America’s Best Mountain Runners Return to Challenge Stellina

For more than a quarter century elite American athletes have crossed the pond for one of Europe’s historic mountain running races, the Challenge Stellina in Susa, Italy. Impressive past American performances include World Mountain Running Championship silver medalist Dave Dunham who ran 1h22:48 in 1994. US Mountain Running Team members Paul Low and Simon Gutierrez won team gold in 2003 running 1h21:00 and 1h21:06 respectively. Seven years before winning his first of two World Mountain Running Championships, Joseph Gray finished 5th in 2009.

Other American men making up the history of Challenge Stellina who have run under 1 hour 30 minutes include Mike Casner (1996), Eric Morse (1998), Richard Schelley (2001), Mark Werner (2003) and Rickey Gates (2007).

Richard Schelley and Richard Bolt at the 1999 Challenge Stellina opening ceremonies. Photo: Dave Dunham.

Prior to 2018 the women ran a shorter 7.7 km course at Challenge Stellina. Colorado’s Kelly Lusk ran 53:49 in 2004 and 58:31 in 2003. While American women have not been as prolific in Challenge Stellina’s history, this is sure to change with this year’s select team of mountain runners.

In junior mountain running, Susa hosted the 19th edition of the WMRA’s International U18 Mountain Running Cup in 2019 where Colorado high school runners Samantha Blair (5th place), Madeleine Burns (7th place) and Maggi Congdon (18th place) took home the team bronze medal on a 4.1 km course around the historic town center.

Challenge Stellina

The 2019 U.S. U18 Mountain Running Team at the Arco di Augusto in Susa. Photo: Richard Bolt.

On August 28, 2022, for the first time an official senior U.S. team will toe the Challenge Stellina starting line under the 8th century Arco di Augusto (arch) before racing 14.3 kilometers uphill for over 1500 vertical meters to the Costa Rossa meadow, surrounded by mountain peaks and overlooking the Po Valley.

With support from the Italian Athletics Federation (FIDAL), the 34th edition of Challenge Stellina will host an International Meeting for Nations for the top mountain runners and their national teams. These athletes will compete for team titles as well as over 5000 euro in prize money plus bonuses for course records and finishing under aggressive time standards (1:20 for men and 1:35 for women).

Taking home course record bragging rights and prize money will mean besting times set by multiple world champions Jonathan Wyatt (NZL/2004) 1h14:37 and Andrea Mayr (AUT/2021) 1h29:41. Wyatt also owns 9 of the 10 best times at Challenge Stellina (!!).

Challenge Stellina

Markers along the historic Challenge Stellina course. Photo: Richard Bolt.

Answering the call for funding this unique international invitational for mountain runners, the non-profit American Trail Running Association stepped up and will fully fund this official USA Track & Field team.

The 2022 U.S. Mountain Running Team for Challenge Stellina will be:

Grayson Murphy | Bozeman, MT
Grayson is the 2019 World Mountain Running Champion, won Italy’s classic Trofeo Nasego race in 2022 and set a course record at Spain’s Canfranc-Canfranc. A talented track athlete, Grayson holds a 5000 meter PR of 15:25.84 and ran a 9:25.37 in the 3000 meter steeplechase at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials.

Sponsors: Saucony, Ultimate Direction, Nuun, Coros and InsideTracker.

“It means so much for me to make this US team and I am grateful for the opportunity to compete at the Challenge Stellina. I am looking forward to showing up and giving my best on race day and hopefully helping the team to secure a podium finish! I love the fast European style of mountain racing which, coupled with the spectacular course views, I am sure will make for a memorable experience.”

Follow Grayson on Instagram and Youtube.

Grayson Murphy

Grayson Murphy. Photo: Marco Gulberti.

Joseph Gray | Colorado Springs, CO
Joseph is the 2016 and 2019 World Mountain Running Champion and won the 2022 USATF Vertical Mountain Running Championships at Loon Mountain. He has won 21 national championships and been on numerous international teams. At the Top of His Sport, Joseph Is Also Focused on the Next Generation.

Sponsors: Hoka, Tanri, Ultimate Direction, Momentous, Never Second, Casio, Foxriver Socks and GO Sleeves.

“Making any team is a huge blessing and a reminder of the dedication it takes to excel in athletics. I have run Challenge Stellina once before but I’m mostly looking forward to running the historic course as when I ran here before we ran the alternative route. There was a washout that prevented us from challenging the original course.”

Follow Joseph on Instagram.

Joseph Gray. Photo: Joe Viger.

Lauren Gregory | Fayetteville, AR
Lauren is the 2022 USATF Vertical Mountain Running Champion and won the bronze medal in the U20 race at the 2017 World Mountain Running Championships. A student at Arkansas, she has a college best time of 15:48.38 for 5000m outdoors. Lauren was the NCAA silver medalist in the 3,000m indoor (9:01.67) and earned first-team All-America honors.

“To be able to toe the line with some of the best in the sport is an honor and to also represent the US just elevates the whole experience. Excited for an opportunity to give it my all for the team and explore the beautiful landscape.”

Follow Lauren on Instagram.

Lauren Gregory at the 2022 USATF Vertical Mountain Running Championships. Photo: Mike Scott.

Daniel Curts | Norwich, VT
Dan is a relative newcomer to mountain and trail running but that didn’t spot him from taking 2nd place at the 2022 USATF Vertical Mountain Running Championships at Loon Mountain. What he lacks in experience Dan makes up for with raw speed. He ran 29:36.15 at 10,000 meters, 13:38 for 5000 meter and ran under 4 minutes for the mile.

Sponsors: None (but he’s sure to get picked up real quick!)

“This race will be my first foray into international mountain racing. I’m excited to travel (never have) and really excited to race the Europeans in their home mountains. I’m super looking forward to figuring out how to race over in Europe. How to approach the competition and what that will require me to do in training.”

Follow Dan on Instagram.

Dan Curts at the 2022 USATF Vertical Mountain Running Championships. Photo: Mike Scott.

Rachel Tomajczyk | Williams, AZ
Rachel was 2nd at the 2022 USATF Mountain Running Championships at Whiteface Mountain on July 2nd AND 2nd place at the 2022 USATF Vertical Mountain Running Championships at Loon Mountain on July 10. She was also the 2021 USATF Half Marathon Trail Champion, 2021 US Mountain Running Team Member and finished 2nd place at the 2021 USATF Mountain Running Championships.

Sponsor: Merrell

“Making a USA Team is so special. I knew I loved running from a young age so being on a US team has been a dream of mine since I was a kid. We have a great team going to Italy this year so I’m excited to represent the USA and help our team to a high finish against international competition. I hear Stellina is beautiful so I’m excited to see the beauty on the course and I’m excited for some really good competition over there too”

Follow Rachel on Instagram.

Rachel Tomajczyk at the 2022 USATF Mountain Running Championships. Photo: Mike Scott.

Andy Wacker | Boulder, CO
Andy won the 2022 USATF Mountain Running Championships at Whiteface Mountain and finished 3rd at the 2022 USATF Vertical Mountain Running Championships at Loon Mountain. Andy is a 7-time US Mountain Running Team Member, past winner of the USATF Half Marathon Trail Championships and helped the U.S. men’s team win a gold medal at the 2016 World Mountain Running Championships in Bulgaria.

Sponsors: Salomon, Ciele, Darn Tough and Suunto.

“It is always an honor to represent Team USA. I am grateful to be on the team and excited to race alongside strong teammates! I am really looking forward to competing in Italy, in such a prestigious, historical race. Italy is really a world epicenter for mountain running, with amazing courses, fans and organization. After racing in three world championships (IAU 50k trail, Premana classic mountain and long distance mountain) in Italy in 2017, I really can’t wait to return.”

Follow Andy on Instagram and Facebook.

USATF Mountain Running

2022 USATF Mountain Running Champion Andy Wacker. Photo: Paul Kirsch.

Race History: The partisan battle of the Grange Sevine took place on 26 august 1944 in the Susa Valley where the 4th Alpina Stellina Division assisted by a team of the 42nd Garibaldi Brigade under the guide partisan commander Giulio Bolaffi fought for the freedom of the democratic and anti-fascist Italian homeland. Giulio Bolaffi’s descendants have funded the Challenge Stellina since its inception in 1989. Challenge Stellina honors all Italian partisans and their allies who fought against Mussolini’s fascists and German Nazi forces during the Second World War.

Honoring the partisans at the Challenge Stellina finish-line. Photo: Richard Bolt.

Tags: , , ,