MOAB, Utah — Surry Central track coach Jason Bryant finished third overall and first in his age group at the USA Trail Marathon Championships over the weekend.
Bryant, who recently turned 40, was easily the fastest runner in the Masters (40 and over) classification. He finished the 26.2-mile race in three hours and 17 minutes, nearly 15 minutes ahead of Chris Grauch, who finished eighth.
Bryant was just two and a half minutes shy of being second and was just eight and a half minutes off the top time. Champion Cody Moat and runnerup Justin Ricks are both in their early 30s.
“Of the top five guys, I was by the far the slowest guy in the mix,” said Bryant of his straight-line speed. “Three of those guys have personal-best marathons on the road that are over 20 minutes faster than me. … The coach at N.C. State said I was too slow to even train with the team.”
While he might not fare well on the flat pavement, Bryant seems to be part billy goat as he thrives on hills and uneven terrain.
When he went out to preview the course Friday, Bryant said, “It was a beautiful southwest desert setting. I was pleasantly surprised … it was more of a true trail course with varied footing: rocks, sand, slick rock.”
Comparing it to some other tough courses, he said, “I’d put Moab at medium difficulty for footing and elevation change.”
Still, in order to keep up a decent time, he felt like he had to push his pace more than he wanted to.
“I actually was having to max out my speed on several sections,” he said. “I was figuring that the course would wear on the legs and require a smart strategy to do well.”
Eventual winner Moat went out early with about 10 other runners, setting a brisk pace.
“Justin Ricks, who finished second, and I were back around 12th place for most of the first 4 miles,” said Bryant. “At the bottom of the second big climb around 13 miles, I was still in eighth. Climbing being one of my strengths, I was able to move up to just behind fourth near the top.”
On the descent, some runners ease up a little due to the footing, but the sure-footed Bryant caught the third-place runner on the down slope around 20 miles in.
What edge he built going downhill was lost on the next two miles of flat land.
“I was glad to get back to a tough section of the course with all those fast guys close behind me,” he said.
That last uneven stretch allowed Bryant to build a lead on his younger followers that carried him to the finish.
The four runners within 10 minutes of him were ages 28, 28, 31 and 32.
“It was nice to grab my second Masters title since turning 40 in August,” he said. “I was first Masters here and at our USA 10Km Trail championships in August. I was also second at a big race three weeks ago, the North Face Atlanta 50-Miler. I had the third fastest time ever on that course which was less than five minutes off the other two best times.”
Then in September, he traveled to Switzerland as part of a USA team in the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships.
“My race didn’t go so well, but our USA team got a team silver medal,” he said.