Smoky skies and sweltering heat didn’t deter 47 runners from entering this year’s annual Spruce Tree Classic on Saturday morning at the University of Alaska Fairbanks North Campus Trails. 

The 6.7-mile course started and finished at the UAF West Ridge ski hut, and featured both flat and inclined segments, as well as a long turnaround section. 

Most of the race took place in heavily wooded trails, and bugs and mud patches proved to be additional challenges for runners. 

Dayan Mitchell crossed the finish line first with a time of 47 minutes, 59 seconds. 

“I trained for a little while for this, so I felt pretty ready, pretty prepared,” Mitchell said after the race.

Pacing has always been an important part of Mitchell’s running strategy, and he made sure to plan Saturday’s race accordingly.

“The hardest part was going downhill,” he said, “just because that meant there was more uphill to come.” 

Mitchell has run the Spruce Tree Classic for the past three years, and while Saturday’s race was better than his times during previous years, he acknowledged that he wasn’t performing at his peak.

“I’ve been running on my own for about two to three weeks now, but I want to keep my times low, especially for my 5K,” Mitchell said. 

Mitchell, a West Valley High School alum, is no stranger to competitive running having competed on the varsity level for both cross-country running and soccer. 

Although the Spruce Tree Classic was Mitchell’s first race of the 2019 season, he is already looking ahead at the rest of the summer. “I’ll keep training and race in whatever comes next.” 

Naomi Bailey, a rising junior and cross-country runner at West Valley, finished first on the women’s side and second overall with a time of 50:37. 

Melissa Lewis was hot on Bailey’s heels, coming in third at 50:38. Benjamin Eger finished fourth at 51:24, and William Mitchell took fifth with a time of 52 minutes, 12 seconds.

The Spruce Tree Classic has been held at the North Campus Trails since campus construction forced long-time race directors Roy Strindberg and David McDowell to move the course from its original starting point at the Patty Center.

“We moved the start of the race to the ski hut about five years ago,” said McDowell. “But it’s always included the arboretum loop.” 

During winter the UAF trails double as Nordic ski routes, often serving as courses for meets and practices. 

This year’s Spruce Tree turnout was lower than previous years, possibly as a result of heavy wildfire smoke that has kept local air unhealthy. “The most we’ve had was close to 70 people one year,” McDowell said. Nevertheless, Saturday’s race had almost twice as many runners as the 2015 Spruce Tree race, which saw an all-time low of only 27 entries. 

Contact News-Miner sports assistant Brian Ely at 459-7589