Hodgson finds new challenge with mountain running | TheUnion.com

Hodgson finds new challenge with mountain running

There’s really only one good reason why anyone should run full tilt up the side of a mountain.

It involves a large, furry animal with big teeth and sharp claws.

That said, leave it to runners to find a way around that.

While the history of people racing up mountain trails is as old as dirt, the modern version made its way onto the international scene with the First Annual World Mountain Running Championships in 1985.

Europeans have dominated both the men’s and women’s competition since, but may have to make room for the Red, White and Blue in the years to come.

The United States Track and Field Association, which has sent a men’s team to the world championships since 1987 and a women’s squad since 1995, set its sights toward the future with the formation of its first-ever junior team (19-and-under) this year.

Nikki Hodgson, a former Bear River High School cross country and track and field standout, first heard about the sport early last Spring.

“A friend on the Buffalo Chips (running club) told me the (United States Junior Mountain Running Team) was looking for athletes,” the 2001 Bear River graduate said. “I wasn’t too clear what the sport was all about, but I knew it was similar to cross country. The opportunity to travel and be on a U.S. Team definitely attracted me to it.”

Hodgson, who earned All-Great Northwest Athletic Conference honors in the 800-meter run for Humboldt State University in Arcata last Spring, had to send in an athletic resume’ – with relevant times from specific events – and a letter of recommendation from her coach to be considered.

Spring turned into summer, then Hodgson got the news.

She made the cut.

“I was very excited, but I was also a little surprised,” she said. Still unclear as to what she had gotten herself into, Hodgson had to put off training because she was off to Alaska to take part in an Outward Bound course.

She kayaked and mountaineered over the two month adventure, but couldn’t begin serious training until she returned home to California in early August.

“I really didn’t change my regular workout all that much. I ran a little around Alta Sierra, then I got a chance to run with the Humboldt State team at altitude around Lake Tahoe,” the 19-year-old wildlife ecology/journalism major said.

Before she knew it, Hodgson was on a jumbo jet headed for Munich, Austria.

Hodgson met up with teammates Melissa Marts, 17, and Jessica Pitzer, 16, both of Nederland, Colo., then it was a two hour drive to the off to the race site just outside of Innsbruck.

The trio hit town and headed straight for the 3.3 kilometer course in the surrounding mountains.

“I remember jogging and saying to myself that it didn’t look too bad,” she said. “The view was incredible. It alternated between forest and meadow and we could see all of the buildings and little streets of Innsbruck. It was beautiful.”

The team had 36 hours to soak everything in, then it was race day.

She downed a bowl of sugar-frosted corn flakes for breakfast, still not knowing what was in store for her.

“I would have liked to have had more time on the course. Because it’s hard to piece together a strategy together in such a short time,” she said. “In cross country, after years and years of experience, you know how you’re going to run a particular race. I didn’t know what my strengths or weaknesses were so I didn’t know what to expect.”

The butterflies kicked in as she made her way to the starting line.

Spanish dance music blared over loud speakers as the starter’s pistol pointed to the sky.

“The gun went off and all I can remember is trying to figure out my best strategy. But once I began running, strategy went right out the window. It was so painful, I had to focus on (just surviving),” Hodgson said. “The course had an 1,100 foot gain, so it went up and it went up quick.”

Hodgson, a four-time California Interscholastic Federation state cross country qualifier, took 36th with a time of 24 minutes, 45.3 seconds.

Russia’s Victoria Ivanova posted a 21:00.00 to take the win.

Turkey won the team competition, with the United States taking 12th.

“I did OK, but not as well as I’d have liked to. But I wasn’t disappointed. I was proud to be able to represent my country,” Hodgson said.

As for her future on the mountain, Hodgson isn’t sure.

“I don’t think I’d make the a senior team next year or even the year after, but I’ll definitely keep training. It was an incredible experience.

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