A Stunning Weekend of Trail Running at Broken Arrow Skyrace

Seasoned pros and fast newcomers shine in short-and-fast sub-ultra races

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Running down the finish chute of the Broken Arrow Skyrace 23K race on Sunday, it was hard to tell who was having more fun, Allie “Allie Mac” McLaughlin or her golden retriever Harley.

In her typical fashion, McLaughlin finished the race smiling and giggling and then took a moment to enjoy some snuggles with Harley, who had been waiting patiently at one of the expo booths during the race before getting the chance to run with Allie Mac across the finish line just as they did a year ago.

Because of high winds early in the morning, race organizers delayed the race and decided to scrap the original one-lap 23K course that sent runners to the top of Palisades Tahoe ski resort summit. Instead, runners ran two laps of Saturday’s 11K race course that circled the lower and middle portions of the mountain, but they still encountered steep climbs and fast descents on a mix of dry dirt trails, long, slippery snowfields, and rugged gravel service roads.

Coming off an exhausting trip to Austria the week before, where she had competed in the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships, McLaughlin  decided to do the race late on Saturday night. But she wound up turning in one of the many outstanding highlights of the high-energy three-day festival of trail running at Palisades Tahoe ski resort in Olympic Valley, California.

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McLaughlin didn’t run as well she wanted to a the world championships in Austria (she was 13th in the Vertical Race and 25th in the Classic Mountain Race) and when she returned stateside she was so fatigued and under the weather she decided not to do Friday’s Vertical Kilometer race.

But by Saturday afternoon she started to have a change of heart after watching so many of her peers racing, so she decided to grab her bib for the 23K. In the race early Sunday, she started out conservatively but then blasted to a big lead on the downhill of the first lap and never relented, eventually expanding her margin of victory to more than six minutes over runner-up Anna Gibson as she finished the two-lap race in 1:51:46. Gibson was second in 1:57:50, while Tabor Hemming took third in 1:58:55.

“That was so much fun, and I’m so glad I decided to race,” McLaughlin, a 32-year-old runner from Colorado Springs. “I think I’m learning that the key to doing well on a course like this is going out conservatively and then running faster on the downhills. The whole event was really amazing, especially running over the snow and then having Harley there at the end was really cool, too.”

McLaughlin’s joyful victory came moments after Eli Hemming outdueled Chad Hall to win the men’s title at the front of 23K race, which doubled as a World Mountain Running Association World Cup Gold Race (an international point series of short-distance mountain races). Both Hemming and McLaughlin earned $5,500 for the victories in the race that was considered the marquee event of the weekend.

Hemming took the early lead in the race, but then Hall blasted to the lead by storming the downhill of the first lap—including several sub-4:50 miles. Hemming proved to be the stronger runner on the second lap, catching and passing Hall on the ensuing climb and holding on to win with a two-and-a-half minute margin in 1:34:46. 

“The two-loop course really made the difference because that second climb was a monster,” Hemming said. “I tried to chill a little bit on the first lap and then smash it on the second climb so I could get away from Chad on the second downhill. It was really awesome. It’s so much fun just to go fast and furious on a mountain like this.”

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Michael Sunseri Broken Arrow
Photo: Peter Maksimow

An Action-Packed Weekend

It’s really hard to pick the most singular outstanding moment from the Broken Arrow Skyrace weekend of trail running, mostly because there were so many to choose from. 

Nearly 3,000 runners from around the U.S. and 30 countries participated in the event, which included six individual races the Vertical Kilometer race, plus 11K, 23K, 46K trail races, 1.5-mile kids run, and the 5.75-mile Iron Face Challenge—which included a via ferrata section in which runners used rock climbing gear to maneuver over iron bars embedded into rock walls—as well as the multi-race Triple Crown (VK, 23K, and 46K) and Iron Crown (23K, 46K and Iron Face Challenge) competitions. The total prize purse for the event was $55,000.

Aside from well-organized races on challenging courses, the weekend also included athlete panels, gear demos, skills workshops, trail running films, shakeout runs, and numerous brand activations. Aside from the high winds on Sunday that forced a course change in the 23K race, the event was otherwise blessed by stunning blue skies and bright sunshine.

“We always say that we set the table, and it’s really the runners that bring the stoke, and I think that’s really what came true this weekend,” said co-race director Ethan Veneklasen. “What we were trying to do when we started this race was prove that you could do a world-class uber-competitive, highly branded, big prize money race, where that still sort of adhered to the culture tradition and values of the culture running in the U.S.”

The running action began on Friday morning with the Vertical K (also a World Cup Gold-level race) that sent runners on a 3,100-foot climb over 4.5 miles to the snowy 8,850-foot summit of Washeshu Peak that has been revered by the Washoe Tribe for centuries. The course started on dry gravel service roads, but runners transitioned to snow for the second half of the race. Italy’s Andrea Rostan dominated the race with an impressive 39:51 victory over Darren Thomas (41:10), an American from nearby Reno, Nevada, and Italian rival Henri Aymonod (41:29). 

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Gibson, meanwhile, was the surprise winner in the women’s race, as she reached the top in 47:09, outrunning American Jade Belzberg (48:00) and British runner Sara Willhoit (48:25). Just a week after running in the 1,500-meter finals at the NCAA Track and Field Championships for the University of Washington, Gibson’s highly tuned track fitness made her look like a seasoned pro in her first two trail races of the year as she was the only runner of the weekend to snag two podium finishes.

Other highlights included Idaho’s Michelino Sunseri (3:58:02) outrunning a strong field in Saturday’s 46K event that also included Montana’s Jeff Mogavero (4:00:09) and San Francisco’s Nick Handel (4:04:37). Sunseri had six previous top-10 finishes in Broken Arrow races, including a runner-up effort in the 46K in 2019, so getting his first win was especially sweet. Local Truckee runner Helen Mino Faukner turned in an impressive effort to win the women’s 46K (4:50:19) over Arizona’s Lindsey McDonald (4:58:50) and Colorado’s Kristina Mascarenas (5:01:16). 

The top overall performers of the weekend were Triple Crown winners Henry Harris and Lindsay Allison, both Colorado runners. Harris finished 14th in the 46K, 15th in the VK, and 21st in the 23K, while Allison was similarly impressive with a sixth-place effort in the 46K to go with her ninth-place finish in the VK and 20th-place showing in the 23K.

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In the technically challenging Iron Face Challenge, Washington’s Alex King was the runaway winner (53:48) over runner-up Braeden Sitmann (1:05:07), but it was Sitmann, a Fort Lewis College student from Durango, Colorado, who won the Iron Crown competition (8:31:19) based on his combined efforts in the 46K (41st, 5:22:52) and 23K (40th, 2:03:20). Colorado’s Drema Walton not only won the women’s Iron Face race (1:22:09), but she also took the Iron Face Crown (and was second overall behind Sitmann) after finishing 29th in the 46K (6:10:27) and 45th in the 23K (2:43:45).

“It’s such a good atmosphere here,” Sitmann said. “I have never been around so many people who love and appreciate trail running for what it is. This is feeding my soul so that I can keep running track and cross country in college and be sane for the rest of the year, but it’s definitely the kind of running I’ll be doing when I’m out of college. This is where it’s at!” 

Perhaps the best aspect of the Broken Arrow Skyrace was how it honored all of its participants. Like the elite runners, every single finisher of every race was greeted with their names announced over the sound system, bell-ringing, finisher awards and cheers from the crowd. The event included a non-binary division in every race, and honored winners Erin Vancellette (46K, 8:10:24), Rachel Criscitiello (23K, 3:49:10) and Rocky West (VK, 1:11:48) in its award ceremonies. 

The other big highlight of the event was the exceptional livestream broadcast of the VK, 23K, and portions of the Iron Face Challenge on the Broken Arrow YouTube channel and UltraSignup’s website and YouTube channel. The comprehensive livestream production was hosted by Dylan Bowman, Corrine Malcolm, and Courtney Dauwalter and featured spot-on coverage from multiple-camera vantage points with the use of drones and running camera operators, as well as post-race interviews with top athletes.

With the start of the Western States 100 at Palisades Tahoe resort on June 24, the Broken Arrow Skyrace served as a memorable kickoff to what is arguably the best week of the year in the American trail running scene.

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Aside from the mountain-top finish of the VK, all of the other Broken Arrow races finished in the Palisades Tahoe village, where many runners, friends, and families hung out together, shared meals and enjoyed cold beverages. 

“This is where the future of trail running is,” said Buzz Burrell, American trail running legend and Fastest Known Time co-originator, who competed in the VK and 23K races a week after racing the Dipsea race in Mill Valley, California. “People are bumping elbows, they’re making passes, they’re surging on the up and getting passed on the technical down. It’s exciting to run in it and it’s fun for people to watch on the livestream. Then at the end, everyone is at the finish hanging out, and that’s what this sport is really all about—the people and the community.”

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.”

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