By Bill Foley
PIPESTONE — It might seem silly to think that a runner who is four-time NAIA national champion and 10-time All-American would need any kind redemption.
That, however, is exactly what recent Montana Tech graduate Becca Richtman gained Saturday morning as she ran to victory in the Wulfman Continental Divide Trail Race. (Results)
Zach Kughn, Richtman’s coach in cross country and track at Montana Tech, successfully defended his title on the same day Richtman exorcised some demons from 2021.
“That was hard,” Richtman said of finishing second by nearly 2 minutes to veteran runner Nicole Murray a year ago. “Zach said, ‘We can go one and one.’ After the race he had to change his story a little bit.”
Last year, the race started at the Pipestone trailhead and finished at Homestake Pass. This year, the race went the other way. Most runners said this year’s course was harder. Not Richtman.
“It’s just a better mental attitude,” Richman said. “I like this way, come Homestake to here, way better.”
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While the race only gains 80 feet in altitude, Richtman said it is the way the hills and flats are broken up that makes a difference.
“I’m not a very good climber,” she said. “I felt like that was a better opportunity to run flat. It broke up the climb a bit.”
Richtman finished the 14-kilometer race (8.7 miles) in 1 hour, 6 minutes, 16.88 seconds. Her time last year was 1:09:07.
Even with the improvement, the 23-year-old Richtman barely won the women’s title. Jamie Brusa, 34, of Bozeman placed second in 1:06:22.31. Richtman finished the race 1 minute, 26 seconds before Brusa, but Brusa started 1 minute, 20 seconds later.
“It would have been awesome to run together,” Richtman said. “I feel like we could have done some serious damage.”
Emily Allison, 34, of Bozeman, placed third in on the women’s side in 1:09:21. Murray, 52, of Whitehall, took fourth in 1:09:48. Butte’s Hailey Nielson, who just finished her freshman season running for the Orediggers, placed fifth in 1:10.59.
Kughn said this year’s course was definitely more difficult.
“I think her biggest thing is her attitude and her fitness level,” Kugn said of Richtman.
A year ago, Kughn won by more than 8 minutes, finishing in a near-record time of 56:19. This year, his margin of victory was cut in more than half.
Kughn, 27, crossed the line in 1:00:44. Former champion Josh Panasuk, 29, a Butte High graduate who now lives in Missoula, crossed in 1:04.00. Butte’s John Kirtley, 35, placed third in 1:04:17, and Missoula’s James Landham, 32, took fourth in 1:05:12.
Butte runner Ozzie Rosenleaf, 48, finished fifth in 1:07:23.
“I just think the longer climb, and you can’t roll as much the last few miles this direction,” Kughn said, explaining why this course is tougher than last year. “When you’re going toward Homestake, those last few miles are really fast. I was rolling like 5:30 the last 3 miles last year. That will really bring down that mile pace.
“This way it seems like the downhill is broken up by a quick uphill that kills your momentum.”
Kughn said he was also he was in better shape a year ago.
“Last year I had just missed the record,” he said. “I’m like, ‘All right, I’ve got to come back next year in better shape and do more trail runs and go for the record this way.’ This last year was a little more coaching than running, which is fine. That’s my job.”
In all, 163 runners finished the race that is named in honor of the late John Wulf, the godfather of the Piss and Moan Runners.
“This way was a lot of fun,” Richtman said. “We did a course preview on Thursday, and I thought, ‘Oh, this is awesome.’ After that easy run, I thought, ‘This is going to be way more fun than last year.’”
Richtman, a native of Elburn, Illinois, said she is going to stick around town to help Kughn coach. She promises to return to the Wulfman to defend her title next June, when the race will start at Pipestone and heads toward Homestake.
She already has her sights set on a runner who could be the biggest problem. That is Nielson.
“She’s faster than me when I was a freshman — by a lot,” Richtman said of the former Butte High standout. “Next year, I don’t know. I might have to take her down.”