The first race at the 2015 U.S. Cross Country Championships on the Michigan Tech trails in Houghton, Mich., set the precedent for what will be a week of cold, gritty racing certainly not bereft of impressive performances. Through the wind, snow and low temps of the Upper Peninsula, Kyle Bratrud (Northern Michigan University) and Caitlin Gregg (Team Gregg) became champions of Sunday’s 15/10K individual starts.
“Realistically, I was looking for top-10 splits, so when I got race leader splits I was really stoked,” said Bratrud, a U23 skier who won the race by 50 seconds over second-place finisher Kris Freeman (Team Free Bird) and Pat Caldwell (Dartmouth/USST) in third. Bartrud, a Midwestern collegiate skier who has raced the Michigan Tech trails during NCAA races, knew, by heart, which sections to push.
“My plan going into the race was to ski pretty aggressively and hopefully get favorable splits. I never actually got times, only place splits, so I figured that the race was tight and I was pushing hard where I knew I could make time and skiing controlled where it was really tough,” he said of holding race leader position for the entire contest.
He did so despite constant precipitation and plummeting temperatures that may have hampered other athletes. By the time the women’s race started at 1 p.m., the temperature hovered around three degrees with a -18 degree wind chill and falling snow. After a quick re-grooming of the course, the women were lined up ready to start the 10k.
Fresh off the early season World Cup Tour, local hero and ex-NMU skier Caitlin Gregg grabbed the win over APU’s Chelsea Holmes and Rosie Brennan. After a bout with illness on the road, Gregg took the time over the holidays to rest and restore her health and energy, which paid off in the slow snow on race day.
“I had some apprehensions about where my current fitness was so I figured I would go as hard as possible and try to hold on!” she said, like Bratrud, coming in with the local knowledge about the course. She also had know-how on layering for such a day, combined with her fitness and drive, which gave her confidence heading into the start gate.
“I am feeling pretty good coming off of the World Cup. They were by far the hardest competitions of my career to date and although my results weren’t much to write home about, I really tried to stay positive and look forward.”
These races double as U.S. Nationals and World Junior/U23 World Trials. On the junior’s side, Ian Torchia (NMU) and Katharine Ogden (Stratton Mountain School) took the top junior spots at 15th and 6th, respectively. Kyle Bratrud took the top men’s U23 spot, along with the win, while Joanne Reid was the fastest women’s U23 with her top-10 finish.
Due to weather, the classic sprint has been postponed a day from Monday to Tuesday, while the distance mass start races and sprint freestyle remain on Thursday and Saturday.