PROVIDENCE — They attended the same university, are currently training partners and have a knack for excelling at the same half marathons.
It was another memorable day for former Utah Valley University distance runners Jaydn Asay and Savannah Berry, who reigned supreme in their respective divisions at the Top of Utah Half Marathon. Asay held off TOU Half Marathon veteran Fritz Van de Kamp to win the overall men’s title, while Berry captured the overall women’s title in comfortable fashion on Saturday morning at Zollinger Park.
Berry and Asay have competed in three half marathons this year — Provo City and Bryce Canyon being the other two — and have claimed the overall titles in all three of them.
“That was kind of one of the things I thought about during the race was if Jaydn’s going to win, I have to win too,” Berry said. “So, it was really fun to come back because I did the (Top of Utah) Marathon last year, and so coming back to do the half and being able to do really well here was awesome. And if just kind of gives me a boost in my training to keep me going for the Sacramento Marathon, so I’m excited for that.”
Berry and Asay have their sights set on qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the marathon, which will take place Feb. 29, 2020, in Atlanta. Both athletes hope to run a B qualifying standard at the California International Marathon (CIM) on Dec. 8, in Sacramento. In order to achieve their primary objective, Asay must complete the race in less than 2 hours, 19 minutes, and Berry must eclipse the 2:45 barrier.
Asay and Berry will also travel to the San Jose Rock ‘N’ Roll Half Marathon in October, but will treat it as more of a training run. Neither competitor treated the TOU Half as a training run, though.
In fact, the 2018 installment of that race was Asay’s first ever half marathon, and he gained some confidence by placing third overall with a time of 1:08:31.
“I actually emailed the race director two months ago, just letting her know how cool of an event it was and how I wanted to come back,” Asay said. “But yeah, the goal was to come and race against great competition. There’s always a better field at Top of Utah than any other half in the state, in my opinion, on the men’s side. And I had to fight hard for it, so it means a lot. It was really awesome.”
Indeed, the former Mountain View High School star had to dig deep to be the first to cross the finish line. Asay actually trailed Van de Kamp with a few blocks remaining, but made one final push with about 200 meters left to pull out the win.
The 25-year-old Springville resident covered the 13.1-mile course in 1:07:04, with Van de Kamp clocking in two seconds later. This is the fourth time in the last five years Van de Kamp, who resides in Salt Lake City, has placed in the top six at the TOU Half.
“I was actually in a pretty negative head space,” Asay said. “I didn’t think it was going to be my day, really, until he passed me but didn’t pass very decisively. He let me hang on his shoulder and I was like, ‘OK, he’s going to let me make the last move,’ so with about a quarter mile to go is when I thought I could get the win.”
The conditions Saturday were quite ideal and the elite competitors took advantage as the top five finishers broke the 1:09 barrier.
“The temperature was perfect,” Asay said. “There was a little bit of a headwind down the canyon. But yeah, right when you got out of the canyon there was a big backwind for about three of four miles, so it made up for it a little bit, but the temperature and everything was great.”
Logan Petty, who was fourth at this race a year ago, was the bronze medalist this time. The Fruit Heights resident clocked in at 1:07:43.
Joining Asay, Van de Kamp and Petty in the top 10 on the men’s side were Benjamin Pachev (1:08:21), Ben Van Beekum (1:08:45), Teren Jameson (1:09:07), Rush Mills (1:09:45), Melchor Suaste (1:13:22), Hyrum’s Cameron Swenson (1:16:38) and Tom Kuehls (1:16:50). Jameson, one of the best marathoners to ever come out of Utah, was the master men’s champion.
This is the fifth straight year Van Beekum has been among the top six placers at the TOU Half.
Unlike Asay, Berry was in front of her main competitors the entire race, which begins at the Hyrum Hydro Park up Blacksmith Fork Canyon. Additionally, the 23-year-old ended up finishing ninth overall, a noteworthy accomplishment, with her time of 1:16:23.
Former Box Elder, Weber State and BYU distance runner Kelsey Braithwaite was the women’s runner-up with a time of 1:18:01.
And although Berry didn’t really get to run with any of the other women, she was buoyed along by a few men who finished within 45 seconds of her.
“There were some guys that were in (the race) that really helped a lot because the past couple of half marathons that I’ve done, it’s been those guys like Jaydn in the front, and then it’s been a long gap because I’m not even as close to fast as they are,” Berry said. “But today there were guys kind of in the middle of us, so that was really nice to have someone to run with a little bit.”
Berry, a native of Bakersfield, California, proved she was an elite runner by tackling the Bryce Canyon Half Marathon course in 1:14:00. The Orem resident continued her upward trajectory Saturday.
“It means a lot to me, just because I try to be an inspiration to my little brother, who’s in high school right now,” said Berry, who was a two-time Western Athletic Conference champion in the indoor 5,000 meters and one-time titleist in the indoor 3,000 during her time at UVU. “So, I’m just trying to prove to him that hard work will allow you to achieve your goals, and I’m trying to hopefully qualify for the Olympic Trials, so winning these halfs is really helping me keep my motivation up during training.”
Defending TOU Half champ Merrilee Blackham was the bronze medalist in the women’s field. The Ogden resident completed the race in 1:18:45.
Rounding out the top 10 in the women’s competitor were Christina Perry (1:21:02), Janel Zick (1:23:10), Smithfield’s Emily Morley (1:24:14), Logan’s Michelle Haws (1:25:23), Jessica Stanford (1:26:00), Jen Atwater (1:28:17) and Hyrum’s McKale Bladen (1:28:42). Stanford was the master women’s titleist.
Veteran Nathan Crowton was the lone wheelchair athlete. The Ogden resident clocked in at 1:09:04.