From going down aisle to running uphill

2011-10-24T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T09:43:44Z From going down aisle to running uphillMichael J. Craven Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 24, 2011 12:00 am  • 

SUMMERHAVEN - Standing 9,157 feet up a mountain in Southern Arizona isn't exactly what Sarah Sykes had pictured for her honeymoon.

A sandy beach would have been nice. A hollowed-out pineapple filled with some fruity cocktail and one of those little paper umbrellas. She'd have taken that.

Instead, she settled for scrambled eggs and a tortilla in 50-degree weather atop Mount Lemmon, a place she'd never heard of. And she did so with a smile because her husband of eight days, Tim, needed her backing in his latest marathon entry.

Only a week into a lifetime, these newlyweds seem to have this support thing down. And as for Tim, it turns out he's not a bad runner, either. Sykes won the second annual Mount Lemmon Marathon on Sunday, finishing the 26.2-mile Catalina Highway course in 3 hours 5 minutes 7 seconds.

The 31-year-old Sykes now has three career marathon victories in seven tries. In April, he finished second at the Blue Ridge Marathon in Roanoke, Va., a result which, oddly enough, set up the Sykeses' trip to Tucson.

You see, the Blue Ridge and Mount Lemmon marathons have this in common: Both proclaim to be "America's toughest road marathon."

Realizing this, Blue Ridge's clever organizers set their second-place prize as an all-expenses-paid trip to the Old Pueblo and an entry into the Mount Lemmon. What better way to compare the two ever-so-humble races, right?

The result: "Both are really tough," Sykes said, taking his time to think. "It's a hard call but I'm going to say the one in Roanoke is tougher just because of the down-hills and the fact that my quads were so torn up.

"But then again, I'm a little biased because I'm from there."

Sykes, who lives in Lexington, Va., won the Blue Ridge two years ago (and the $6,000 check that came with it) but admitted that Mount Lemmon was steeper and more scenic.

"You get a lot of great views," he said. "I could even smell the evergreen trees. That was cool to me, just going through the different ecosystems."

Sykes' time was quite a bit slower, of course, than his personal best marathon time of 2:34, achieved on a much flatter course. But slower times were a given in such a race. To some, the change in strategy was even a relief.

"What I really liked about it was that I knew I didn't have to try to run fast," said 44-year-old Polly Campbell, who was the top finishing woman and took fourth overall at 3:37:25. "I just had to stay strong and run up the hills and get through it."

Campbell has made a name for herself locally as of late. She won the Tucson Marathon in 2009 and now this. What keeps her so motivated at age 44?

"It feels great to beat the 20-something guys, I've got to tell you. I do like to beat the guys," she said.

Campbell handled the course brilliantly, but what makes the Mount Lemmon so difficult for most runners is the steady 6,000-foot elevation gain, with no significant break in the incline until roughly the 22-mile mark.

This year, with the event under new ownership, the end of the course changed significantly from the inaugural blueprint. Instead of leading runners uphill into Ski Valley for the final two miles, entrants turned into Summerhaven's quaint, residential, cabin neighborhood for the final stretch.

The change seemed to be a hit among just about everyone.

"I loved going through the neighborhoods," said 25-year-old Jessica Paulson, who won the women's half-marathon in 1:50:42. Paulson is from New Hampshire but is currently stationed at Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista.

"It was kind of cool just winding through. Maybe it's my New Hampshire roots but I like running through the woods and hiking and what not, so it was pretty interesting."

The men's half-marathon was won by 44-year-old Tucson podiatrist Brian Hutcheson (1:35:13), the only one of the four winners who was back for a second straight year.

Registration was down to 604 this year from 785 in the inaugural event, which new race organizer Ott Wischki blamed on a lack of promotion due to the recent transfer of ownership.

Or, Hutcheson suggested, "Maybe it's the difficulty of it that scares people away. It is a different kind of training. You have to put in more time. That'd be my guess."

Without any prize money at stake, Sykes said his return will too be questionable. Unless, of course, he earns another free trip.

Or perhaps the Tucson nightlife will win the Sykes-es over.

"We haven't been able to do much partying yet, with the race being at 6 o'clock in the morning," Sarah Sykes said. "I think tonight we'll do some partying."

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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