Thirty-six men in the Spray Drag running race didn’t end up chasing Devon Kershaw up Spray Lakes Road in Canmore, Alberta, on Saturday, but they had one heck of a battle from the start.
According to American Sylvan Ellefson (Ski & Snowboard Club Vail/Team HomeGrown), the pace was fast for a bunch of nordic skiers early on.
“Any road runner could have pulled away, but it was a quick pace,” he wrote in an email. “It continued on the road with a couple of us switching off in the lead.”
From the Canmore Nordic Centre, racers (including 26 women and seven junior boys) ascended a snow- and dirt-covered road to the Spray dam. In an email, race organizer and Alberta World Cup Academy coach Stefan Kuhn wrote that some fresh snow made for an interesting race, and it was “definitely colder at the top than last year.”
The men raced 7.5 kilometers with nearly 400 meters (1,312 feet) of elevation gain, and the women and juniors did 5 k.
About six men took off at the beginning of the dirt road, including Ellefson and AWCA/Senior Development Team skiers Graham Nishikawa, Michael Somppi, Kevin Sandau, Graeme Killick, and Jesse Cockney. Nishikawa and Ellefson opened up a gap around the halfway point, and Nishikawa – who holds the course record in 29:23 – tested his competitor with about 1 k to go.
“Nish moved ahead of me put a little speed in to see how I’d react maybe (at least that’s what it felt like, not sure if he actually did … ha),” Ellefson wrote. “And then with about 200m to go he kicked and I couldn’t hold on.”
Nishikawa, who was third last year to Canadian World Cup Team members Kershaw and Ivan Babikov, won the second annual race – an AWCA fundraiser – in 30 minutes and 28.1 seconds. Kershaw won it last year in 29:44. According to Kuhn, the Canadian national team didn’t compete this year because the race didn’t fit in with their schedule in Canmore.
“It is a very tough course,” Nishikawa wrote in an email. “I am happy to see my shape is good after the Park City camp.”
The runner-up, Ellefson finished 14.1 seconds back. Somppi was third (+24.1) and Killick placed fourth (+27.3), respectively. After leading early with Nishikawa and Ellefson, Sandau was fifth (+1:05.5).
The women’s race turned out to be a spectacle with U.S. Ski Team member Liz Stephen crushing the competition and course record. She won by more than three minutes in 23:01.2, besting the record (25:41 by Madeleine Williams) and last year’s winning time (25:53 by Brittany Webster) by nearly three minutes. Last year, Perianne Jones was second, and Rhonda Jewett finished third.
After Stephen, Canadian Zoe Roy, who skied for the University of Utah and now trains with Rocky Mountain Racers, placed second (+3:02.0). Heidi Widmer (AWCA) was third (+3:27.3).
“We where excited to see Heidi run a [personal best],” Kuhn wrote. “Race winner Liz definitely showed us a new level for this event for the ladies’ time.”
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.