Written by ATRA Executive Director Nancy Hobbs.
This year’s 17th WMRA/WMA Masters Mountain Running Championships held in Pruske, Slovak Republic, on Saturday, September 2, and there was truly an international feel at the awards ceremony, with 15 countries represented on the podium, and 22 nations in the results listing.
Races began at 11:00 a.m., starting with the older age categories first. The start line was adjacent to the town’s church steeple on a large brick pathway. The next section of approximately 1 kilometer was on pavement through the village. The course then turned up a gravel pathway with the first steady climb.
Over the 600 meters of climbing, the terrain included forested path, meadows – complete with stunning views of the valley below – and single track trail. The weather conditions, along with the terrain, made for a relatively fast course for the competitors. In the days leading up to the competition, temperatures were in the 80s (F) and, after a rainy Friday evening, cooler temperatures prevailed and runners enjoyed a cool and overcast morning with temperatures in the 60s.
As expected, the category of 35 posted the fastest time over the 9.6-kilometer course with the women led by Silvia Schwaiger, Slovakia, in 44:10 and the men led by Zachary Freudenburg, The Netherlands in 38:42.
The most played of the 12 different national anthems at the ceremony, was that of Italy totaling 10 times, followed by Great Britain, Slovakia, and Germany four times each. The Star-Spangled Banner was played once to recognize the gold medal won by Flagstaff, Arizona resident Sara Wagner, in the 45-49 age group.
All five-members of the USA contingent cracked the top-ten in their respective categories. Also on the podium was Chris Grauch, 44, Boulder, Colorado, who raced to bronze in his age group. Narrowly missing the podium was ATRA’s executive director Nancy Hobbs, who finished in fourth in the 55-59 category. A solid finish was realized by Putney, Vermont’s Suzy West, 54, who was seventh in her age group, while fellow Vermonter Francis Burdett, 52, was tenth in his category.
Wagner, racing in her second masters mountain champs, (she was fourth in her age group in Wales in 2015), said of the course, “I liked the rolling cross country feel of it. The energy was so intense at the end with all the cheering in different languages. That was probably my favorite part. Running with the men (in my age group) and the other women and men in the 50s was so inspiring. I actually don’t mind getting beaten by someone in an older age group. It gives me something to reach for.
“It’s still sinking in,” said Wagner about her victory a few days after the race. “It’s beyond my expectations. A couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible. I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone and I’ve learned so much on this trip.”
Asked if she will come back next year, Wagner grinned, “Heck yeah! It’s the highlight of my year.”
West, who has competed in several of the masters champs over the years said of the course in Slovakia, “It was fast and scenic and I really liked the steep climb at the end.
“I love the masters,” continued West, “It’s fun coming into the different communities and seeing all the people come out to support the runners. Plus, there is such a sense of camaraderie and it’s fun to see the same people year after year. It’s a big party with a race and it’s a fun excuse to travel.”
Will West be at next year’s championships? “You betcha,” she said. “Anyone who likes trail and mountain running should come for this experience.”
Another perennial masters competitor, Burdett said, “Every course is totally different for the masters and this one did not disappoint. It had a variety of terrain and it was a beautiful and well-maintained course.”
Burdett’s favorite part, “The first step after the finish line.”
Burdett also plans to be back next year. “I enjoy seeing all of my mountain running friends,” he said.
Next year’s hosts from Železniki ,Slovenia, received the WMRA flag from the local organizing committee in Slovakia at the end of the awards ceremony. The 2018 event will be held in June, with the date to be announced soon.
Among the delegations in Pruske, was an enthusiastic team of athletes and volunteers from the 2019 hosts of the 19th WMRA/WMA Masters Mountain Running Championships to be held in Gagliano del Capo, Italy, in September.
Complete results from the 2017 competition can be found HERE.