Battle for bragging rights at Buffalo BBQ 5K Saturday morning, College teammates race for title
Special to the Sky-Hi News
The 69th Annual Buffalo Barbeque festival will take place in Grand Lake this weekend, and while most will come for the food, using Saturday morning’s 5K run to justify eating a pile of pancakes or a rack of ribs, a few will take the starting line having trained for months and hoping to prove themselves against each other and the ghosts of runners who have come before.
That’s because since the early ‘90s, Grand Lake has been the summer training home for the Augustana University Cross Country team. Augustana, often referred to as “Augie”, is an NCAA Division II school located in Sioux Falls, S.D. In the last few years a mainstay in the top-5 at the national cross country meet.
Over the last couple of decades, a rotating cast of runners have come from the Midwest to Grand Lake to work at Lemmon Lodge, managed for the last 14 years by Augustana alumnus Garrett Milbrett. The athletes lived in the tiny apartment above the office and worked the days cleaning cabins and laundering sheets, running the trails into Rocky Mountain National Park from Grand Lake.
Milbrett started out as a runner working for the summer as well, and has since employeed a long list of All-Americans including Aduo Omot, an indoor 800 meter national champion in 2011, Paul Yak, multiple time top-15 finisher in Cross Country and top-10 finisher in the 5k on the track, and Nathan Hauge, cross country All-American in 2014.
Augie athletes have used the Buffalo Barbeque race as an opportunity to test their mid-summer fitness and have filled the top 5 places in the race regularly, but with the brutal hilly course and lung-searing altitude, the time on the clock doesn’t mean much. Guys with personal bests between 14:30 and 15 minutes in the 5k will run almost two minutes slower on this course. This is a race for bragging rights, about battling friendly rivals to the brink of collapse on the undulating curves of West Portal road and seeing who has the gas left for the final straightaway to the finish line behind Town Hall.
But this might be the last year that Augie runners will participate in the race. No athletes are working at Lemmon Lodge this summer and Millbrett is leaving Grand Lake at the end of the year, likely ending the era of Grand Lake summer training for Augie athletes.
But the Augie boys are going to go out with a bang.
Nathan Hauge, Glen Ellingson, and Keegan Carda, each with an All-American medal to their name, will be on the starting line Saturday. Paul Yak, who missed going to the Rio Olympics in the marathon by a mere two minutes during a qualifying race in Australia last week, is also set to be in town.
Yak, who was born in Sudan, needed to run a 2:19 marathon to meet the standard. He had to travel to Queensland, Australia to run the Gold Coast Airport Marathon, an internationally certified race with an elite field. Yak was on pace to hit the qualifying time until the final three miles, where he faltered and crossed the line in 2:21.
His personal best in the 5k is 14:21, making him an easy favorite to take the 5k in Grand Lake.
But with pride on the line, it’s anyone’s race. Hauge has to victories to his name in 2012 and 2013, and Ellingson is coming off a season in which he placed eleventh overall at Cross Country Nationals.
The race starts at 8:30 a.m. behind Town Hall. Registration is $35 per individual 13 and over and $90 for families on race day.
Editor’s note: Andrew Wise won the Buffalo Barbeque 5k in 2014 and 2015. He will be on the start line Saturday.
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The Mustangs cross country team trudged through a muddy 5K Saturday morning during the West Grand Invitational, a race that slowed times but sent the fun factor through the roof for many of its competitors.