Stacked Fields Set For U.S. Mountain Running Championships In Bend

Two-time defending champion Joe Gray is the man to beat at Saturday's U.S. Mountain Running Championships in Bend. Photo: XTERRA Photos

Some of the country’s top trail runners will do battle on Saturday at the U.S. Mountain Running Championships held on Mt. Bachelor, just outside of Bend, Ore. The top six men and the first four female finishers will earn berths on the U.S. mountain running team that will compete at the world championships in Wales on Sept. 19.

The races, which are open to runners of all ages and abilities, will be run on an up-and-down 4K loop designed by Bend’s Max King, the race director who also happens to be one of the event’s top entrants. The loop is a mix of singletrack trails and dirt roads with approximately 800 feet of climbing and descending each time around. The women’s open/championship 8K takes place at 9 a.m. with the men’s open/championship 12K going off at 10 a.m.. A community 4K will kick things off at 8 a.m.

Featuring $10,000 in prize money evenly split between the championship races, the event also doubles as the the Collegiate Running Association championship for 2015, where an additional $6,000 is up for grabs.

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This year’s mountain running championships have a title sponsor for the first time in history, as Nike Trail Running has partnered with the event’s local organizing committee to provide official race T-shirts for participants and help enhance the overall on-course experience for racers and spectators alike. The Beaverton-based athletic brand also upped the total open prize purse from $6,000 to $10,000, which helped attract two of the deepest elite fields in the event’s history.

“It’s not just about elites,” Patrick Werhane, who works in running sports marketing for Nike, says of the event. “From the first-place finishers to the back of the packers, we want to create some excitement and enhance the experience for everyone. Step by step we want to get more involved as time goes on and this was a neat place for us to keep expanding our support of the sport. Bend is a great community and we want to support that as well.”

Bend—long a destination for outdoor enthusiasts—has become a popular spot for national-level running championships in recent years, as the 83,000-person city played host to the U.S. trail half marathon championship from 2010-2012, the 2013 U.S. club cross country championships and the U.S. 50K trail championships last fall. The 2016 and 2017 U.S. cross country championships will also be held in Bend.

“It’s very much a trail-running-oriented place but we’ve always felt like there’s space here for every type of runner,” says King, the 2011 world mountain running champion who has called bend home for the past 13 years.

In addition to King, this year’s mountain running championships feature two stacked fields full of former national champions, world team members and course-record holders. There are no less than 10 people in each race who can contend for a spot on the world squad, but here are a few worth keeping a real close eye on:

5 Men To Watch

Joe Gray

The two-time defending U.S. mountain running champion and five-time U.S. mountain runner of the year, Gray ran 58:15 to win New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington Road Race in June for the second straight year. Gray, who has represented the U.S. in international competition 17 times over the course of his career, will be looking for his third straight U.S. mountain running title (and 10th U.S. title overall) on Saturday.

Patrick Smyth

One of the most versatile runners in the field, Smyth, who owns a 2:15 marathon PR, represented the U.S. at this year’s world cross country championships—arguably the world’s most competitive footrace—where he finished 36th overall. He finished second to Gray at this event last year (held at Loon Mountain in N.H.)—and went on to place 10th at the world championship in Italy. Earlier this year, he placed fifth at the U.S. 12K cross country championships and took down King’s course record at the Way Too Cook 50K, clocking 3:04:48.

Max King

You can never count out the guy who designed the course! King, who has called Bend home for 13 years, will be looking to make yet another U.S. team. The 35-year-old has won numerous U.S. championships on the trails in recent years, won the world mountain running title in 2011 and captured both the world 100K championship and the Tough Mudder obstacle race world championship last year. He’s also a 2:14 marathoner and formerly a national-class competitor in the 3,000-meter steeplechase on the track. He knows every inch of this challenging layout, which puts him at a huge advantage over many others in the field.

Andy Wacker

The 26-year-old Wacker is a young gun on the mountain running scene who recently finished second at the World Long Distance Mountain Championships in Switzerland, helping the U.S. team to a silver medal. The Boulder-based Wacker was also second to Gray at Mt. Washington last month, breaking 61 minutes by a second, and tied for the win at last weekend’s 12.7-mile Barr Trail Mountain Race in Colorado Springs.

Zach Miller

Fourth at this event last year and 52nd at the world championships in Italy, the Colorado Springs-based Miller is looking to build off the momentum of his third-place finish at last month’s Mt. Washington Road Race, where he ran 63:15. The aggressive Miller, who finished fifth at Transvulcania 73K race in the Canary Island in May after forcing the pace for the first half of the race, recently won the 7.5-mile Vail Hill Climb in Colo.

5 Women To Watch

Morgan Arritola

The top returning finisher from last year’s race, Arritola won this event in 2013 and enters the 2015 race as the woman to beat. The 29-year-old, who took an individual bronze at the 2012 world mountain running championships and led the U.S. women to the team title, represented the U.S. at the 2010 Winter Olympics in cross-country skiing.

Kasie Enman

Like Max King on the men’s side, the 35-year-old Enman won the individual title at the world mountain running championships in 2011. A resident of Huntington, Vt., and mother of a 5-year-old daughter, she finished third at this event last year. A two-time Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier with a personal best of 2:37:14, she was runner-up last year at both the Speedgoat 50K and Rut 50K.

Megan Kimmel

“Will Kimmel race on Saturday?” is the question that has yet to be answered. She said this week she’s a little banged up, tired and jet-lagged from five weeks of training and racing in Europe. If she doesn’t race at Mt. Bachelor, it’s with good reason: just last weekend, the 35-year-old from Colorado became the first American to win the super technical Dolomites SkyRace in Italy, running 2:25:57 to break the course record by 3 seconds.

Megan Lizotte

Fifth at this event last year, the San Diego-based Lizotte will be looking to make her fourth U.S. mountain running team on Saturday. The 31-year-old finished fourth at these championships in 2011 and went on to place 12th at the world championships that year in Albania. Lizotte, a two-time U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier, also won the 2011 national trail marathon championship in Ashland, Ore. The mother of a 3-year-old daughter, Lizotte finished sixth overall at last weekend’s NACAC Mountain Running Championship in Canada, helping the U.S. win the team title.

Mandy Ortiz

One of the youngest competitors in the elite field, the 20-year-old Ortiz most recently finished third at last weekend’s NACAC Mountain Running Championship in Canada, helping the U.S. team to a gold medal. Ortiz, who lives in Eagle, Colo., won the junior title at the 2013 world mountain running championships and finished fourth at last year’s race. Ortiz has good genes: her mom, Anita Ortiz, is a former Western States Endurance Run champion and three-time U.S. mountain running champion.

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