US Trail Team overcomes adversity at the 2019 Trail World Championships

In the days and weeks leading up to the Trail World Championships the American’s lost several team members to injury and logistical challenges leaving just four men & four women to start Saturday’s 44 km race in the mountains surrounding Miranda do Corvo, Portugal. With three finisher needed for a team score and attrition often high in the championship, the team couldn’t afford more than one DNF.

Adding to the challenge, for many US Trail Team members, this was their first experience at a European style trail race. Unlike the team selection races and even most US trail races, the Trail World Championships contain numerous technical challenges in addition to the 7200’ of climb & descent.

Liz Ryan, Kasie Enman, Dani Moreno and Corey Conner before the race start. Photo by Richard Bolt.

The 44 km single loop course featured narrow cobbled village streets, slippery tunnels with running water, stream crossings, stone steps, boulder scrambles and very steep primitive sections of muddy trail.

To demonstrate just how much tougher (and slower) the world championship course is, the top US man ran 9:05 per mile compared to 7:20 per mile at our 2019 USATF 50 km Trail Championships this past February.

In spite of these challenges, the US team of Kasie Enman, Dani Moreno, Corey Conner, Elizabeth Ryan, Sam Salhi, Evan Williams, David Kilgore and Zach Ornelas all completed the course. This is only the second time in the history of this event that the entire US team finished the race.

Here is how their race unfolded. Over 400 runners from 52 countries started the race in Miranda do Corvo’s town center (elevation 100 meters) to a heavy dose of hype from an MC, pumping music and cheering crowds. From there, the course climbed slowly on a mix of roads and trails to the Villa Nova water station at 7.4 km (elev. 245 meters). Just past Villa Nova runners went through a 100 meter long dark drainage tunnel with running water followed by more technical and steeper uphill trails.

At 13.25 km the course topped out at 675 meters above sea level before descending steeply to the first and only aid station with assistance from team officials at Sr. Piedade – 16 km (elev. 275 meters). 1 hour 21 minutes into the race, Sam Salhi came into Sr. Piedade guzzled diluted honey stinger, swapped a bottle and quickly left the aid station. Next in was David Kilgore at 1 hour 25 minutes. David refilled bottles, took fresh gels and took off down the cobbled lane. “I felt great at the aid station; I was hyped. The huge crowd on the stairs just after 16 km really motivated me,” said Kilgore.

David Kilgore. Photo by Jamil Coury.

Evan Williams was the 3rd American into Sr. Piedade at 1 hour 27 minutes followed shortly after by Zach Ornelas at 1 hour 30 minutes. “The downhill killed me,” exclaimed Zach as he swapped bottles and rehydrated.

First into Sr. Piedade for the US women was 2011 World Mountain Running Champion Kasie Enman in 1 hour 38 minutes. Kasie was relaxed and chatty as she quickly took on more nutrition for the remaining 28 km of the race. Corey Conner was the second US women in 1 hour 39 minutes, followed 2 minutes later by Dani Moreno. Just two minutes after Dani, Liz Ryan entered the 16 km aid station and like US women who preceded her, she swapped bottles and took on hydration quickly and efficiently.

Kasie Enman negotiating a crowded aid station. Photo by Richard Bolt.

Now the real work begins. After Sr. Piedade at 16 km, the course climbed to 885 meters above sea level by 22 km and followed a long ridge dotted with wind turbines. Staying on the high ground until 31 km, the course topped out at 940 meters above sea level. Along that stretch runners could refuel at Parque das Mestrinhas aid station but without assistance from team officials.

Let the descending begin. Leaving the wind turbines behind, runners descended about 300 meters to the slate village of Gondramaz aid station (34 km). While they were prohibited from rendering assistance, team officials did offer encouragement, communicated places and took photos.

Evan Williams racing thru the ridge top pine forests. Photo by Jamil Coury.

Sam Sahli was again the top American to enter the slate village at 3 hours, 15 minutes into the race. Next in was Evan Williams at 3 hours 22 minutes who was just behind the eventual women’s winner Blandine Lhirondel of France. David Kilgore ran through 34 km just seconds behind Williams and Blandine. 2019 USATF 50 km Road Champion Zach Ornelas left Gondramaz at 3 hours, 40 minutes while drinking from freshly refilled bottles taken just meters earlier.

As video drones buzzed overhead, Kasie Enman was the first US women through Gondramaz in 3 hours, 44 minutes and looking comfortable. Dani Moreno also looked relaxed as she ran down the narrow cobbled lanes just 3 minutes behind Kasie. At this point team staff departed for the finish in Miranda do Corvo to cheer US runners in the final few hundred meters and greet them at the finish line.

Dani Moreno flys downhill thru the slate village at Gondramaz. Photo by Richard Bolt.

Driving into Miranda do Corvo team staff members Jason Bryant and Richard Bolt came alongside David Kilgore striding quickly on the track like bike path with 600 meters to go. David would go onto finish in 82nd place as the 3rd US runner in 4:14:08.

Ahead of David on the road, Sam Sahli was the top US finisher in 61st place in a time of 4:06:33. Evan Williams came home 2nd US in 4:11:10. Fresh off some impressive road race finishes, Zach Ornelas struggled on the steep downhills but found his legs again in the final 2 km of flat road and finished 129th place in a time of 4:36:39.

In the women’s race, Kasie Enman lead the US team with a 24th place finish in 4:38:01. She was followed by Dani Moreno who finished 27th in 4:41:20 and Corey Conner who finished 39th place in a time of 4:50:39. In a display of impressive grit and determination, Elizabeth Ryan finished her first ever international trail race looking just like she did at the 16 km mark – focused, in control and racing hard. She crossed the finish line in 119th place in 5:37:08.

Sam Sahli finishing the Trail World Championships. Photo by Jamil Coury.

Post race quotes from US Trail Team athletes:

Kasie Enman: “It was a pleasure to get to know my teammates and to spend a weekend with the best trail runners around the world. I’m proud of the effort everyone put out on a course that was challenging beyond what any of us expected. Portugal was an enthusiastic host – great crowd support and organization. Having been on a number of different USATF teams now, even though this wasn’t my best race in terms of placement, this one ranks right up there. Thank you to Jason and Richard for all their support as Team Managers.”

Sam Sahli: “This was a freaking amazing trip. Competing for the United States alongside some of the best trail runners in the country, was an experience I will never forget. The consensus among the athletes, is that this was the toughest trail race any of us have ever seen. It was soul crushingly difficult, but still was a great time. I know the areas I need to improve in order to finish higher in my next rodeo, but for now, I’m content with my first European race experience. I’m grateful for the team staff that made this trip possible and all of those that have supported in my running career. See you at at the Broken Arrow Skyrace!”

Corey Conner with 1 km of the finish in Miranda do Corvo. Photo by Richard Bolt.

Elizabeth Ryan: “It was such an honor to race with the amazing athletes and be led by our wonderful team leaders! We had a awesome team dynamic, and beyond racing together, it was a great opportunity to get to know the women and men who are are at the top of the game in US trail scene. Racing the Trail World Championships was exciting and educational. I’ve never experienced such technical trails and such hype around trail racing, and the opportunity to see how we stack up on the world stage was helpful. Getting to know some of the international athletes and learning what the sport is like in their home countries was so fun. In the race, it was very helpful to run with the other USA ladies for the first 10 miles of climbing and learn from their techniques. As a newer trail runner, I learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses both in the race and from our wonderful team leaders Jason and Richard. I will take all of their advice to the next race and look forward to the next chance to compete for Team USA.”

Evan Williams: “I was so impressed by the vast extent and generosity of the global trail community – a unifying and empowering identity that we can carry with pride to all corners of the world. The race itself was amazing! I loved the technical sections. The heat was tough, but the energy of the huge crowds made the challenges manageable. It was inspiring to be here with my talented teammates who worked hard to earn a spot and put national representation above all else. Thank you USA! Thank you Portugal!”

Evan Williams running through the slate village at 34 km. Photo by Richard Bolt.

Dani Moreno: “Both our men’s and women’s teams were amazing. Despite some last minute roster changes everyone was in good spirits and excited to race in one of the most competitive fields compiled at any race this year. I think it’s rare that a group of people vibes together so naturally and I feel grateful I got to be a part of it. We all did the best we could which is the most you can ask for. I can’t wait to take this experience with me as I look forward at the rest of the racing year. And hopefully make some more teams in the future!”

David Kilgore: “What an unreal and unbelievable experience with my US teammates, leaders, and global competitors. I loved getting to grow closer and share a special bond racing along side my teammates in our national colors. The race lived up to its name and was completely epic! Super gnarly trails, big ups, big downs, rocky, water crossings, and quick competition. Put that all together and you got the party we had out on the trails Saturday morning. Really challenging course, but loved the ride. The crowds, teammates, friends, and family on course made the race an incredible sensation, something like I’ve never experienced before. I truly can’t wait to see what the future holds for this young team and I feel very fortunate to now be able to call them friends. I loved racing on the European Trails and can’t wait for more in the future. Thank you to everyone for all the love and support over the years and all those who have helped me get to this point. One last thing… USA, USA, USA!”

The top 3 men’s team were France, United Kingdom and Spain. The top 3 women’s team were France, Spain and Romania.

Evan Williams, David Kilgore and Sam Salhi after a hard fought race. Photo by Jason Bryant.

Full team results were not available at the time this article was first published.

US Men’s Results (out of 204 total men’s finishers).
1 – Jonathan Albon (United Kingdom) 3:35:34
61 – Sam Sahli 4:06:33 (age 23, Evergreen, CO)
74 – Evan Williams 4:11:10 (age 32, Seattle, WA)
82 – David Kilgore 4:14:08 (age 27, New York, NY)
129 – Zachary Ornelas 4:36:39 (age 27, Plymouth, MI)

US Women’s Results (out of 159 total women’s finishers).
1 – Blandine Lhirondel (France) 4:06:17
24 – Kasie Enman 4:38:01 (age 39, Huntington, VT)
27 – Dani Moreno 4:41:20 (age 26, Santa Barbara, CA)
39 – Corey Conner 4:50:39 (age 28, Longmont, CO)
119 – Elizabeth Ryan 5:37:08 (age 28, San Diego, CA)

Complete individual race results are posted here.

Find even more images and video of the US Trail Team on Google Photos.

Post race in Coimbra, Portugal. Trail World Championship newbies no longer. Photo by Richard Bolt.

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