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Long journeys worth it for Armstrong, Greenwood

International runners come up big at American River 50-miler
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Even in Christchurch, New Zealand, Vajin Armstrong heard the legends and read the stories about the birthplace of ultrarunning. He visited on Saturday, but he wasn’t just an idle tourist. Armstrong raced to the title at the American River 50-mile Endurance Run, topping the field of 733 runners — the largest in the rich history of the event. Armstrong flashed a broad smile and looked fresh after cruising across the finish line at the Auburn Dam Overlook in 5 hours, 53 minutes. “All around the world, everyone knows that California is where it’s at for ultramarathons,” Armstrong said. “I’ve been to the States a few times, but I’ve never raced here. I came with a complete open mind. I wanted to run my own race. To win this one is fantastic.” Armstrong became the first international runner to win the AR 50, which starts in Sacramento. Ellie Greenwood continued the streak of international success at both AR 50 and the Western States Endurance Run. Greenwood clocked in at 6:18 to win the 50-miler for a second straight year. The Banff, Alberta resident also won Western States last year and enjoyed her return to the foothills. “I had fun last year,” Greenwood said. “There is still snow on the ground where I live so it’s nice to run in the heat. These are beautiful trails and there is always good competition here.” Greenwood topped second-place women’s finisher Jenny Hitchings by more than an hour. The 2011 Ultrarunner of the Year finished with the third-fastest time in the 32-year history of the race with legendary Ann Trason owning the top two. Sacramento running veteran Rich Hanna placed second overall in 6:05 after he was runner-up just last month at the Way Too Cool 50K. Hanna, 47, last competed in the AR 50 in 1995, clocking a blazing 5:37. Rocklin’s Jacob Rydman overcame nasty blisters on his feet to place third. He earned some redemption after he dropped out last year in his AR 50 debut. “It was the hardest race of my life,” Rydman said at the finish line. “To make the podium (top three) is just humbling. I’m thankful to be healthy and to be able to run with a great group of guys. We’re all in it together.” Unlike in years past, the top finishers at AR 50 do not earn automatic entries into this year’s Western States Endurance Run. But Armstrong, who has won New Zealand’s prestigious Kepler Challenge 60K race two years in a row, said he hopes to return to Auburn in the near future to compete in the sport’s oldest and most prestigious event. “It’s the Super Bowl of ultras,” he said. “I’d love to come back and run Western States one day.”