This past Sunday, the Gnar Gnar trail race, presented by Go Beyond Racing, hosted the 2021 USA Track & Field (USATF) Mountain Running Championships. The Nike Trail-sponsored race took place at the Mt Hood SkiBowl resort with scenic views of nearby Mount Hood, Oregon. Despite poor air quality due to wildfires in the days leading up to the event, the air cleared enough for the races to kick-off as scheduled with over 240 runners toeing the start line at 3,600 feet above sea level.
The men’s and women’s races were full of highly competitive athletes including 2019 World Mountain Running Champions Grayson Murphy and Joseph Gray, 2011 World Mountain Running Champion Max King, a dozen other US Team veterans, as well as elite up-and-comers relatively new to mountain running. Read our pre race interviews with several top mountain runners and watch them answer the question “what’s the elevation of Mt Hood” in the video below.
The Gnar Gnar served as the sole selection race for the US Mountain Running Team scheduled to compete at the World Mountain and Running Championships in Chiang Mai, Thailand in February 10-13, 2022. Grayson Murphy and Joseph Gray would earn automatic spots on the team as the top Americans from the 2019 World Mountain Running Championship. The remaining three spots would go to the top three finishers of this race (or the fourth finisher should Murphy and Gray place in the top three).
Murphy’s Solo Win and The Close Battle For US Team Spots
The women’s race went out quickly from the start line at the base of the Skibowl Ski Resort in Government Camp, OR. The top women jostled for positions on narrow mountain-bike singletrack switchbacks and began to string out by the top of the first climb near the first mile marker. Grayson Murphy (Bozeman, MT) left nothing to chance and went out with a blistering pace, determined to crack the rest of the field. Only Janelle Lincks (Thornton, CO) attempted to hold her pace and was on Murphy’s heels for the first climb before falling back. Murphy continued to push the pace until she was all alone. She led to the course high point at roughly 5,000 feet and was unstoppable on the downhill. Her winning time of 43:22 broke the course record by almost nine minutes and she finished almost three minutes in front of second place Rachel Johnson (Lynchburg, VA).
The remaining three US Team spots were tightly contested throughout the race with second through sixth place finishing all within a minute of each other. Newcomers to mountain running Megan Lacy (Boise, ID) and Anna Gibson (Teton Village, WY) stayed in the top group to the first climb, as well as veteran US Team athletes Allie McLaughlin (Colorado Springs, CO), Sam Lewis (Moscow, ID) and newly crowned USATF 50 km Trail Champion Kimber Mattox (Bend, OR). Other top athletes near the front of the race early on included Bailey Kowalczyk (Nederland, CO), Tabor Scholl (Louisville, CO) and Anna Dalton (Anchorage, AK). A fast descent on a wide forest service road followed the first climb and led the runners to steeper climbs on a mix of singletrack trail, ski slopes and rocky service road, which topped out at the course high point at just past mile four.
After reaching the high point, it was all downhill for two miles on dusty singletrack to the finish. Rachel Johnson, Bailey Kowalcyz and Megan Lacy finished second, third and fourth respectively to round out the US Team spots. Kowalcyz said of her incredible race performance and making her first US team, “I had so much fun out there today, rekindling my love for speed and getting reacquainted with it! I’ve been racing longer distances lately and it was refreshing and fun to get on such a fast course with such a stacked field of women! The first climb was a little bit of a cluster trying to find a good position but I felt in control and strong going into the main climb. I found my way to fourth and climbed strong, with the intention of hopefully picking off the two in front of me on the downhill. I caught one! I had so much fun running downhill, and that was definitely my favorite part. It was a very runnable and fast course and I was so happy with third today!”
Top ten USATF Mountain Running Championship women’s race finishers:
- Grayson Murphy – 26 (Salt Lake City, UT) 43:22 ($750)
- Rachel Johnson – 28 (Lynchburg, VA) 46:11 ($500)
- Bailey Kowalczyk – 25 (Nederland, CO) 46:22 ($400)
- Megan Lacy – 27 (Boise, ID) 46:26 ($300)
- Anna Gibson – 22 (Teton Village, WY) 46:49 ($250)
- Allie McLaughlin – 30 (Colorado Springs, CO) 47:07
- Janelle Lincks – 27 (Thornton, CO) 47:49
- Sam Lewis – 27 (Moscow, ID) 48:09
- Anna Dalton – 31 (Anchorage, AK) 48:28
- Kimber Mattox – 32 (Bend, OR) 48:37
Full Women’s Results: https://www.hubertiming.com/results/2021GnarGnarWomens#individual
Gray Repeats and King’s Still King
In contrast to the women’s race, the top men could not shake each other on the first climb. Joseph Gray (Colorado Springs, CO) led the field, followed by Najim Mahmoud (Flagstaff, AZ), Tyler McCandless (Fort Collins, CO) and Edward Owens (Larkspur, CA). The leaders shifted positions after reaching the 5,000 feet elevation course highpoint. 2011 World Mountain Running Champion Max King reached the top in sixth place and unleashed a downhill surge in the last two miles that almost secured him the overall victory.
Leading the descent, Gray was the only runner to hold off the King, finishing in a new course record time of 39:36, fifteen seconds ahead of King. Gray and King became the only runners to break the forty minute barrier on the Gnar Gnar course since its inaugural year in 2018. King, who has been recovering from his 100-mile race effort this past June at the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run and is also now a masters runner at 41 years of age, said of his incredible race, “I don’t know where that came from but I’m certainly happy with that.”
Securing the final spots were 3rd place Joseph DeMoor (Carbondale, CO) and 4th place Edward Owens, who earned their first US team positions. DeMoor said of his performance, “I got fifth place at the US Mountain Running Championships two years in a row, so to earn the selection spot this year meant a lot. I look forward to representing the team in Thailand!”
The top ten USATF Mountain Running Championship mens’ race finishers:
- Joseph Gray – 37 (Colorado Springs, CO) 39:36 ($750)
- Max King, 41 – (Bend, OR) 39:51 ($500)
- Joseph Demoor – 31 (Carbondale, CO) 40:09 ($400)
- Edward Owens – 28 (Larkspur, CA) 40:24 ($300)
- Andy Wacker – 32 (Boulder, CO) 40:33 ($250)
- Eli Hemming – 26 (Kremmling, CO) 40:50
- Meikael Beaudoin-Rousseau – 21 (Sunnyvale, CA) 41:39
- Liam Meirow – 25 (Portland, OR) 42:08
- Najim Mahmoud – 24 (Flagstaff, AZ) 42:29
- Tyler McCandless – 34 (Fort Collins, CO) 42:31
Full Men’s Results: https://www.hubertiming.com/results/2021GnarGnar#individual
Race Re-cap Video & Photos
See even more race day photos from Michael Scott on Google Photos.
Photos from Saturday’s course inspection and Sunday’s race can also be seen on Peter Maksimow’s Google Photos.
Masters and Juniors
In addition to overall national championship titles and world championships team spots, there were also USATF masters and age group winners decided by this race.
The top 40+ women’s masters finishers were:
- Sarah Barber – 44 (Boise, ID) 00:55:49 ($150)
- Abby Dean – 49 (Wilmington, DE) 01:00:55 ($100)
- Julie Thomas – 54 (Mt. Angel, OR) 01:20:53 ($50)
Women’s masters age winners were:
- 40-44 Sarah Barber (Boise, ID) 00:55:49
- 45-49 Abby Dean (Wilmington, DE) 01:00:55
- 50-54 Julie Thomas (Mt. Angel, OR) 01:20:53
- 70-74 Jo May (Houston, TX) 01:52:04
The top 40+ men’s masters finishers were:
- Max King – 41 (Bend, OR) 39:51 ($150)
- Chris Grauch – 48 (Nederland, CO) 44:35 ($100)
- Brett Winegar – 41 (Albuquerque, NM) 47:08 ($50)
Men’s masters age winners were:
- 40-44 Max King (Bend, OR) 00:39:51
- 45-49 Chris Grauch (Nederland, CO) 00:44:35
- 50-54 Matt Farley (Portland, OR) 00:52:39
- 55-59 Bob Pollmann (Boise, ID) 00:52:39
- 60-64 Kerry Farrell (Auburn, WA) 00:55:04
- 65-69 James Schroder (Fallon, NV) 01:13:56
- 70-74 James Flanigan (Davis, CA) 01:15:28
Grauch said of his 45-49 age group win victory, “I knew it was a tall ask for the masters victory but I tried to keep Max King insight for the first climb and just lost him. An age group win is still great! I was planning to use this race as a tuneup for the World Masters Mountain Running Championship in September, which is what I’m hoping to run next!”
Top USATF Male Junior (19 and Under) was Colin Wong (Roseville, CA) in a time of 44:25. No female juniors competed at this year’s championship.
To ensure a clean sport and fair competition, 6 finishers in the USATF National Championship and Team USA competition were subjected to post-race drug testing performed by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in accordance with the USADA Protocol for Olympic and Paralympic Movement Testing.
Blast From The Past
Future World Champions Joseph Gray and Max King first went head-to-head in mountain running back in 2008 at the Northwest Mountain Running Championships held at nearby Timberline Lodge on the slopes of Mt Hood. Gray won this race and King finished second.