Amy Van Alstine described herself as surprised or amazed six times during a 5-minute interview Saturday after she won the most significant race of her young professional career.

The former University of Richmond All-American captured the national championship at the USA Cross Country championships in an 8K race over the rolling terrain at Flatirons Golf Course. The crowds watching Saturday's races were significantly smaller than the 10,000 estimated to have turned out for the same event in Boulder in 2007.

One of Van Alstine's surprises was that she never really found herself trailing former University of Colorado star and two-time Olympian Jenny Simpson. The two ran together in a small lead pack for more than half the race before Van Alstine made the decision to go to the front because she was feeling good physically and confident mentally and emotionally.

"It's great. I haven't won any big races," Van Alstine said moments after crossing the finish line in 27 minutes, 35 seconds.

Simpson finished 22 seconds behind in 27:57 and used her famous kick to pass several competitors in the final kilometer. Mattie Suver finished third just behind Simpson in 28:01.

The race was a significant step up in distance for Simpson, who is a world champion in the 1,500 meters.

Simpson said because she hasn't raced longer distances since college four years ago she tried to take cues from her fellow racers who regularly compete in similar races to Saturday's championship event. She said, possibly hinting at a return effort in next year's race also scheduled for Boulder, that if she had another opportunity to compete in the race she would spend more time training on grass.

"I really wanted to step out and win today, but this just goes to show there are other amazing American women training every day to be good at this and you can't just step out and beat them," Simpson said.

Simpson skipped one of the most prestigious meets in track and field this week to race in Boulder. She could have raced the mile at the Millrose Games in New York City instead.

Former Buff Jenny Simpson, left, and eventual winner Amy Van Alstine, right, keep the pace during Saturday’s USA Cross Country Championship at
Former Buff Jenny Simpson, left, and eventual winner Amy Van Alstine, right, keep the pace during Saturday's USA Cross Country Championship at Flatirons Golf Course. More photos: www.dailycamera.com (Cliff Grassmick / Daily Camera)

"I loved racing here even though I didn't come out with the result I wanted," Simpson said. "...I wanted to be here. I don't regret it at all. I'm really, really happy I got to race here."

Van Alstine changed coaches in December and said it was initially a difficult transition because of the change in training style. She said she has had to learn to be more patient and that served her well Saturday.

"I thought we went out pretty conservative," she said. "It felt really comfortable probably through 5K and then I don't know. I expected someone to go, but nobody really went. So I tried to pick it up a little bit. ... I just felt really good. I was kind of surprised Jenny wasn't in front of me."

Van Alstine was obviously well aware of Simpson's accomplishments before the race and knew Simpson would be excited to race in Boulder, despite the jump up in distance. She said she went into the race not allowing herself to be intimidated.

She said that mindset and working out in Flagstaff, Ariz., recently helped her perform at her best, but she never felt she had the race won until she crossed the finish line.

Contact BuffZone.com Writer Kyle Ringo at ringok@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/KyleRingo