Top American Mountain Runners Dig Deep to Climb High Mountains of Andorra

Ugandan runners sweep the senior men’s podium while Joe Gray leads the U.S. men finishing a solid fourth. While the U.S. senior women are first to finish all their runners in the top 30, it’s only good enough for a fifth place team result. This was the first World Mountain Running Championship since 2005 where the U.S. team didn’t win any medals.

The 34th annual World Mountain Running Championship senior men’s and women’s races featured a challenging mix of mountain roads, dirt single-track and steep ski slopes climbing 3300’ over 11.9 km to the summit of Andorra’s Grand Valira ski area. The juniors started further up the mountain running the last 7.3 km of the senior course to end at the same mountain-top finish. The junior race climbed 1800 feet; most of which came in the last 3 miles.

The junior women’s race (U20) commenced at 9:15 AM, before the first rays of sunlight crested the ridge above the starting line. All four U.S. junior women came into this championship with strong international mountain running results but this competition would be faster and the field bigger than what Joslin Blair and Anna Shults had previously experienced at the U18 WMRA International Youth Cup this past June.

Quinn McConnell and Anna Shults lead the junior women’s race.

Quinn McConnell and Shults took the lead early controlling the pace for the first 400 meter steep climb from the start. At the same point Blair ran comfortably mid pack looking ready to move up later in the race. The most experienced team member Soleil Gaylord came into the race with a cold and was clearly not 100% while making the first climb toward the back of the pack.

At the finish, Shults crossed the line with a solid 14th place. Blair followed just over a minute back in 18th place. McConnell was the third scoring U.S. junior team member in 25th place while Gaylord nursed a hurt foot to the finish in 45th. This was good enough for a 6th out of 13 teams with a total of 57 points.

Anna Shults (14th place) 17, Lafayette, CO – “Today, my goal for the race was to run fearlessly. I really wanted to focus on staying mentally tough when it got difficult. I loved having all the U.S. fans out there screaming for me and being able to race with some of the best girls from Colorado was truly an amazing experience.”

Joslin Blair (18th place) 17, Eagle, CO – “Running in this race was an amazing experience. The course was definitely the hardest one I’ve ever run and a great learning experience. The mountains of Andorra are absolutely stunning as well. It was such an honor to race for the US!”

Of the junior men only Nathan Davis had previous international mountain running experience having race the U18 International Youth Cup in 2017. This would be the first World Mountain Running Championship for all the team members.

Denver Perry started quickly and was in 3rd place 300 meters into the race followed by Nathan Davis, Soren Knudsen and David Cardenas spread evenly back through the field.

Knudsen and Perry were the first two U.S. finishers in 27th and 28th places followed by Davis in 32nd and Cardenas in 42nd. The U.S. junior men finished 7th out of 13 teams with 87 points.

David Cardenas (42nd) 18, Grand Junction, CO – “My recommendation for anyone attempting the World Mountain Running Championship is to get a good start and maintain!”

As the defending team gold medalists, the expectations were high for the U.S. senior women team prior to the event. Allie McLaughlin, Addie Bracy and Kasie Enman had been top 10 finishers at previous editions of this event and newcomer Annie Bersagel has a 2:28:29 marathon PR.

Near the midpoint of the race, Bersagel charged into a pair of downhill hairpin turns in 14th place. Coming off her 2nd place at the recent Leadville 100 Mile, Bracy had spring in her step rounding the corners in 21st place. Enman carved the downhill in 27th with McLaughlin a few places back in 34th place.

Bersagel finished first U.S. in 17th place followed by Bracy in 20th. McLaughlin moved up to 26th place just two seconds ahead of Enman in 27th place. In the team scoring it was not enough to overcome gold medalists Kenya (17 points), Great Britain (39 points) and France (49 points, who all had runners in the top 10. The U.S. women ended up in 5th place with 63 points, just behind Italy who had 54 points.

Annie Bersagel (17th place) 35, Oslo, Norway – “My race went well and it was gratifying to finish in the top 20 in my first Mountain Championships . It was a beautiful day in Andorra!”

Allie McLaughlin (26th place) 27, Nashville, TN – “It got rough fast, but I was able to stay calm thinking the race would be most competitive in the top half of the course. I didn’t make up as much as I thought I would.”

Kasie Enman (27th place) 38, Huntington, VT – “We worked together well as a team, but we were further back than expected. The course didn’t suit my strengths, but it was beautiful!”

The U.S. senior men’s team was primed and ready to race for medals from the opening meters of the race. All were on the gold medal winning team from 2016; the last uphill championship, the same race where Gray was crowned World Mountain Running Champion. Individual and team medals would be no easy feat this year and Uganda looked to repeat their 2017 sweep of podium and team gold.

Three miles into the race the Ugandan domination looked to be in effect with their top three athletes running together over 100 meters clear of Gray who looked strong in 4th. Andy Wacker was the next U.S. runner in 17th but within reach of the top 10. David Fuentes was heads down and working in 25th place followed by Matt Daniels who was running in the mid-30th places.

Matt Daniels

Under sunny skies and comfortable temperatures, spectators at the finish had a clear view of runners approaching almost 1 km from the finish. Emerging in the distance first were Ugandans Robert Chemonges and Joel Ayeko followed 50 meters back by teammate Victor Kiplangat. 100 meters back Gray was easily holding onto fourth position but unable to gain ground on the eventual podium finishers. These four would cross the finish line in the same positions.

By the finish line, Wacker had slipped back to 26th place followed by Fuentes in 32nd and Daniels in 44th. With such strong results from Uganda, Italy and Norway, this would only be good enough for a 6th place U.S. team finish with 62 points. Uganda won gold (again) with 6 points; Italy took silver with 24 points and Norway bronze with 42 points.

Joe Gray (4th place) 34, Colorado Springs, CO – “After being injured prior to last years championship, my fitness was good this year but I underestimated my competition and found myself playing catch up at the end of the race. For every move I made early in the race, the three Ugandan runners had a strong counterargument.”

Regardless of the mixed results and no medals won for the U.S. team, the athletes ended their day knowing they’d raced as hard as they could on the day. The town of Canillo and volunteers organized an excellent championship event, with amazing mountain scenery and even held the rain away for perfect racing conditions.

David Fuentes

According to USATF Mountain Ultra Trail chairperson Nancy Hobbs, “Not every day on the mountain produces the results you expect, but each and every one of our team members laid it on the line and ran their best in Andorra. I am so very proud of our team and congratulate the staff on being there 100% for the athletes.”

Junior Team Coach Paul Kirsch said, “We had a talented group of young athletes who learned a lot about mountain running and will leverage that experience in their upcoming cross country races.”

“Regardless of the their results, I’m extremely proud of our athletes for their efforts on course. Even well prepared athletes can have races that don’t meet their own expectations and capabilities. It shows how competitive these races are that when we’re a little off our game and other countries have great races, the medals don’t come our way,” added USA Team Leader Richard Bolt.

Complete individual and team results can be found at:

Find and share over 150 team pictures from Google Photos.

U.S. Team Results by Andy Martin, Exclamation Services.