Gregory wins her first National Championship; Gray wins his 21st National Championship
Nestled in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, Loon Mountain’s base lodge bustled with activity in Sunday’s early morning hours as hundreds of runners gathered for the first-ever USATF Vertical Mountain Running Championships and selection race for two international events – Italy’s Challenge Stellina and Thailand’s World Mountain & Trail Running Championships. The top two finishers would represent the U.S. at Stellina in August and the winners would earn a spot on the U.S. team for Thailand in November.
Hosted by the 16th annual Loon Mountain Race, the USATF Vertical Mountain Running Championship featured a 6.1-mile course on dirt roads, trails and steep, grassy slopes with over 3000 feet of vertical gain. Under clear blue skies and temperatures in the high 40s, nearly 800 runners were geared up for separate women’s and men’s starts at 7:30 AM and 8:00 AM respectively knowing the day would get warmer and the long climb lay ahead.
Predicting the top finishers would be a challenge as both experienced world championship veterans and mountain running newbies from the worlds of track, cross country, Nordic skiing and biathlon toed the starting line. Among the starters were several elites who also raced the USATF Mountain Running Championships at Whiteface Mountain just last weekend.
Early in the women’s race, Lauren Gregory (Fayetteville, AR) would battle Rachel Tomajczyk (Williams, AZ) and Alexandra Lawson (Craftsbury Commons, VT) across the lower slopes of the mountain. All had serious athletic credentials; Gregory was bronze medalist at the 2017 Junior World Mountain Running Championships and has seriously fast times on the track for the Arkansas Razorbacks. While new to mountain running, Tomajczyk finished 2nd at the 2021 USATF Mountain Running Championships and 2nd at the 2022 USATF Mountain Running Championships just last weekend at Whiteface Mountain. Could she break her second place streak and take the top step of the podium? She’d have to contend with Lawson, one of the top U23 Nordic skiers in the country.
Upper Walking Boss (UWB) – the 1 km long final climb with a 40 percent grade – would be decisive with Gregory opening a big gap on Tomajczyk and Lawson and continuing to extend the gap to the finish line to take her first USATF Mountain Running Championships in 58:36. The battle for second was close all the way up UWB but Tomajczyk would prevail and take 2nd place (again) in 1:00:24 with Lawson taking 3rd in 1:00:30.
With her win, Gregory will represent the U.S. at the historic Challenge Stellina in Susa, Italy on August 28, and the World Mountain & Trail Running Championships this November in Thailand. Tomajczyk will join Gregory to represent the U.S. at the Challenge Stellina.
Women’s Top 10:
1 – Lauren Gregory (22) Fayetteville, AR – 58:36
2 – Rachel Tomajczyk (29) Williams, AZ – 1:00:24
3 – Alexandra Lawson (23) Craftsbury Common, VT – 1:00:30
4 – Amber Ferreira (40) Concord, NH – 1:02:08
5 – Mary Sketch Bryant (29) Richmond, VA – 1:02:30
6 – Megan Lacy (28) Boise, ID – 1:03:13
7 – Caitlin Patterson (32) Portland, ME – 1:03:40
8 – Lila Gaudrault (19) Cape Elizabeth, ME – 1:05:10
9 – Corey Dowe (29) North Conway, NH – 1:06:12
10 – Alicia Cutter (26) East Bridgewater, MA – 1:08:45
In the men’s race Joseph Gray (Colorado Springs, CO) was a strong favorite for the win but would face a serious challenge from last weekend’s newly minted USATF Mountain Running Champion Andy Wacker (Boulder, CO), track standout Daniel Curts (Norwich, VT), 2021 US Mountain Running Team member Edward Owens (San Francisco, CA) and a number of other experienced mountain/trail runners.
When the men’s field got to Upper Walking Boss (UWB), Joseph Gray had a commanding lead and looked on track for another national championship title. As happened in the women’s race, it looked like there’d be a fight for 2nd place with Curts having a slight lead over Wacker who had a comfortable minute on Owens.
Little would change in the 12 minutes it would take the men to ascend UWB. Gray would win the inaugural USATF Vertical Mountain Running Championships in 47:19. Curts would stretch his lead slightly over Wacker for 2nd place in 48:21. Wacker only had the 6th best time up UWB but had a strong enough early race to hold on to 3rd place in 48:53.
Men’s Top 10:
1 – Joseph Gray (38) Colorado Springs, CO – 47:19
2 – Daniel Curts (26) Norwich, VT – 48:21
3 – Andy Wacker (33) Boulder, CO – 48:53
4 – Edward Owens (28) San Francisco, CA – 49:52
5 – Mike Popejoy (36) Flagstaff, AZ – 50:49
6 – Garrett Heath (36) Seattle, WA – 50:57
7 – Lee Berube (31) Syracuse, NY – 51:00
8 – Mason Coppi (24) Ladera Ranch, CA – 51:48
9 – Bijan Mazaheri (28) Glendale, CA – 51:57
10 – Eric Blake (43) West Hartford, CT – 52:44
Read more about all the elite runners in our race preview article
Overall Loon Mountain Race results are available on millenniumrunning.com
Photos by official race photographer Joe Viger are available here: https://www.jvsportsphoto.com/f330233464
Race image from Upper Walking Boss by Richard Bolt are on Google Photos.