North Conway, NH — On a humid, overcast morning in the New England hamlet of North Conway, NH, Washingtonian Joseph Gray, 24, Lakewood, and Californian Christine Lundy, 38, Sausalito outpaced one of the deepest U.S. mountain running fields in recent memory to become the 2009 USA Mountain Running Champions today. The pair also led team USA to gold medal podium spots in the men’s and women’s division of the North American Central American Caribbean Mountain Running Championships.

The race featured two 5.5 kilometer loops and 2400 feet of vertical gain which included a mixture of steep climbing, single track terrain, super fast descents, and flat sections across open meadows. Spectators at the base of the mountain could watch the runners as they climbed in the distance and then cheered runners on as they passed the start/finish area for the second and final loop.

A former collegiate steeplechaser, Gray, in his third season mountain racing, was with a lead pack of seven within the first kilometer which included Simon Gutierrez, 43, Alamosa, CO, Zac Freudenberg, 30, St. Louis, MO, Eric Blake, 29, New Britain, CT, Matt Byrne, 34, Scranton, PA, and Shiloh Mielke, 29, Asheville, NC. The group stayed together up the first pitch, but at the top of the climb Gray took off. Freudenberg and Gutierrez were in second and third respectively, followed closely by Gates, Byrne, and Blake. Mielke didn’t stick with the group on the first downhill.

After the first loop it was Gray leading by about 40 seconds posting a 28 minute loop with Freudenberg in second, Gutierrez in third, “I was feeling confident, like I could hold third,” said Gutierrez in a post race interview, “Even going up the second climb I felt good. Then Rickey and Matt caught me about 1 kilometer into the second climb. They started pushing it. Joe was gone. I could see Rickey and Matt until the last 200 meters of the climb.

“After that I survived to get down. My legs were shot, Eric passed me and I caught up to him and we ran together for the last 2 kilometers. Shiloh blasted by us with about ½ mile to go,” said Gutierrez who in a sprint-to-the-finish with Blake fell down just a few feet from the line to settle for seventh.

Gray kept a solid, steady, and rather blistering pace to finish in 48:37 followed by Freudenberg in 49:48, Byrne in 49:57, Gates in 50:04, Meilke in 51:38, Blake in 51:50, and Gutierrez in 51:54. Aaron Saft, Kevin Tilton, and John Tribbia rounded out the top ten.

With his win, Gray made his second consecutive Teva U.S. Mountain Running Team. Freudenberg and Byrne also were named to the team. All three were members of last year’s bronze-medal winning team at the World Mountain Running Championships in Switzerland.

Lundy, with her win, becomes a four-time Teva U.S. Mountain Running Team member earning the sole team spot at Cranmore for the women. Lundy was on her first U.S. mountain team in 2005 and is the only two-time team gold medalist as a member of both the 2006 and 2007 U.S. teams at Worlds. She raced to victory posting a time of 57:16, besting her nearest competitor, Brandy Erholtz, 31, Bailey, CO, by approximately 35 seconds, and was followed by Laura Haefeli, 41, Del Norte, CO, in 58:30. Kasie Enman, Gina Lucrezi, Megan Lund, Abby Larson, Amber Moran, Trish Steidl, and Christa Benton, rounded out the top 10.

Masters champion Laura Haefeli, when interviewed about her race said, “I felt good. I was psyched that we (team USA in the NACAC competition – Lundy, Haefeli, Enman, and Erholtz) were all running together. The start was fast. Brandy, Chris and Kasie were in front of me, but we were all really close. Abby was close behind. Abby passed me on one of the steeper sections and I was fifth to the top after the first climb. On the first downhill, I knew Abby was running really hard and I passed her on the rocky section. I figured if I could get enough distance on her on the downhill I could hold her off on the uphill. I was hoping that anyone behind me on the first loop wouldn’t catch me.

“I was gaining on Kasie, and I thought I was even gaining on Chris. It was definitely tougher on the second time around. I caught Kasie just before the steep climb and started to put some distance right after the climb and increased my lead. Once I crested the top, I was gone. I knew from the first lap I was running well on the downhill and didn’t think anyone would catch me on the downs. By the time I crested, I didn’t see Brandy or Chris. At the last part of the downhill I saw Brandy, but didn’t see Chris. I wanted to minimize the gap from second place.”

When asked about the competitive field Haefeli said, “I definitely felt I had to step up my game for this race. I felt that there were at least eight girls going for the team. In 2007 when I was third at Worlds, I felt that I couldn’t lose contact with the top runners…and I felt the same today.”

In the NACAC competition the top two runners for each country scored. Lundy and Erholtz scored for Team USA to earn the gold medal with Canada in silver medal position. On the men’s side, Gray and Gates scored for Team USA which included Blake and Gutierrez. Final results were not available at press time for the men’s NACAC competition.

The Cranmore Hill Climb included open runners as well as USATF members vying for national championship honors in their respective five year age groups starting at 40 years old for masters runners. USATF results will be posted at www.usatf.org.

“We were really excited to have such high caliber runners come to the Mount Washington Valley and the race was a great success. We had 250 registrants and nearly 40 finishers more than our previous high. I would say this is due to the national championships which attracted runners from 22 states. The White Mountain Milers are planning to submit a bid to host the Championships again in 2011,” said event director Paul Kirsch.

Prize money was distributed as follows (equal for men and women): $200 first place $150 second place; $100 third place; $50 first place master. The top NACAC teams each won $200.

Race sponsors included Inov-8, Cranmore Mountain Resort, USATF-New England, Hammer Nutrition, Julbo Eyewear, CW-X Conditioning Wear, Tech-4o sports watches, Fuel Belt, OrthoLite insoles, and the White Mountain Milers. Results will be posted at www.whitemountainmilers.com/cranmore.

The second and final Teva U.S. Mountain Running Team selection race will be held in Colorado Springs at the July 26 Cheyenne Canon Mountain Race presented by Walmart where the top two U.S. women and the top two U.S. men will earn a berth on this year’s team. For details visit www.trailrunner.com.