On a range of mountains along the Polish / Czech Republic border, Śnieżka peak rises 5259 feet above sea level and would be twice climbed by America’s top off-road runners at the 15th Long Distance Mountain Running Championships. Race morning saw the mountain shrouded in gray clouds, wind and rain with temperatures in the 30s – a challenge for 10 athletes of the 2018 U.S. Long Distance Mountain Running Team. Each would tackle the 36 km course from the town square of Karpacz, Poland, a resort town for skiing in winter and hiking in summer. Total elevation gain and loss on the two loops would be 6900 feet along a mix of rugged mountain trail, forest tracks and mountain roads. Along with the U.S. team, 130 mountain runners from 19 other countries would compete for individual and team medals.
The race started at 9:00 AM and right away veteran team members Andy Wacker & Joe Gray bolted to the head of the pack. In the ladies’ race, first time team member and 2017 USATF Half Marathon Trail Champion Ashley Brasovan also shot to the lead. At the 6 km water stop, athletes had already climbed 2300 feet. Andy Wacker was leading the race with Joe Gray close on his heels. Ashley Brasovan was still in the lead at 6 km followed closely by runners from Great Britain and host country Poland. Just over 9 km into the race and 3200 feet above the start line, Andy Wacker still lead the race with Joe Gray again hot on his heels.
At 11 km into the race U.S. Team Leader Jason Bryant and 2012 U.S. Mountain Running Champion Sage Canaday were aiding athletes at a water stop on the foggy, wet and windswept ridge just below the summit. According to Jason, at this point in the race Anthony Costales was running in 5th, David Sinclair in 18th and Tayte Pollmann in 23rd.
For the U.S. ladies at 11 km, Ashley Brasovan came though in 5th, 1 minute behind 1st place with Addie Bracy in 8th place another minute back. Renee Metivier came to the aid station in 14th followed by Sandi Nypaver in 17th place. Kathryn Ann Ross re-aggravated an injury which slowed her on the ascent. Not moving fast enough above the tree line and exposed to wind, rain & cold temperatures, she was unable to complete the first loop. Sandi Nypaver would also drop out before starting the second loop after aggravating an injury.
The U.S. men shuffled positions slightly by the time they reached ridge top aid station at 26 km. Joe Gray came through in 1st with Andy Wacker a close in 2nd. Anthony Costales was 6th putting the men in gold medal position on the trail. Tayte Pollmann & David Sinclair meanwhile were holding strong in the top 30.
In the ladies race at 26 km the U.S. women also looked to be in medal contention on the trail with Ashley Brasovan in 6th, Addie Bracy in 11th and Renee Metivier, struggling with stomach issues in a solid 20th.
One interesting feature of the two loop course was 2 kilometers of out-n-back between 16 km and 20 km into the race. Not only could runners see their competition ahead and behind, both the men and the women could also cheer on their team members. Some team members could be seen giving high fives to each other on the trails.
After topping out on Śnieżka peak runners hit the aid station again at 29 km for the final time. With only a 2300′ descent to the finish, Italy’s Alessandro Rambaldini was in 1st, Czech Republic’s Robert Krupicka in 2nd followed closely by Joe Gray in 3rd place. Meanwhile, Andy Wacker was holding his own in 4th with Anthony Costales around 10th. Tayte Pollmann meanwhile had moved up into the top 20 with David Sinclair rounding out the U.S. team in 30th
At 29 km Ashley Brasovan remained in 6th place while Addie Bracy charged up to 7th. Renee Metivier slipped to 24th trailing a pack of other countries runners who were also hunt for a team medal.
By the time runners left the trails and hit the pavement for the final 1.5 km dash through Karpacz to the finish, the sun peaked out and briefly kept the rain away. Positions changes were hard to make at these high speeds but that didn’t stop U.S. runners from burning every last ounce of energy to make a pass. With team scoring determined by cumulative places of the top 3 runners from each country, every place truly did count.
At the finish line, Joe Gray grabbed 3rd place and the bronze medal. Andy Wacker bravely held on for 5th place. Anthony Costales remained in 10th giving the U.S. team 18 points. Tayte Pollmann moved up to 15th and David Sinclair held on to his 30th place. In the end these 18 point were good enough for a silver medal behind 15 points earned by the Czech Republic team who had one runner just in front of each U.S. runner. Italy’s Alessandro Rambaldini grabbed the individual title and lead his team to 40 points and the team bronze medal.
The U.S. ladies team now down to 3 runners, was lead by Addie Bracy and Ashley Brasovan running nearly side by side in the final 300 meters. Addie would pip Ashley for 7th place. Ashley’s 8th place combined with Renee’s 29th totaled up to 44 points and a 6th place team finish. The 4th (Italy) and 5th (Poland) place women’s teams were only barely ahead with 42 and 43 points respectively.
While not all U.S. runners finished, they all raced bravely and will come back stronger and more experienced for future mountain running championships.
Here are some comments from and about the U.S. athletes:
Ashley Brasovan (Westminster, CO) – “Representing Team USA has been an incredible experience with a fun group of teammates. I was super excited to finish 8th in the World in one of my first mountain races and will definitely be back for some European races in the future!”
Joe Gray (Colorado Springs, CO) – “My plan ahead of the race was to get in a good position to medal. I was happy to get a strong finish for the team and rally after a disappointing ankle roll at 5 miles. After that I ran close to Andy for a while until passing him near the summit the second time up. The toughest portion of the course was definitely near the summit on the last lap, as it was little cold and windy on the steepest pitch. The best part of my race was being able to keep a consistent pace throughout and run a faster second descent than my first lap descent.”
Addie Bracy (Longmont, CO) – “I feel pretty good about my race but I would have prepared a little bit differently if I had known the course was going to be so fast and runnable. Considering my focus has been on ultra distances the past 6 months, I was happy to have some of my old track speed! I also wish that it had more steep climbs. A lot of the uphill was relatively gradual and it made it very fast. The downhill was very runnable and also very fast. So, I felt like I didn’t get use to my strength which is steep, technical climbs. The only part that was like that was the summit area and it’s the only place I passed people. I really loved the summit climbs and was glad we got to do it twice. I don’t think the inclement weather affected me too much. It was a little bit windy and chilly on top, but since that’s the steepest section you’re also working hard so you heat up quick. The rain made some of the rocks a little bit slick coming down.”
Sandi Nypaver (Boulder, CO) – “Sometimes you have the best training block of your life and then get injured during the taper. I knew a week ago something was wrong with my back and downhills became a nightmare, but sometime you still have to try and see what happens. No luck on a race day miracle! That’s why it’s always important to enjoy the journey. When you decide to become a runner and race, bad days are bound to happen. It was still a huge honor to represent team USA alongside some runners I’m huge fans of.”
Andy Wacker (Boulder, CO) – “The world champs here in Karpacz, Poland did not disappoint! It offered challenging climbs and two FAST descents! I had a great race minus a major bonk at the top of the second climb around mile 17 of the 22 mile race. It was great to take it out hard and lead the race with teammates Joe Gray and Anthony Costales! Another fun part was crushing the first downhill, highlighted by a 4:04 mile!!! Proud of our team: especially our post race sauna recovery at the hotel’s water park!”
Anthony Costales (Salt Lake City, UT) – “Karpacz, Poland put on a show for us! The race was exciting right from the start as Andy, Joe and I gapped the field up the first ascent. I felt like we were a bunch of cowboys, not afraid of what would soon come in front of us. I was happy with all moves I made throughout the race but will take it as a learning experience finding my strengths and weaknesses in mountain racing. Remembering that I was part of a team during the race really helped push myself to the edge in the difficult sections. In areas that I normally would put on the breaks, I let loose and to a chance. I am proud of our team and really enjoyed the friendliness of the other teams post-race.”
Kathryn Ross (Durango, CO) – “Despite arriving to the Long Distance Mountain Running Champs in Karpacz, Poland injured, I still found the experience to be fantastic. Team USA is an amazing group of runners and people! The town of Karpacz was welcoming and a great host for the event. I loved being a part of an international event and meeting people from other countries!”
David Sinclair (Flagstaff, AZ) – “I’m super proud to represent Team USA in my first world championships and finish a tough race. I learned a lot from the more experienced athletes and hope to race in future world championships and enjoyed the international atmosphere meeting runners from other countries. Everyone fought really hard today in tough conditions and was incredible to be part of the second place team. Although I didn’t have the day I was hoping for I enjoyed the team aspect of the competition, as I haven’t raced as part of a team since I was a skier in college. My favorite parts of the course were the out and back sections of at the top of Sniezka and the halfway turn around where I could see my teammates crushing it with Andy and Joe in first and second.”
Renee Metivier (Bend, OR) – “Being a part of the USA team at World is always special. Our team we really worked together to get into a good position early. I was proud of how we wanted to help each other do our best in order to medal as a team…In the hunt for second place until the final stages of the last climb even with two dnf’s and myself battling a stomach bug from my travels. Even though we ended up fourth place, we represented well, encouraged each other, and fought hard with two athletes in the top ten. I am disappointed in my own race finish, but not my effort. I wanted to come in clutch for our team in my first mountain event, but I toughed through my stomach issues and tried my best to keep us in medal position. With this team at 100% and more experience on our side, I think we can be contenders for the win in the future! My favorite part of the course was the long steady uphill climb sufferfest as well as the fast finish on the road where athletes were kamikaze battling to the finish line!”
Tayte Pollmann (Sandy, UT) – “I’m so happy to have been a part of this silver medal winning team. All of my US teammates are such fun and inspiring people! During the race, I was looking for a few more steeper climbs to make my moves, but I’m happy with a hard effort and a solid 15th place for the team!”
Race results with 18 km splits can be found here: http://live.sts-timing.pl/3xsniezka2018/
Official results from the WMRA are here.
Check out this great video of the race by elite mountain, ultra & trail runner Sage Canaday:
Here’s a video summary from the race organizers: