Written by USATF Mountain, Ultra & Trail Running Council Chairperson Nancy Hobbs. Photos by USATF Championship Liaison Richard Bolt. Nancy and Richard also work for the American Trail Running Association.
The largest field in the 31-year history of the Cranmore Mountain Race enjoyed temperatures in the mid-50s under cloudy skies at the Cranmore Mountain Resort, which hosted the USATF Mountain Running Championships today in North Conway, New Hampshire.
More than 300 runners participated in the day’s events including an introduction to mountain running in the form of a challenging 5-kilometer Citizen’s Race, followed by two laps of the same course for both a men’s 10K and a women’s 10K.
In the men’s race, Joseph Gray was at the front of the stampeding pack, which started on a short, flat section before turning immediately uphill for the first steep climb of the course…a course which boasted more than 3000 feet of climbing with average grades of 17 percent, the highest of which was 53%. Gray, 33, Colorado Springs, never wavered and crossed the line in 45:49, just 23 seconds ahead of second place finisher Patrick Smyth, 30, Santa Fe, NM.
“Initially, I just wanted to make the team,” said Gray. “Then, after I saw the course, my goal was to win.” Gray described the course in one word, “tricky.”
With his victory, Gray also made his 10th consecutive US Mountain Running Team and will travel with the squad of four men, four women, four junior men and four junior women for the World Mountain Running Championships in Premana, Italy on July 30, in the hopes of defending his World Championship title.
“In my opinion, I’m not the front runner for this type of distinction (up/down course), and for this type of course, I may not be the favorite. But, I know you can have a target on your back,” said Gray. “I like pressure. The more pressure, the better. It’s not a problem to me. I’m just excited to be on another team.
“I’m more intrigued about doing good and the team doing good,” said Gray. Team USA will also be defending the men’s gold-medal title from last year’s Championships.
“It’s a very stout team,” said Gray of this year’s squad. “I kind of figured it would be. This was a stacked field – you got a good solid group of guys that could do anything – up, down, road, flat, cross, track. They can flat out run. Talented runners across the charts.”
Today’s race provided a good experience for the team to run as a group with Smyth, Brett Hales, and Andy Wacker finishing within a minute and a half of each other. Both Hales and Wacker were on the team with Gray in 2017, and Smyth was on the team in 2014.
“We got four guys who could potentially medal, you can’t go wrong with a team like that,” said Gray.
Like Gray, Smyth was in the race to win. “I wanted to win,” said Smyth. “I’m happy with the effort because I ran my race, I ran my game plan, but it just didn’t work out today. I stayed back early on – Andy, Joe, Brett pushed the pace hard from the start and I wanted to sit back and see what developed on the first lap.
“I previewed the course yesterday and knew I had to be patient,” continued Smyth who was in third after the first lap behind Gray and Hales. “The ups were my strength today. I passed Brett on the climb going into the second lap, and I closed the gap quite a bit on Joe on the second lap, but not enough.”
Smyth, who used the word “unforgiving” for the course said, “The whole time you had to be engaged. The cat track section at the top was so short that there wasn’t time to regroup before you went screaming down the hill. It was a good course, especially what I’ve heard is on tap in Italy – technical up, technical down.”
Unlike Gray and Smyth, Hales didn’t preview the course. “I said to Paul Kirsch (course director), last night, ‘I’m blissfully happy not knowing what’s in store.’” Hales, 30, Layton, UT, used the word “extreme,” to describe the course.
“Fortunately, I came out standing up. A lot of guys didn’t (there were lots of tumbles and falls on the sometimes slippery terrain),” said Hales. “My goal was top four. I knew the caliber of guys that were in it, and I knew that the top four would make a good team. I had Italy on my mind.
“From the first 400 meters in, it was four of us. I passed Pat coming down on the first lap and I kind of saw my opportunity on the second climb back up and Pat got me,” said Hales. “I didn’t foresee much change after the last climb. At one point, I could hear Andy behind me cheering me on.”
As to making his second consecutive US Mountain Running Team, Hales said, “I’m so excited. The resumes of the top four are amazing. I think we have the strongest team. Three guys from last year and add a guy like Pat.”
The youngest on the squad at 28, Wacker, who lives and trains in Boulder, CO, described the course as “fun.”
His favorite part of the course echoed his playful spirit, “Running up and over the top of a boulder at the very top of the highest point on the course,” said Wacker. “On this kind of course, you have to know how to pace yourself. I did well to know how much to dish out so I didn’t blow up in the first climb,” explained Wacker, who in all seriousness added, “My goal was to make the team. Mission accomplished.
“The effort was good,” continued Wacker. “It went out fast. At the top of the first climb, there were a few guys hanging on, but then the four of us pulled away. I was in second for a lot of the first climb, then fourth most of the way.”
Asked if he felt team spirit, Wacker said, “You start to know who would be on the team. I want to see the best caliber. It’s mostly about having the best team in Italy in July. We’ve all (four) made and competed at a World Mountain Running Championship. To have Joe returning gold medalist, and two of us on last year’s team and Pat, we have a really solid team.”
On the women’s side, three of the team members are veteran team members with Addie Bracy, 30, a bronze-medal team member from last year’s squad, Allie McLaughlin, 26, Nashville, TN, individual bronze medalist form 2014, and Kasie Enman, 37, Hungington, VT, 2011 World Champion. Only Caitlin Patterson, 27, Craftsbury Commons, VT, is a newcomer to the squad.
Bracy, sporting a small gash in her upper thigh at the finish, called the course, “engaging.” Bracy’s time over the challenging course was 53:56. Her main goal on the day, “To try and make the team. I wanted to win, but I raced last weekend (a five hour Skymarathon effort in Europe), so I wasn’t sure how I’d feel.
“Allie took it out fast. I wasn’t happy about that,” said Bracy. “I was behind Allie and Caitlin on the first climb. I passed them on the climb. The rest of the way, Allie was kinda right there. She was present the whole time. The pace was honest, I think were were both pushing each other, we never settled in. I really, really liked the climbing. The footing was really good for me. I struggled a little on the downhills. There was some standing water, which made the course a bit slick.”
As to the team prospects in Italy, “I’m excited. Both Kasie and I are both doing the short and the long distance (August 6 is the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships, also in Premana). Kasie is obviously really experienced. I think we have a more experienced team than last year when all of us were first timers.”
Bracy said her biggest asset for this year’s Championships is knowledge. “This year I know more what to expect and how to train,” she said.
McLaughlin, who finished second to Bracy in 54:23, is all about the red, white, and blue. In fact, she has a parachute she is bringing to Italy donning these three colors. “If I make the team,” Allie said prior to the race, “I’m going skydiving!”
It was only two weeks ago that Allie booked her flight, and only on race morning did she register to compete. “After the half marathon (April’s Tennessee Rock and Roll which she won in 1:22:51), I thought about racing the Mountain Championships. I’ve been doing a lot of road running, and my uphill fitness has not been as much as it was when I was living in Colorado doing the Incline.”
McLaughlin, who described the course as “exhilarating,” said, “Addie set the pace well. She’s a great runner to follow.” She added, “It hurt, no matter what!”
Third-place finisher Enman was timed in 56:05. Still in recovery mode from her win at the Vermont City Marathon last weekend, Enman described the course as “Tougheriffic.”
“My A goal was to get in that top four and make the team. My B goal was to walk away in one piece,” said Enman. “I loved the way the climb was split into two segments, first steep then steeper. It helped mentally to be able to break it down. And good old New England style downhill singletrack is my bread and butter, so I enjoyed that – although I didn’t feel like I was able to execute those as well as usual today because my legs weren’t fully under me.”
This, a factor from her recent marathon. “I just generally had a higher level of fatigue, as you tend to six days after a road marathon. And, I was coming in with a lack of specific training for this. The good news is that I can now wholly focus on Worlds for the next two months,” said Enman.
As to the team’s prospects in Italy, Enman said, “I think we’ll definitely be strong contenders for a medal in Italy. Our team has a perfect mix of experience and potential. I’m excited to have another Vermonter out there with us and to get to know Addie and Allie better.”
That other Vermonter is newcomer to the team, Caitlin Patterson, who, although not experienced on the world mountain stage, has seen time on the ski trails in the Nordic World Cup.
Finishing with a time of 56:42, Patterson said, “I decided (to race) a few days ago for the fun of it. It’s good for my skiing to be in good running form. Making the team was an unexpected bonus.”
Considering herself better at uphill, Patterson finished eighth last year at the 2016 USATF Mountain Running Championships at Loon Mountain, she said she held on just fine on the downhill. “This one was good,” said Patterson, who described the course as “relentless.”
“My style is not to start super fast, but I also didn’t want to get left behind,” said Patterson. “I started out in seventh or eighth. There were some fast starters. I was fifth halfway up the climb, then fourth. I kept that place to the finish. I was close to Kasie on the first climb, and then she pulled a little away.
“I’m happy with my effort,” continued Patterson. “I think I could say I’m especially happy about how I handled the downhills. I didn’t lose a lot of ground.”
In addition to the USATF Championships division, the Collegiate Mountain Running Championships were concurrently held with Smyth taking the men’s title and Corey Dowe, 23, Barrington, NH, taking the women’s title.
Vin Lananna, USATF President, was on site to support the event. Lananna was the official race starter and was on hand at the awards ceremony to present each of the USATF awards including top ten men and women overall, teams, and the following USATF masters age group champions: 40-44, Jim Johnson, 40, Madison, NH, and Regina Loiacano, 44, Gloucester, MA; 45-49 Tim Van Orden, 49, Bennington, VT, and Sara Wagner, 45, Flagstaff, AZ; 50-54 Dave Dunham, 53, Bradford, MA, and Suzy West, 54, Brattleboro, VT; 55-59 Stephen Reed, 59, Penacook, NH, and Dawn Heinrich, 55, Wolfeboro, NH; 60-64 Paul Bazanchuk, 62, Center Conway, NH, and Lisa Doucett, 61, Andover, MA; 65-69 Richard Miller, 66, Barnstead, NH; 70-74 Fred Ross, III, 70, Vernon, VT. Junior USATF Champion was Cormac Leah, 12, Greensboro, VT. Complete results are at: http://www.millenniumrunning.com/results-cranmore-mountain-race-2017/22082#/results::1496536163145
acidotic Racing (aR) was the event organizer with Chris Dunn and Paul Kirsch serving as race directors. Richard Bolt was the USATF liaison for the event.