King, Gray Headline XTERRA Trail Worlds

Joe Gray, left, and Ben Bruce battled to a first-place tie at last year's XTERRA Trail Run World Championship. Photo: XTERRA

Max King is aiming for his fifth XTERRA Trail Run World Championship.

The 2013 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship will feature defending world champions, former world champions, a new national champ, former national champs, and numerous other runners with international experience.

In essence, it will be the deepest field of title contenders in the six-year history of the event.

This year’s race is scheduled for Nov. 24, and it will once again be staged at the picturesque Kualoa Ranch in Hawaii. More than 2,000 runners from around the world will gather for the race on the ranch, and the list of elite runners in the field is an impressive one.

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Among the men’s contenders:

* Washington’s Joseph Gray is the returning co-champion. He and Ben Bruce crossed the finish line simultaneously last year and were declared co-champs. Bruce is not in the race this year due to a scheduling conflict. Gray has sustained his success in 2013, including a runner-up showing at the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship at Utah, and a seventh-place finish at the World Mountain Running Championship at Poland.

* Max King from Bend, Ore., is the runner most associated with XTERRA Trail Run success. He won the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship at Kualoa Ranch in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. He skipped it last year for the birth of his daughter. He was slowed by an ankle injury in recent months, but said it is now at “95 percent and feeling good.” King has won numerous U.S. trail running titles and was also the 2011 World Mountain Running champion.

* Utah’s Patrick Smyth will be making his debut at Kualoa Ranch after bursting onto the XTERRA Trail Run scene two months ago. He won the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship in his home state of Utah in September, finishing ahead of such stalwarts as Gray and King. He was invited to join the Nike Trail Team after that victory. This will be his first time racing in the heat and humidity of Hawaii, and only the second trail run race of his career. Smyth has run 1:02:32 for the half marathon.

* Willie Schefer from Maui, placed fifth overall at last year’s XTERRA Trail Run World Championship. It was his first try at the Kualoa Ranch course, and that year under his belt should help this year. He was introduced to trail running on the island of Maui a year ago, and said he has been training on trails throughout 2013. He is a two-time winner of the XTERRA Kapalua Trail Runs 10K on his home island of Maui.

* Nathan Carlson from Honolulu, has emerged as one of the top trail runners on the island of Oahu. He recently won the XTERRA Gunstock Ranch Trail Run 21K–which was staged only a few miles away from Kualoa Ranch–by a whopping 12-minute margin.

* Nathan Peters from Salt Lake City will be making his debut at Kualoa Ranch after a fifth-place overall showing at the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship in his home state of Utah. Earlier this year, he won the Skyline Marathon in Utah, and established a new course record.

* Matthew Battley is only 19, but he has already established himself as the top trail runner in the XTERRA New Zealand Trail Run circuit. He placed first overall at the XTERRA Rotorua Festival 21K, and then second overall at the XTERRA Trail Challenge Waihi 21K.

* Roberto Mandje from Boulder, Colo., placed seventh overall at last year’s XTERRA Trail Run World Championship, and is focused on improving his standing this year. He entered several XTERRA Trail Run events across America in 2013, and won the XTERRA Lake Las Vegas 21K and the XTERRA Cheyenne Mountain Trail Run 12K. He also placed second overall at the XTERRA Oak Mountain Trail Run 20K and the XTERRA Beaver Creek Trail Run 10K.

Several other dark horse contenders could emerge, as there are runners from 10 countries and 36 different states in the field.

“It takes a little bit of everything,” Max King said of what it takes to be successful at Kualoa Ranch. “Strong technical skills are a must, but parts of the course also require a high level of speed as well. The biggest thing that I’ve noticed is that the significant hill at mile 9 really wipes people out. Climbing ability is important from the gun, but having climbing endurance in this race is even more important.”

The women’s field is just as deep this year, with a handful of contenders looking to chase down the title. Among the female contenders:

* Canada’s Lucy Smith is the defending champion who is returning to Kualoa Ranch for the third consecutive year. She placed second overall in 2011, then took the championship last year by an impressive two-minute margin. She was 45 when she won the race last year, becoming the oldest runner–male or female—to win the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship.

* Honolulu’s Polina Babkina placed third last year, but was leading the race until she took a wrong turn midway through the course. A week after last year’s race at Kualoa Ranch, she ran in the Honolulu Marathon and was the top female finisher from Hawaii. In October of this year, she was the top female finisher (and finished behind only one male runner) at the XTERRA Gunstock Trail Run 21K. She is originally from Russia, but now resides in Honolulu.

* Canada’s Meggan Franks will be making her debut at Kualoa Ranch, almost by accident. She found out her father was taking a vacation in Hawaii, and she and other members of the family decided to join in. She was the first overall female at the 2013 Canadian Mountain & Trail Running Championships in June. She was also one of four women selected to the 2013 Canadian Mountain Running Team that participated in the 2013 World Mountain Running Championships at Poland.

* Arizona-based Samantha McGlone is best known as one of the world’s best triathletes during the decade of the 2000s, and that alone makes her a serious contender in any endurance event. She represented Canada in the triathlon at the 2004 Olympics and was the women’s runner-up at the 2007 Ironman World Championship triathlon. This will be her first appearance at the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship, though she did place first overall at the XTERRA Freedom Fest Trail Run 10K at Kualoa Ranch earlier this year.

* Seattle’s Rose Wetzel will be making her debut at Kualoa Ranch, and she will bring an impressive track resume with her. She took first place in the women’s 5000-meter run and 800-meter run at the USATF National Club Track and Field Championships at New York in June of this year.

The elite runners will be competing for $10,000 in prize money, including $2,000 each to the men’s and women’s winners.

However, the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship is a race for all runners, and numerous others will be competing for age-group titles. Every male and female age-group champion from the 21K championship course is considered an XTERRA Trail Run World Champion.

Returning age-group world champs from 2012 include: Jakob Dewald (men 15-19), Polina Babkina (women 20-24), Willie Schefer (men 20-24), Joseph Gray (men 25-29), Lucy Smith (women 45-49), Keith Rieger (men 45-49), Raymond Brust (men 50-54), Nozomi Wade (women 55-59), Edward Bugarin (men 60-64), Lee Saltonstall (women 65-69), Jon Lyon (men 65-69), and Roger Kemppel (men 70-74).

There is no qualifying process to enter the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship, so the field will include a unique mix of experienced and inexperienced XTERRA Trail Run competitors. The event also serves as an introductory trail run event for runners, as there are 5K and 10K races for those who may not feel ready for the half-marathon course.

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