and Cobler's top-master's division win earned him $250.