No returning champions in this year's field at Kualoa Ranch
Anybody want a world championship? The XTERRA Trail Run World Championship is up for grabs this year.
This year's event is scheduled for December 2 at Kualoa Ranch, Hawaii, and in the unpredictable sport of trail running, this much is certain - there will be new champions.
Oregon's Max King is the only runner to win the men's title at XTERRA Trail Run World Championship. The event was created in 2008, and he has won it every year. King's reign will come to an end this year, as he will stay in Oregon with his wife for the expected birth of their second child in early December.
In his absence, the list of contenders is impressive:
- Ben Bruce has placed in the top three of the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship in 2008, 2009 and 2011. He was a finalist for the steeplechase at the U.S. Olympic trials in 2012 (he placed sixth).
- Joseph Gray is a recognized name in the sport of trail running. He placed second at the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship in 2009, and is a three-time former winner of the USATF Mountain Runner of the Year award.
- Thomas Rivers Puzey and Jacob Puzey are brothers who placed fourth and fifth, respectively, at the 2011 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship. Rivers Puzey has somewhat of a home-course advantage, as he competed in college at BYU-Hawaii, which is located about five miles away from Kualoa Ranch.
- J. Marshall Thomson placed second to King at the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship in Utah in September.
- Will Christian placed second to King at the 2010 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship, and the margin of 1 minute, 20 seconds, for that year remains the closest any runner has come to King on the Kualoa Ranch course.
- Mario Mendoza placed second to King at the 2011 XTERRA Trail Run National Championship at Utah, and is a past winner of the USATF Trail Runner of the Year award.
Several other dark horse contenders could emerge, as more than 2,000 runners from around the world are expected to compete in this year's race. King said the eventual new champion will have to be "an all-around athlete" to conquer the field and the course. "It takes a little bit of everything," he said. "Strong technical skills and hill climbing endurance 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 division is also in search of a new queen, as 2011 champion Morgan Arritola will not enter this year due to injuries and other schedule conflicts. What's more, none of the other previous women's champions are entered. In their absence, there is also an impressive list of female contenders:
- Lucy Smith (pictured) placed second last year in her first try at Kualoa Ranch. She is considered one of the top masters (40-older) endurance athletes in all of Canada.
- Melanie McQuaid is a three-time former XTERRA World Champion for off-road triathlon. She placed fifth at last year's XTERRA Trail Run World Championship.
- Kim Kuehnert is a runner on the Hawaii Pacific University cross country team. She is originally from Germany, and placed second at the 2010 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship (she did not compete last year due to illness).
- Polina Babkina is another runner from the Hawaii Pacific University cross country team. She is originally from Russia and was the team's top-seeded competitor this season.
- Susie Stephen is considered Hawaii's top female distance trail runner. She placed sixth overall at last year's XTERRA Trail Run World Championship, and first in the 30-34 age group.
More than 2,000 runners representing at least 15 countries and 37 states are already registered to compete in the 2012 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship. In addition to the overall titles, the various age-group world championships will also be at stake. Every male and female age-group winner from the 21-kilometer championship will be crowned a 2012 XTERRA Trail Run World Champion.
Returning age-group champions from last year include: Keith Rieger (men 40-44), Ray Brust (men 50-54), Susie Stephen (women 30-34), Melanie McQuaid (women 35-39), Lucy Smith (women 40-44), Brigitte Stemmer (women 55-59) and Lee Saltonstall (women 60-64).
The XTERRA Trail Run World Championship is an open race (no qualification necessary), and runners of all ages and skill levels can enter. There are even separate 10K and 5K courses for runners who want to choose a shorter distance.
Online registration is still available. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER.
XTERRA TRAIL RUN WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
When: Sunday, December 2, 9 a.m. start
Where: Kualoa Ranch, Oahu, Hawaii
Who: Open to runners of all ages and skill levels
Courses: 21K (championship course), 10K, 5K or "Adventure Walk"
Entry fees: $60 for 21K, $45 for 10K, $35 for 5K, $30 for Adventure Walk
Registration information: www.xterratrailrun.com