Racing up and down a ski slope requires a certain kind of calculated recklessness, a skill which served Morgan Arritola and Patrick Smyth well at the U.S. Mountain Running Championships at Mt. Bachelor on Saturday morning.
The 29-year-old Arritola, a 2010 U.S. Olympian in nordic skiing, won her third U.S. mountain running title, taking charge of the race midway through the first of two up-and-down 4K loops on her way to breaking the tape in 36 minutes and 20 seconds.
“I’m not a very strategic racer,” admitted Arritola, who was runner-up at this race last year and won the event in 2012 and 2013. “I kind of just go as hard as I can go from A to B. I knew I didn’t want to blow it out on the first downhill because there was another lap left, but I also know the downhill is my strength so I wanted to let it cruise. I don’t really pay attention very well. I just kind of go.”
Smyth, 28, who recently moved to Santa Fe, N.M., took home his first men’s title, leading from the opening cowbell to the finish line to win the men’s 12K race in 46:10.
“I was running scared,” Smyth said with a laugh afterward. “I knew I was gonna struggle on the uphills because it was that kind of grade that I’m just horrible at, so I knew I just had to maintain on there and run scared on the downs.”
In the women’s 8K race, Arritola seized the lead near the top of the first climb and extended her advantage on the long, steep downhill heading into the second loop. Coming through halfway in 18 minutes flat, she was followed by Kimber Mattox, a former All-American steeplechaser at the University of Oregon who won the XTERRA World Championship last fall, and Kasie Enman of Vermont, the 2011 world mountain running champion.
Enman, who said she wanted to be careful not to push too hard on the first climb, passed Mattox on the second loop to move into second place, a position she held all the way to a 37:37 finish. Mattox held on for third in 38:17.
“I was a little intimidated by the altitude so I kind of wanted to let other people set the pace up the first climb,” explained Enman. “I tried to push the last loop and make sure I had enough to get through. My goal was top-4 and make the team. I didn’t want that nightmare scenario of being passed by a pack of people.”
Allison Morgan, new to the trail racing scene, used her sub-33-minute 10,000m track speed to outkick Brandy Erholtz for fourth, rounding out the U.S. team that will compete at the World Mountain Running Championships in Wales on Sept. 19.
RELATED: Bend, Epic Trail Getaway
Smyth, a 2:15 marathoner who finished 36th in the World Cross Country Championships this past spring and also won the Way Too Cool 50K in course-record time, broke away early on with two-time defending champion Joe Gray and Andy Wacker, the runner-up at the World Long Distance Mountain Championships in Switzerland just two weeks ago. Coming through the first of three loops, Smyth had a 10-second lead on Wacker and 15 seconds on Gray.
Not much changed after the second loop, although Wacker and Gray were able to close the gap to Smyth on the roughly 2K climb, before Smyth opened up a slight gap again on the screaming fast downhill.
“I really wanted to have the lead going down to have a clear line of sight,” said Smyth. “I was able to do that and ran scared all the way down. I knew if I stayed on my feet on the downhill I’d have enough turnover to stay on my feet and probably hold the lead.”
Near the top of the climb in lap 3, Gray charged past Wacker and nearly pulled even with Smyth, who successfully navigated lapped runners on the course’s lone singletrack section to hit the final downhill with a slight lead—one he held all the way to the tape. Gray gave chase, but was eventually passed by a hard-charging Wacker, who crossed the finish line second in 46:20.
“After the first lap I knew who I was working with and I was thinking, ‘Let’s get ready for Wales,’” Wacker said, referring to the upcoming world championships. “This race is like going to Disney World and riding the rollercoaster. You’ve just gotta enjoy all the ups and downs and bumps and twists and turns.”
Gray, who beat Wacker at the all-uphill Mt. Washington Road Race last month, held on for third, running 46:51 to make a record eighth-straight U.S. mountain running team.
“It’s a huge blessing and a lot of years of hard work and consistency for the opportunity to represent the country again,” Gray said afterward. “It was a great race and fun to push each other the whole way. The descent wasn’t going to be technical enough for me to pull away from anybody so I was just trying to maintain my position and make sure I made my eighth team.”
Rounding out the U.S. men’s team for the World Mountain Running Championships in Wales on Sept. 19 is Andrew Benford (4th, 48:22), J.P. Donavan (5th, 48:53) and Josh Eberly (6th, 49:20).
2015 U.S. Mountain Running Championships Results
1. Morgan Arritola, 36:20.1
2. Kasie Enman, 37:37.1
3. Kimber Mattox, 38:17.4
4. Allison Grace Morgan, 39:11.1
5. Brandy Erholtz, 39:18.3
6. Ladia Albertson-Junkans, 39:35.9
7. Alayna Szuch, 39:42.7
8. Laura Haefeli, 40:16.6
9. Megan Lund-Lizotte, 40:35.4
10. Autumn Ray, 40:57.6
Top 10 Men
1. Patrick Smyth, 46:10.3
2. Andy Wacker, 46:20.7
3. Joseph Gray, 46:51.8
4. Andrew Benford, 48:22.0
5. John Donovan, 48:53.5
6. Josh Eberly, 49:20.3
7. Ryan Bak, 49:29.5
8. Zach Miller, 49:30.2
9. David Laney, 50:07.8
10. Kenyon Neuman, 50:57.7