HYRUM — It was a family affair at the top of the leaderboard at one of Cache Valley’s most popular races.
For the third straight year, a Thorne reigned supreme at the Blacksmith Fork Freedom Run, a 15-kilometer race that starts at the Hydro Park in Blacksmith Fork Canyon and ends at Hyrum City Park. Additionally, Spencer O’Very became the third member of his family to claim bragging rights at the 40th installment of the event, which was contested on a picture-perfect Thursday morning.
O’Very seized control of the race in the early going and powered his way to the overall title with a time of 50 minutes, 48 seconds. Two of O’Very’s older sisters, Macinze and Miranda, have captured at least one women’s division title at the Freedom Run in the past 11 years.
“It feels really good. I was worried that I was going to be the only one that had never won it, so it feels good to add my name to the family list, so that my siblings don’t have that over me anymore,” O’Very said with a chuckle.
Meanwhile, Kelsey Thorne continues to feel right at home on the 9.3-mile course. The former Utah State distance runner defended her crown with a time of 58:36.
Thorne is married to current USU and former Mountain Crest harrier J.D. Thorne, an international business major who is currently in France on an internship. J.D. Thorne, who will be a senior for the Aggies, won overall Freedom Run titles in 2017 and 2018.
“He’s in France right now and he told me to come back and defend (my title),” said the former Kelsey Girardelli, who was dating her spouse a year ago when she captured her crown. “It’s kind of a fun little family thing I guess, but I like this race.”
Thorne had about a 45-second lead on her closest competitor when she emerged from Blacksmith Fork Canyon. The native of Livermore, California, continued to pull away on what ended up being an ideal day for a race.
“I was just going to take the first two miles pretty easy and just kind of warm up to (the race), and then just go as fast as I could after mile two,” said Thorne, who graduated from USU with a degree in biology last year. “So, it worked out pretty well.”
Thorne was able to run with a small pack of men throughout most of the course, which made a difference, particularly on the daunting uphill section around mile marker 7. This helped the 24-year-old finish with the seventh-fastest time overall.
“Oh, it was really motivating to have some people there to work with, so yeah I was definitely glad to have them there,” Thorne said. “It always helps.”
The Hyde Park resident was one of two women to complete the course in less than one hour. Providence’s Maika Carlsen continues to shine as a distance runner as she clocked in at 59:44. The 38-year-old crossed the finish line with two daughters by her side. Carlsen has won the women’s division of this race at least twice.
Smithfield’s Emily Morley was the bronze medalist in the women’s competition, as the 29-year-old finished the 9.3 miles in 1:00.24. Thorne, Carlsen and Morley were joined in the top 10 by Abby Critchfield (1:01.35), Hyrum’s McKale Bladen (1:03.21), current College of Southern Idaho runner Madison Flippence (1:03.40), Smithfield’s Karlee Eck (1:05.03), Nibley’s Pam Riggs (1:05.19), Emily Spaulding of River Heights (1:05.58) and Hyrum’s Jordan Merrill (1:06.05).
Merrill’s performance was especially impressive, inasmuch as she is only 14. Spaulding is 16.
The younger runners certainly made their presence felt in the men’s division. Nine of the top 16 males, including seven of the top 12, are between the ages of 16-18.
However, it was O’Very who stole the show. The soon-to-be Mountain Crest senior shaved 91 seconds off his time from a year ago, which was gratifying because he missed two weeks of training while attending a business camp in Cedar City.
“I came back this week and I was worried I was going to be (in the) 55s, not even close to my time last year, so I’m really pleased I was able to pull off the run that I did with how short of time I had to come back.”
The Wellsville resident ran by himself for most of the race and held a commanding 95-second lead over his nearest competitor at the 10K mark. O’Very was relieved when he woke up this morning and conditions were ideal. The weather forecast was still foreboding less than six hours before the event.
“Oh, I was scared that it was going to be cold and windy, but when I got up I was super relieved,” said O’Very, the defending Region 12 and Cache-Box cross country champion. “It was one less thing to worry about. I mean, really it doesn’t matter what the weather is. You should be able to go out and perform if you’ve put in the work, but it always gets in your head if you let it, so it was nice to just have one less thing to worry about.”
O’Very missed a good portion of the 2019 prep track & field season with some nagging injuries, but is healthy again. The 17-year-old has been training twice a day and is hungry for his final high school cross country season.
“I just had to take some time off and put in more volume,” O’Very said. “I’m not really a sprinter. I’m more of a long distance kind of guy ... and I can’t wait for cross country. I’m so excited to get back out there and show everybody what I can do. ... I’m so excited for this season. I’m so excited for Mountain Crest and people better watch out. We’re going to hit that season hard, and we have a lot of great guys on the team.”
Logan’s Glynn Hadley put in a strong performance and was the silver medalist in the men’s field. The 39-year-old clocked in at 52:40.
Rounding out the top 10 in the men’s competition were Logan’s JD Needham (55:13), Philip Larsen (57:02), Logan’s Stratford Needham (57:29), Brendon Jensen (58:11), Providence’s Joshua Paulsen (58:47), Nibley’s Nathan Weston (58:59), Smithfield’s Truman Engler (59:01) and Smithfield’s Joseph Eck (59:01).
Larsen defended his title in the masters men’s competition, as did Riggs in the masters women’s field. The 54-year-old Riggs improved on her time from a year ago, to boot.
Veteran Nathan Crowton was the lone wheelchair competitor in the race and was credited with a time of 48:59.
There were 505 athletes — the lion’s share of whom reside in Cache Valley — who completed the course while the timing system was still set up.
Notes: There were four 9-year-olds who crossed the finish line Thursday. Those young athletes were twin brothers Court Needham (1:34.03) and Trace Needham (1:39.26), Paradise’s Max Gibbs (1:38.19) and Scout Farner (2:17.40). The oldest finisher was 79-year-old Charles Graham of Hyrum, who clocked in at 2:10.09. ... It was definitely a family affair for the Needhams as nine of them competed and finished. ... Longtime Mountain Crest assistant cross country coach Claud Williams completed his 30th consecutive Freedom Run. The 67-year-old, who always runs in this event with an American flag, was joined by his twin sister, Claudia Lindeburg. Claud Williams led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance before the awards ceremony.