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Andrea Mayr proved on Tuesday afternoon that home court advantage definitely exists in trail running.
Using her knowledge of the local trails in the mountains above the Austrian village of Neustift im Stubaital, Mayr stormed to victory in the Vertical Race at the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships. After running conservatively early in the 7.1K race that climbed 3,365 vertical feet up dirt trails at a ski resort, the 43-year-old Austrian mountain running legend twice surged into the lead past Kenya’s Philaries Jeruto Kisang, the latter of which helped seal the seventh mountain running championship of her career in 48:14.
Grayson Murphy continued her success running high-profile international races with a strong race that earned her the bronze medal.
Mayr had a 33-second advantage at the 3.9K checkpoint, but Kisang, the fifth-place finisher in last year’s world championships, caught her at the 5.9K checkpoint on the slightly flatter terrain before the final climb. In an epic duel up the final half mile of the course, Mayr patiently ran behind Kisang as lactic acid and fatigue slowed both runners on the steep grade.
Sensing Kisang was laboring more than she was, Mayr took the lead with authority and kept chugging the final 200 meters to the finish line. Kisang immediately gave into the struggle and transition to power hiking for a few moments, and that was enough for Mayr to exploit the gap.
Kisang, who caught Mayr on slightly flatter terrain before the final climb, summoned enough energy to keep chugging to the top and earn the silver medal in 48:51. Murphy, a 27-year-old runner from Flagstaff, Arizona, moved up throughout the race to secure the bronze medal in 49:22.
“That course was a tough one,” said Murphy, who won the 2019 World Mountain Running Championships in Argentina. “A good portion of the final climb was 30-45 percent grade which made the finish really tough. I wouldn’t consider myself an uphill specialist and I didn’t feel amazing today, so I definitely had to work really hard for the podium spot. But, wearing USA across the chest will never get old and is always an honor. Especially when it’s in the unitard. My goal was to podium, so I’m glad to get a medal count started for the U.S.”
American Allie McLaughlin, the winner of the Vertical Race at last fall’s World and Trail Running World Championships in Thailand, was the second American finisher in 13th place (52:27). Rachel Tomajczyk placed 38th (55:47), while Alex Lawson was 94th (1:11:58). The U.S. women finished fifth in the team standings with 54 points behind Kenya (17), Germany (33), UK (51), and Italy (53).
In the men’s race, Kenyan Patrick Kipngeno (40:18) blew away the field and successfully defended his 2022 world title, finishing well ahead of runner-up Levi Kiprotich of Uganda (41:51). American Joe Gray, a two-time world champion, placed fifth (42:32) as the U.S. men finished ninth out of 31 teams with 98 points. Dan Curts was the second American finisher in 41st place (47:06), followed by Morgan Elliott in 72nd (49:48).
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Allie Mac Took the Early Lead
Early in the women’s race, McLaughlin twice surged into the lead, the first time in the 900-meter road loop around the village and the second time on the first big climb on the singletrack trail up the lower section of the mountain. But Kenyans Kisang and Valentine Rutto and Uganda’s Annet Chelangat were up to the challenge and took over at the front as McLaughlin soon found herself in about 10th place.
Mayr was even further back when she started surging up a steep section of forested singletrack. She caught and passed Kisang about 17 minutes into the race and opened up a huge lead. But Kisang didn’t bonk and kept running strong in second place. As the runners emerged above treeline, Kisang surged past Mayer near the 6K mark, setting up the duel that played out on the final climb up to the finish line adjacent to the Elferhütte high-alpine restaurant and hotel.
“Early in the race, I was in about 20th place, but there was not too much space to the front,” Mayr said. “When I started to move up, I was feeling good and knew I could overtake the other runners. As soon as I took the lead, I had the feeling that I was being chased by the others. You know you are leading, but on the other side you feel chased and it makes a bit of a pressure. I thought I could hold the lead, but then the Kenyan girl caught me on the flat part when I didn’t see her or hear her coming.”
Mayr won six consecutive World Mountain Running Championships uphill titles between 2006-2016 when the vertical races alternated every other year with up-and-down mountain championship races. She used her experience, her still vibrant leg speed, and the energy of the local fans to outrun Kisang to the summit.
“After the first two minutes of the climb, the speculators just cheered at me so loud and they told me that I was looking better than the first woman,” Mayr said. “And I said, OK, it’s just five more minutes. Just keep on fighting. The last three minutes, it was so loud, they were cheering so much. You couldn’t hear yourself breathing anymore. That takes away the toughness of the race a little bit.”
The Short Trail Running Race will be held on Day Two of the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships on June 8. It’s a 45.2K point-to-point race with about 10,300 feet of vertical gain.
Boulder-based Brian Metzler has run more than 75,000 miles in his life, competing in every distance from 50 meters to 100 miles, running the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim run across the Grand Canyon and back several times, racing pack burros on many occasions and going up Colorado’s Longs Peak 20 times. In 2018, he ran the Great Wall of China, completed the Leadman series and ran a 100K in South Korea. He is the founding editor of Trail Runner and the author of “Kicksology: The Hype, Science, Culture and Cool of Running Shoes.”