Zelezniki, Slovenia, played host to the 18th WMRA/WMA World Masters Mountain Running Championships on June 2. This year marked the 18th installment of a world championship mountain running event for to masters athletes ages 35-79.
What makes this competition unique is that the athletes race with, and score in their five-year age division. Because the event is hosted in a different location each year, the courses are never quite the same. The only constant is the distance, which ranges from seven to 11 kilometers. Some years the course is run on an up/down two-lap course on technical terrain with roots, rocks, and creek crossings. Other years the route is primarily uphill like the course this year in Slovenia, which attracted 10 athletes from the USA.
The contingent from the U.S. including first timers at the competition CJ Hitz and Rochelle Persson, as well as seasoned veterans Suzy West and Francis Burdett, who make the annual trek to the masters’ competition. Richard Ferguson summed up the masters’ athlete like this, “Older athletes are not just out on the shuffle board court. Masters mountain runners are serious athletes who are VERY well trained. Mountain racing is not for the faint of heart and these masters athletes just go to show what is possible with focus and training at any age.”
Some of this year’s U.S. finishers share their thoughts on this year’s race and offer advice for those considering the competition.
Miguel Gomez, Golden, CO, (35-39; 21st place): The Masters World Championships was one of the best experiences I have ever had. Traveling to Slovenia was an amazing experience. I could not believe how beautiful it was. The race was extremely hard, which was the fun part of it. One under estimates European races coming from the U.S. I feel that every-time I visit a new race, they get steeper. I am excited for next year’s race in Italy, I will be ready. Thank you Slovenian for hosting an amazing master race.
CJ Hitz, Colorado Springs, CO, (40-44; 27th place): I thought the course was definitely legit — tough, with varied terrain. I have to admit to being deficient in my power hiking skills. I was passed by quite a few people on the really steep stuff due to this. Humbling to say the least. It was a gorgeous course with spectacular views and it was fun mixing it up with some of the best masters mountain runners. My advice would be to find out as much about the course as you can beforehand. Then get on that kind of terrain as much as possible.
Tommy Manning, living and working in Switzerland, (40-44; First place): The course was great. It was tough, but runnable and had different terrain: parts of grass, dirt, rocks. Those comments are for the first 80% of the race. The last 2k sucked. It was steep and not as runnable. I would power-hike a few steps, tell myself I was going to run again, then only run a few steps before I was back to power-hiking. Masters competition is clearly competitive. Age 50 had the fastest time of the day. Age 45 was second. And my time beat Age 35. So, the youngest guys were not the fastest! I’m sure masters’ competition will ebb and flow, but it seems like it’s on an up right now. It will only get better with continued advertising, awareness, and articles, My advice for others considering the race…go for it. At this level and at our age, it’s not really about being competitive anyway. It’s more about camaraderie and friendships. I met some great people this weekend and was able to meet up with old friends again. I exchanged emails with two British guys at my hotel because they travel all over Europe going to races. I am going to try to meet up with them at some races next year. It’s these types of things you get when you come to a masters’ competition. I heard next year’s course is up/down, so I’m not committing right now. I don’t like the downhill as much, and would rather run uphill. I will race masters again whether it’s next year, 2020, or beyond.
Dr. Charles Glass, Guilford, CT (45-49; 27th place): Wow, what a race. I was humbled by my fellow American teammates, who have run really, really fast races in past and impressed me with their times on Saturday. It was an honor to be out there with them and all the other competitors on an awesome, but ass-kicking course. The Bright Angel Trail out of the Grand Canyon was easier than this course! That being said, I’m really happy I did it and would come back to Slovenia if they ever host it again, but maybe train a bit harder! Beautiful country, incredibly friendly hosts. Getting the team USA gear was fantastic. Just putting it on made me feel fast! And, it made me feel really part of a team, and not just an individual doing the event. If we can get a few more people to come race so that we have three per age group, then we could compete as a team, and that helps give you the extra motivation to dig deep. Fans also responded so positively along the course, cheering for team USA in so many different languages! I hope to run in 2019 in Italy if the dates work out. Finally, a mountain running haiku:
Kicked ass, steep, hot, beautiful
Can’t wait ‘til next year
Chris Grauch, Boulder, CO, (45-49; 7th place): I thought the course in Slovenia was a true mountain race. Ever steepening climbs, a variety of terrain under foot, from village to summit. To have a separate masters competition as a world event in mountain running is something truly special. To bring together so many talented runners that are a similar age makes for a stellar race/competition and great socializing. It’s also a fantastic way to see new places in the world that may have never been on the radar. My advice for anyone considering racing the masters mountain running champs is definitely do it! Whether you’re highly competitive or just want to participate, it’s worth it. I’d also recommend doing some specific training for the course because it seems the Europeans don’t mess around with their courses! I’m hoping to make the 2019 masters world champs in Italy! Looks amazing! It’s tentatively on the books.
Rochelle Persson, Colorado Springs, CO, (50-54; 5th place): I loved Slovenia! So many beautiful mountains and rolling hills covered in so many shades of green. I noticed during the race that all the women who beat me all used the same technique—hands on knees pushing when power hiking steep inclines. I would work on that if I ever decide to do this competition again, and also try not to have an upper respiratory tract infection! I am considering going to Toronto in 2019 for the World Masters Road and Track competition.
Richard Ferguson, Charlottesville, VA, (55-59; 43rd place): I thought the course was ok except for the rock near the finish. I think that took away from the running part of mountain running. Maybe a little flat on the road. It is mountain racing, so the course was that! I have run many mountain races and the course was one of the tougher ones of that distance. I thought the event in general was good. Well organized for such a variety of age groups and distances. Slovenia was a beautiful country and the people were very friendly. My advice for someone looking to compete is be prepared. Mountain racing is hard. It’s not the local 5k. But, if you train for it, the experiences will be ones you will never forget.
Additional US Finishers:
Francis Burdett, Worcester, MA, (50-54; 14th place)
Suzy West, Brattleboro, VT, (55-59, 7th place)
Nancy Hobbs, Colorado Springs, CO (55-59; 10th place)
The 2019 WMRA/WMA World Masters Mountain Running Championships will be held September 27-29 in Gagliano del Capo, Italy. Located in the Puglia region, this is a glorious setting for a mountain race. In support of gender equity, the race distances for each age group will be equal for men and women.