Basalt runner Megan Lund triumphs in Swiss Alps | AspenTimes.com

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Basalt runner Megan Lund triumphs in Swiss Alps

©www.skyrunning.comBasalt's Megan Lund crosses the finish line to win Sunday's Sierre-Zinal mountain running race in the Swiss Alps. Lund became the first American woman to win in the event's 37-year history.

BASALT – As Megan Lund darted toward the finish line Sunday, sunlight began to peak through the clouds. The din of the crowd filled her ears. A look of exhilaration formed on the 26-year-old’s face as, with arms pointed toward the sky, she burst through the tape.

That smile likely has not dissipated in the days since, even after spending nearly 30 hours traveling from Switzerland to the Roaring Fork Valley.

“It still doesn’t seem real,” the Basalt resident admitted Wednesday afternoon. “I’m still kind of in shock.”

While her expectations were high, she could not have expected this.

Lund made her first trip to the famed Sierre-Zinal race in the Swiss Alps – deemed by many as mountain running’s equivalent of the New York City Marathon – a memorable one, becoming the first American woman to capture a victory in the event’s 37-year history. No U.S. competitor had finished first since 1982.

She negotiated the 31-kilometer course, one with ascents that total well more than 6,000 vertical feet, in three hours, 9 minutes, 28 seconds. Former Sierre-Zinal champion Angela Mudge of Britain was second, 94 seconds off the pace, and Brandi Erholtz – Lund’s USA Mountain Running teammate – wound up fourth.

“This is definitely the biggest accomplishment [of my career],” Lund said.

“It was a huge surprise. Looking at the entry list when I first got there, I was like, ‘Wow, some of the best runners in the world are here.’ … Not only is there stiff competition, but the course is really challenging.”

Lund figured the test would suit her strengths well.

“I think it was the perfect race for me,” she said. “With so much climbing and it being so long, it combines two things I’m really good at.

“I decided I was just going to go for it. I really wanted to push the envelope and test my limits.”

Lund followed Mudge’s lead at the start, heeding advice from Erholtz, who admittedly went out too fast in 2009, when she hung on for a fifth-place finish. The strategy changed, however, after only about three minutes, Lund said.

“I caught up to [Mudge] and I wasn’t breathing nearly as hard as she was, and I was feeling comfortable,” she added. “I decided not to run with her, but to run like I know how and not let others dictate what I do.

“I decided to take advantage of all the uphills while I could and plan to get as far ahead as I could and try not to get caught on the downhill toward the end. … I think I run better if I feel like I’m being chased.”

After 10 minutes, Lund took a quick look over her shoulder and saw no one. The sight would become familiar during the ensuing hours, as she negotiated uneven terrain, scree fields and patches of deep mud – “It made for some slippery spots,” she said. “I fell once, but it was going uphill so it wasn’t too bad.”

Lund also had to contend with an upset stomach – the result of consuming energy gel – with about one hour remaining.

“There are all kinds of emotions you go through in that amount of time,” Lund said. “With about 6K to go, I was thinking, ‘Gosh, I’m ready for this to be over.’ I knew I had put the work in. I knew I would win if I hung on.”

She did just that, tip-toeing through a treacherous downhill section without incident before jogging to the finish line – and into the history books. Also, as is tradition, Lund and men’s winner Kilian Jornet of Spain had their feet cast in cement in the town of Zinal.

Lund now will look to leave her mark in Sept. 5’s World Mountain Running Championships in Kamnik, Slovenia.

“This definitely is a confidence booster,” Lund said. “I’ve kind of had my sights set on a Top 10 or a Top 5 finish at worlds. Now, I’m going for the win.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com