Gray nets 4th USATF Mountain Running Championships title; newcomer Bracy sets the pace for the women.
Today was a picture-perfect New England day for the nearly 600 runners who took on the challenging course at the Loon Mountain Race, which hosted the USATF Mountain Running Championships. Not only were USATF champions named, but the event also served as the US Mountain Running Team selection race and the Collegiate Mountain Running Championships.
Earning yet another national championship title, his tenth, as well as his ninth consecutive mountain running team spot, Colorado Springs resident Joe Gray, 32, bested a stellar field of veteran mountain runners and newcomers alike.
“It went out quite hard from the gun, then slowed a bit,” said Gray. “It quickly became a strategic race. We stayed together until about the halfway mark – the top five guys, all bunched together. We were all kind of working together at that point. I took the lead at about four miles on the first climb where it started to thin out.
“I got a gap, but at the top of that first climb, I looked back and I could see the other guys. The gap I formed initially kept until the gondola section,” added Gray.
Asked where he knew he had the race won, Gray said, “When I took the lead, I figured I had enough in the tank to win it. When I made my move I was confident I could keep it (the lead) and get second or first.”
Through his mountain running career, Gray has seen the dynamics of the team change and is looking forward to again representing the US in international competition at the World Mountain Running Championships in Bulgaria this September. “I’m excited to run with this group of guys,” said Gray. “I think we’ll make USA proud.”
Going into the race, Gray had his eye on the competition, most notably Eric Blake, a seven-time US Mountain Running Team member who finished second to Gray at Mount Washington on June 18. “In the top 10, there were really no surprises where the guys could or should be,” said Gray. “Eric was the main guy I was worried about, especially after how he ran at Mount Washington. I think he was the biggest threat today.”
Blake, who finished seventh just one spot shy of his eight mountain team, started out in a conservative position in about 15th place and moved up throughout the race passing guys on the climbs, his specialty. At the bottom of the downhill section just past the gondola and with one mile to go, Blake had moved to seventh behind Andy Wacker who was still in recovery phase after battling the stomach flu just a week prior to the championships. Gray watched the pair climb Upper Walking Boss for the final spot on the six-member squad, “Eric was catching him (Wacker), but Andy was able to turn it on. It was exciting to see the race unfold.”
Now Gray turns his sights on Bulgaria. “You instantly start thinking how your team will do at Worlds,” said Gray. “That’s the first thing I think about when my teammates come in.”
The biggest strength for this year’s squad according to Gray is experience. “Everyone in the top six have had a long career of running superb. They are tried and true. If everyone runs well on race day, that will equate to a good result.”
What did the veteran mountain runner tell his fellow team members? “I let them know obviously Italy has a history. That’s the team to look out for and every team out of Africa,” said Gray. “Every place needs to work on the day. It’s important to let everyone know they matter on the team. It can’t be two or three, it has to be all six guys running well to compete.”
A mature and contemplative Gray talked about his longevity in the sport and his win today, “It’s still soaking in for me. It’s my tenth national title, my ninth mountain team. I never thought I’d accomplish all these stats – my head is in a cloud. It’s a real special moment. A lot of my “family” in New England is here to witness this, so it’s a really special day.”
For his win, Gray pocketed $700, and an additional $100 as the fastest climber on Upper Walking Boss (seven minutes and 27 seconds from the bottom of the Boss to the finish line). He raced the grueling 10.6-kilometer course comprised of dirt, grass, wide pathways, single track, and rocky sections with an average grade between 10-12 percent gaining 3100 feet from start to finish in a time of 49:12. Just over a minute back for second was Brett Hales, 29, Layton, UT, timed in 50:18 who earned $500 and his first mountain team spot. In third, fellow newcomer Matt Daniels, 28, Evergreen, Colorado with a time of 50:37, sealed a spot on the team and a $1000 payday, $250 for the USATF championship division and $750 as the top collegiate finisher.
Rounding out the top four was another mountain running newbie Hayden Hawks, 25, Cedar City, UT, in a time of 50:50. Hawks earned $500 as the second in the Collegiate championships and $125 for his overall USATF placement. In fifth place, yet another newcomer to the mountains, David Fuentes, 29, Austin, TX, posted a time of 51:07 to earn a spot on his first mountain team and $75. Wacker, 27, Boulder, finished in sixth to earn a spot on his second mountain running team with a time of 51:14. Wacker also represented Team USA on two US Long Distance Mountain Running Teams (2015 and 2016).
Like the men’s race, the women, who started one hour after the men, had a fast start. Eventual winner Addie Bracy, 29, Longmont, Colorado, in her debut trail race said, “It was my first trail race so I had no idea what to expect. It went out a little faster than I thought it would. I settled in about third for the first mile and went to second around the second mile, about 50 meters behind the leader (Bethany Sachtleben). On the first major climb I made a move and just hoped I could hold it.
I looked back a few times…I was a little worried.”
Bracy hadn’t seen the entire course before race day. “I ran the first couple miles yesterday, but didn’t know what the last couple miles looked like. I studied the course profile, but that last K was a lot worse than it looked on the profile,” said Bracy. “It was brutal. I power hiked (on Upper Walking Boss), and started running the last 100 meters over the crest to the finish.”
Her win, in a time of 57:25, earned her a national championship title and a spot on her first US Mountain Running Team. Bracy, whose prior running experience includes track (she missed qualifying for this year’s Olympic Track Trials by a mere three seconds), has also represented the US twice before at the Bupa Great Edinburgh International Cross Country Cross Country Championships in 2012 and 2013.
“My teammate Matt Daniels suggested I run this race about three weeks ago after I called my track season over. I decided to do it,” said Bracy “I don’t think I’m ready to leave the track, but the mountain championships was fun and I’m really excited about Bulgaria.”
To get ready, Bracy will get pointers from fellow Coloradoans Daniels and Wacker. “I’m friends with Matt and Andy so I’ll tag along with them,” said Bracy. “I’ll change my training a bit.”
Asked about her goals at Worlds, Bracy said, “I have no concept. I want to be in the best place I can to represent the US as best as I can.”
Less than one minute behind Bracy was second-place finisher and the top collegiate runner, Bethany Sachtleban, 24, Manassas, VA, timed in 58:17. With a New England fan base, Kim Nedeau, 36, Leverett, MA, was third to the finish line in 59:04, followed by Ladia Albertson-Junkans, 30, Seattle, WA, in 59:45.
In fifth, just one spot shy of her first mountain team was uphill specialist Kim Dobson, 32, Eagle, Colorado who finished in 1:00:20. The Pikes Peak Ascent record-holder and four-time winner of the Mount Washington Road Race (among her many climbing honors), earned a $100 bonus for posting the fastest women’s time on Upper Walking Boss. Her time of 8:34 landed her 13th among the men’s field.
Kasie Enman, 36, Huntington, VT, 2011 World Mountain Running Champion, finished in sixth, just 29 seconds behind Dobson. Rounding out the top ten women were Alayna Szuch, 12, Evergreen, CO, in 1:01:20, Caitlin Ptterson, 26, Craftsbury Commons, VT, with a time of 1:02:29, Taylor Ward, 25, Auburn, AL, who was also the second collegiate finisher timed in 1:04:47, and Dani Moreno, 24, Santa Barbara, CA in 1:05:14. Third collegiate finisher for the women was Amanda Lee, 27, Boulder, Colorado, in 1:07:21.
Of the Collegiate Mountain Running Championships, which celebrated its third running this year, co-founder of the Collegiate Running Association Steve Taylor said, “What an incredible day. It’s awesome to see three collegiate make the team. The vision of the CRA, from when we started, was to help support the US Mountain Team. What happened today, we thought could happen…three athletes ran their way onto the team.
“We had 55 finishers this year, that’s double from two years ago. It’s a very, very exciting thing,” said Taylor. “As a non-profit, everything we do is by social media. Once our fundraising picks up, we’ll be able to make even more of an impact. We’re ecstatic for the future.”
The women’s and prize money breakdown in both the USATF Championships and Collegiate Championships mirrored that of the men.
First in the USATF masters’ division for the men was Chris Grauch, 43, Boulder, CO, with a time of 56:19, and for the women, Regina Loiacano, 43, Gloucester, MA, timed in 1:06:11. Lociano’s time was a mere 35 seconds ahead of runner-up masters’ finisher Anita Ortiz, 52, Eagle, CO. Both Grauch and Loiacano earned $100 for their top masters’ placings.
Additional USATF age group winners and complete results can be found at: http://www.millenniumrunning.com.
To follow the US Mountain Running Team visit www.usmrt.com. For more details on the US mountain running program and upcoming USATF Championships, visit www.usatf.org. To support the US Mountain Running Team, donations are accepted by the American Trail Running Association.