CRIPPLE CREEK - Richard Medina tried to take a breath at 9,500-feet elevation and enjoy the win in the first pro race of his career.
The former Colorado All-American passed pro-racing standout Joseph Gray at the start of the uphill and grew a 56-second gap to win in 26 minutes, 6 seconds at the 9K Mine to Mine Challenge on Saturday morning.
The race started downhill at Mollie Kathleen Mine, went back into the sun-peeked corners of the western mountains, and ended on a three-mile long uphill toward the finish at the Victor Gold Mining Co.
A hard-breathing Medina, 24, couldn't resist smiling by the end.
"It's a great day. I was fortunate to have a great race in my first pro race since graduating," said Medina, who graduated from CU-Boulder in spring. "It was a beautiful course and I enjoyed every second of it - even when it was hard to breathe."
Medina, who grew up in Grand Junction before heading to Boulder for the past six years, was a little surprised with how the race ended though. He said it was strange to have such a large lead headed into the finish line.
"In college it is always cutthroat," he said, "you may win a race, but the guy in second is like a half of a second behind you."
That didn't mean the competition wasn't there. Following Medina in was 29-year-old Gray (27:02), who recently made Colorado Springs his home after the end of his European running season in September.
He knew his monthlong hiatus from running would cause problems on this course.
"It is still a work in progress getting used to this altitude," Gray said. "I've been taking it easy since the end of my Euro season, and then I didn't know Richard was going to be here. When I saw him, I knew it was going to be tough. It was a battle of the better conditioned and he won by a lot."
Meanwhile, the women's race was a little more competitive - but not by much. A relaxed Rochelle Persson (34:26) won by 40 seconds over Allison Sawyer (35:06) to grab her second victory in three weeks.
Persson was ecstatic, soaking in the bliss feeling called a "runners' high" well beyond the race's conclusion. She said this sport has saved happiness over the past couple of years.
"This is my getaway. This is my meditation right here. When I went through a divorce a while back, running was the place I could still find my good place and I could think straight," said 45-year-old Persson, who won the half marathon at the XTERRA Marathon of Trail Races in September. "If I didn't have running I'd have to go into punching or something."
The men's and women's winners received $500, second place took home $200 and third took $100. All of their purses were paid in gold nuggets.