This past Sunday, the inaugural Waterville Valley Mountain Race hosted the USATF Mountain Running Championships on sunlit slopes with a glimmer of fall foliage blanketing the surrounding White Mountain National Forest.
Mountain running world champions went head-to-head against some of the fastest track and road runners to ever compete in the USATF Mountain Running Championships. 2016 World Mountain Running Champion Joseph Gray and 2011 World Mountain Running Champion Kasie Enman had their work cut out for them against 4:14 1500 meter runner Kristen Findley, 15:58 5 km runner Grayson Murphy, 14:06 5 km runner Chandler Reid and 3:54 1500 meter runner Liam Meirow just to name a few.
Despite perfect weather conditions for racing, the steep, rock-strewn course would give no quarter to the 275 athletes from 20 US states and Quebec who tackled the 7 mile course with 3000 feet of climbing to the windy summit and screaming fast descent.
Everyone who stepped up to the start line adjacent the Waterville Valley Resort ski lodge was racing for glory but only two would be named overall mountain running national champions and just the first four men and four women would earn tickets to compete at the 35th World Mountain Running Championships in Villa La Angostura, Argentina.
First up was the women’s race at 8:30 AM with a field stacked containing mountain running royalty and speedy newcomers crossing over from track and roads. Less than a mile into the race after a brief climb, runners came screaming downhill adjacent to the start / finish area and it was clear that nobody was holding back as the 100 runner pack was now strung out. Corey Dowe (Farmington, ME) led the charge followed by Grayson Murphy (Salt Lake City, UT), Kimber Mattox (Bend, OR), Deanna Ardrey (Boulder, CO), Kasie Enman (Huntington, VT) and Karley Rempel (Boulder, CO via Canada).
Eight minutes later, near the 1.5 mile mark and after a second small climb & descend, the running order had changed again. Grayson Murphy now had a commanding lead of 45 seconds as she bounded lightly up the grassy ski slope, over a crest and out of view. Kimber Mattox had moved up the second but was followed closely by Kasie Enman who soon passed Kimber as the slope steepened. Deanna Ardrey came through in fourth place followed again by Karley Remplel in fifth but Corey Dowe had fallen back to ninth as a trio of Kristen Findley (Cottonwood Heights, UT), Jessica Marion (Brunswick, ME) and Samantha Lewis (Moscow, ID) were moving up the running order fast in sixth, seventh and eight. At 1.5 miles and rounding out the top 10 was Whirlaway Racing Team member Kassandra Marin (Merrimack, NH).
As the race progressed, updates came in from volunteers by radio. At 3 miles, Grayson was still first, Kasie second and Kimber third, but Samantha had moved up to fourth, while Michelle Hummel (Albuquerque, NM) had moved way up from twelfth to fifth.
At 4.7 miles runners would reach the high point of the course, passing a cell phone tower before starting the 2000 foot drop to the finish line. Near the summit Grayson had stretched her lead to well over a minute with Kasie and Kimber having comfortable gaps in second and third. Samantha was still in fourth, Michelle ran fifth and Deanna sixth. All eyes turned to the finish line to see if these places would hold or if a tumble on the downhill might cause a shake up in the athlete order.
Grayson Murphy took her race from good too great, breaking the finish tape in 1:01:45 to become the 2019 USATF Mountain Running Champion. “The view was amazing; looking up from the (final) aid station to the summit, that was the hardest part. Go Utes!” Remarked Grayson after the race.
Coming home in second place in a time of 1:05:58, Kasie Enman earned a spot on the US Mountain Running Team and won her first USATF Masters Mountain Running Championship having recently turned 40. This will be the sixth time Kasie has qualified to race at the World Mountain Running Championships since 2011. She also took home the most prize money from the race with her second place overall, USATF national masters win and USATF New England association open and master victories.
Kimber Mattox struggled with several years of injury after being the top American at the 2015 World Mountain Running Championships, but showed fine form rounding out the podium in third place in 1:07:23. The final athlete to earn a trip to the World Mountain Running Championships was Samantha Lewis who finished fourth in 1:08:32 and sprinted past the finish line and into the arms of her new world championship bound team members.
In addition to national championships titles and world championships team spots, there were also USATF masters age group winners decided by the race. The women’s winners were:
- 40-44 – Kasie Enman (Huntington, VT) – 1:05:59
- 45-49 – Dawn Roberts (West Springfield, MA) – 1:24:17
- 50-54 – Karen Encarnacion (North Attleboro, MA) – 1:31:09
- 55-59 – Sue Lachance (Concord, MA) – 1:25:59
- 60-64 – Bonnie Stoeckl (Pequea, PA) – 1:37:16
- 65-69 – Marcy Schwam (Marblehead, MA) – 2:10:00
- 70-74 – Jo May (Houston, TX) – 2:23:40
Like cross country running, there is also USATF open and masters team titles awarded at the Mountain Running Championships. The gold medal winning women’s teams were:
- Open – 4:04:13 (top 3 cumulative time) – Western Mass Distance Project
- Masters (40+) – 4:16:42 (top 3 cumulative time) – Western Mass Distance Project
- Senior (50+) – 5:43:30 – (top 3 cumulative time) – acidotic Racing
The men’s USATF Mountain Running Championships kicked off at 10:00 AM and would cover the same 7 mile course with 3000 feet of ascent and descent. Like the women’s field, the men assembled at the start line came with strengths from all distance running backgrounds – mountain, trail, cross country, track, road and even obstacle course racing. Among them the clear favorite was 2016 World Mountain Running Champion and defending USATF Mountain Running Champion Joseph Gray (Colorado Springs, CO).
With a siren announcing the start of the race, it was mountain and trail world championship veteran Andy Wacker (Boulder, CO) who bolted to the lead signaling this would not be a tactical, cat-and-mouse or slow early pace kinda of race. At the first screaming downhill under a mile into the race it was Andy in the lead followed closely by Joe. Trying to keep pace with these experienced mountain runners were Chandler Reid (Lafayette, CO), Najim Mahmoud (Flagstaff, AZ), Liam Meirow (Portland, OR) and Lee Berube (Syracuse, NY) leading a long line of challengers.
At the 1.5 mile mark the race turned uphill again with Andy and Joe running together followed by Lee who had moved up in the field to third place. 2016 World Mountain Running Championship veteran David Fuentes (Austin, TX) moved up to fourth place, followed by 2018 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championship finisher David Sinclair (Peru, VT) coming forward to fifth. Running together in sixth and seventh were brothers Seth DeMoor (Englewood, CO) and Joseph DeMoor (Carbondale, CO); also moving up in the field. Behind the brothers, Travis Fuller (Midvale, UT) moved up into eight, Ryan Becker (Boulder, CO) in ninth and Najim who slipped back to tenth.
Near the summit at 4.7 miles, Joe stretched his lead in first, Seth moved up several places to second and had a gap over Andy in third. At this point Joseph DeMoor had moved up to a world championship team spot in fourth. Far below at the finish line, spectators speculated if these positions would hold knowing a lot can happen when mountain runners race downhill quickly over technical terrain.
Punching his twelfth ticket to the world championships, Joseph Gray crossed the finish line first to win another USATF Mountain Running Championship in 52:51. “The race went really, really well and I felt strong. Racing Andy keeps me honest and I love racing him for that reason,” said Joe after finishing. He continued, “I wanted to be the first athlete to win back to back uphill and up / down [national championship] years; you have to win four in a row to do that, so it was special.”
Speaking about his new Project Inspire Diversity, Joe said, “I’m trying to inspire the next generation of minority athletes so it’s important to win so they can look up to somebody who’s doing well in the sport.”
Taking the silver medal in 54:16, Andy Wacker charged downhill passing Seth DeMoor. Seth ended the race in bronze medal position in a time of 54:46 and was followed by David Sinclair who also moved up several places on the downhill to fourth in 55:15. Joe, Andy, Seth and David all earn the right to represent the United States at the World Mountain Running Championships in Argentina on November 15.
The men’s USATF masters age group gold winners were:
- 40-44 – Daniel Princic (Reading, MA) – 1:06:47
- 45-49 – Chris Grauch (Neaderland, CO) – 1:02:47
- 50-54 – Tim Van Orden (Bennington, VT) – 1:04:45
- 55-59 – Jeff Hunt (Concord, MA) – 1:10:02
- 60-64 – Stephen Reed (Penacook, NH) – 1:18:06
- 65-69 – Len Hall (Enfield, NH) – 1:25:38
- 70-74 – Allen Bates (Pittsfield, MA) – 1:29:10
- 75-79 – Peter Orni (Ashburnham, MA) – 2:22:14
- 80-84 – Gary Reuter (Kittery, ME) – 2:03:59
The men’s USATF masters team gold winners were:
- Open – 5:37:31 (top 5 cumulative time) – Rosemont Running Club
- Masters (40+) – 3:21:21 (top 3 cumulative time) – Central Mass Striders (CMS)
- Senior (50+) – 3:21:21 (top 3 cumulative time) – Central Mass Striders (CMS)
Note: CMS wins the masters and senior team champion because down-scoring is allowed. All members of the CMS team are over 50 years of age.
Grayson Murphy, Kasie Enman, Joseph Gray and Andy Wacker were subjected to drug testing performed by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in accordance with the USADA Protocol for Olympic and Paralympic Movement Testing.
You can find even more race photos at the following links:
Joe Viger Photography (Official Race Photographer) – Official Race Photo Webpage
Richard Bolt (USATF Championship Liaison) – Google Photos
Michael Scott (USATF LDR Chairperson) women’s race – Google Photos
Michael Scott (USATF LDR Chairperson) men’s race – Google Photos
Learn about the Trailbutter Red, White and Blue Tribute Blend – a collaboration between ATRA and Trailbutter to raise money to fund US athlete travel to the World Mountain Running Championships.