Patrick Smyth and Kimber Mattox will return to Hawaii to defend their titles at the 8th annual Paul Mitchell XTERRA Trail Run World Championship half-marathon at Kualoa Ranch on December 6.
Since winning Worlds in his first-year racing off-road in 2013 Smyth has become arguably America’s best trail runner, having won two XTERRA National Championships, back-to-back U.S. Trail Half-Marathon Championships, and the last two XTERRA World Titles.
“I had no idea, it was total serendipity,” said Smyth, on being asked if he knew two years ago that trail running would become such a big part of his life. “I was just trying to get excited about running again, so I decided to give the trails a go. It was a great decision in retrospect, as the sport has really renewed my love for running.”
It turned out to be great timing as well, with trail running becoming more and more mainstream.
“Trail running seems to be thriving,” exclaimed Smyth. “I don't have any hard metrics, but from my experience it seems participation numbers are on the upswing and more people are getting into the sport for the first time. From an elite perspective, there are more sponsorship and racing opportunities and the level of competition has never been better. There is great racing, great drama on a weekly basis and I think this has really helped push the sport forward. And, the U.S. Mountain Running Team is garnering more and more support from sponsors, thanks to people like Nancy Hobbs and Richard Bolt, and seems to be gaining prominence amongst the general running populace.”
As for coming back to Hawaii, Smyth says he can’t wait.
“I’m healthy, fast, and injury free so I’ll be chasing the course record at Kualoa,” said Smyth. “It's a challenging course, but it plays to a lot of my strengths. I can push hard early and then just hold on when the brutal climb and technical descent come later in the race. It's also stunningly beautiful which helps when I'm hurting bad in the later stages!”
While Smyth seems the clear-cut favorite, his U.S. Mountain Running teammate David Roche has yet to concede the win…
“The secret to beating Pat is to pull a Tonya Harding on his knees pre-race, or for him to go woefully off-course!” joked Roche, who finished 10-minutes behind Smyth in third last year at Kualoa. “To be serious, Pat is nearly unbeatable at all distances--when he is on his game, his mix of speed and technical proficiency is unmatched. However, at the U.S. 50k Championships I ended up under a minute behind him so I'm hoping the trend of getting closer continues. And, Pat is a Nike teammate (plus an awesome guy), so it's hard not to root for him, even if he makes me look like the Washington Generals to his Harlem Globetrotters.”
For Roche, who made Team USA at the World Long Distance Mountain Championships in Switzerland, won bronze at the U.S. Trail 50k Championships, and set the course record at the Leadville Heavy Half Marathon, his primary reason to return to Hawaii is the same as many others … the course.
“It’s the most beautiful, challenging course I've ever raced,” he said. “I hope to run XTERRA Worlds every single year just to experience such awe-inspiring (and life-affirming) ocean views, jungle sights, and epic trails. Last year's race was impossibly difficult in the best way. I'm more prepared for the heat this year (sauna!) and am relishing the chance to splash in the Hawaii mud one more time.”
Like Smyth, Roche said he sees a notable up-tick in trail running nationwide.
“U.S. trail running is exploding due to the efforts of organizations like XTERRA and companies like Nike,” said Roche. “People are realizing that trail running distills everything that is fun and fulfilling about running without the boring stuff. XTERRA, Nike, and others have created an environment where people - both pros and age-groupers - can do what they love (adventure!) without suffering through what they hate (slogging!).”
Other men’s notables include XTERRA Lake Las Vegas 21K Champion, elite XTERRA triathlete, and U.S. Mountain Running team member JP Donovan and Costa Rican stand-out Ashur Youssefi-Dizagetakieh, who finished 9th at Worlds last year.
The women’s race features a super-compelling matchup between last year’s winner Kimber Mattox of Oregon against 2013 champion Polina Carlson of Hawaii.
Mattox, who placed 2nd in her first-ever trail race at XTERRA Nationals in 2014, has been on a role ever since. She won the XTERRA and Warrior Dash World Championships, placed 6th (top American) to help TEAM USA win the silver medal at the World Mountain Running Championship, and last month captured the USATF Trail Half Championship in Bellingham, WA.
“I'm excited to come back to Hawaii for the XTERRA Trail Run Championships because this was one of my favorite races last year,” said Mattox, who helps coach track and cross country at the University of Oregon. “I know it will be a really tough race, but I love the varying terrain, the gorgeous sites, and the overall atmosphere of the event. I learned a lot and met some great people at this race last year, and I look forward to doing the same this year.”
Mattox said she’s also looking forward to getting ‘chased by dinosaurs’ … “I think my favorite part of the race are the sections where you're running through the lush, jungley trees because for some reason I kept picturing that I was being chased by dinosaurs!”
Note: Kualoa Ranch is famous for being the setting for both the original Jurassic Park movie as well as the recent mega-hit, Jurassic World.
This year the mighty Dino chasing Mattox will likely come in the form of Polina Carlson.
The former Hawaii Pacific University cross country standout has turned into Hawaii’s fastest distance runner. She was 5th in the 2013 Honolulu Marathon, 1st in last year’s Great Aloha Run and in December of 2014 ran under the "A" Olympic Marathon Trials Standard by placing 6th at the California International Marathon with a time of 2:35:41
“After winning XTERRA Worlds in 2013 I decided to focus on longer distances and had my training goals set on tackling the marathon,” said Carlson. “I can definitely say that the marathon is my favorite distance. It's the perfect challenge for me, a race requiring both speed and endurance. Also, there is no better feeling when crossing the finish line, but, I do miss the trails! I was extremely happy to get off road and run the 2015 XTERRA Gunstock 21K. Sometimes when I get tired of the road, I feel like running trails because it always brings me a new passion for running. I like both, and I like mixing it up.”
Other female contenders include Hawaii’s own Lauren Ho – who has placed 7th at Worlds in each of the last two years, XTERRA Lake Las Vegas 21K Champ Julie Byran, and a pair of future superstars; 12-year-olds Kasuga Watabe from Japan (who finished 8th last year) and 11-year-old Alayna Szuch, a 6th grader at Evergreen Elementary School in Colorado who most recently finished 2nd overall woman at the XTERRA Trail Running National Championships half-marathon in Utah.
Of course with registration for the race still open, there’s just no telling who might join this super-fast field. Learn more at www.xterrakualoa.com.