The competition is strong and deep but once again the reigning and three-time XTERRA Trail Run World Champion Patrick Smyth is the man to beat.
The elite men’s race chase pack is headlined by Joe Gray, the 2016 World Mountain Running Champion who led the Team USA mountain running team to their first-ever Gold medal in Bulgaria this September.
Gray has had perhaps his best year ever on the trails in 2016. In addition to his World Mountain Running title he also won the 30K USA Trail Run National Title, the USA National Mountain Running Championship, and the North American Continental Champion in Sky Marathon and Vertical Kilometer.
“It’s been one of my best years so far and I’ve had a blast racing and experiencing different types of races and challenging my personal records at old races,” said Gray. “I'm ready to compete, and take on anybody who toes the line…I just wanna run.”
In 2012 Gray and Ben Bruce crossed the finish line at the same time at XTERRA Trail Run Worlds, and neither photo nor video could determine a clear winner so the two were declared co-champs. A year later, in 2013, Gray finished 2nd to Smyth and since then Smyth has won three in a row at the ranch.
Smyth, who finished 10th at the New York City Marathon earlier this month, said he’s looking forward to racing against Gray as well as the legacy of Max King.
“I’m really looking forward to racing Joe, it's been awhile and he's had an amazing 2016,” said Smyth. “For him to win the World Mountain Running Championship is really impressive. Even with Joe on the start line I probably won't mix up my strategy too much. I'm as fit and confident as I've ever been and really just need to focus on racing tough.”
Smyth will also try to match Max King’s record of winning four straight XTERRA World Titles, a feat King accomplished from 2008-to-2011.
Then there is Ryan Hall, who has run a half-marathon faster than any American ever. While he says he won’t be a contender, how could you overlook the two-time Olympian?
Other men sure to be in the mix include Kiwi Niam Macdonald and top Hawaii runner Ken Stover, who placed 5th and 6th, respectively, at last year’s race. Japanese star Fujio Miyachi, who placed 5th at Worlds in 2009, is back as is Rivers Puzey, who was 3rd in 2010 and 4th in 2011. Other locals to look out for include Sergio Florian, who lives right there by the ranch and has gotten faster and faster, finishing 13th overall last year, and Jimmy Davis, who was 5th at the inaugural Trail Run World Champs and may still have some life in those legs.
CARLSON HEADLINES WOMEN’S FIELD
In the women’s race Polina Carlson, who won the Paul Mitchell XTERRA Trail Running World Championship women’s elite title in 2013, is the clear-cut favorite.
“I’m pleased with my training right now and I’m excited to test my fitness on race day,” said Carlson, who won the Great Aloha Run, the XTERRA Gunstock Half-Marathon, and the Fontana Half-Marathon overall with a PR of 1:13:35 this year. “I’m increasing my mileage every week and my workouts show that I am more fit than a year ago, and I’ll be ready to race on December 4th.”
Last year Carlson was 2nd only to Kimber Mattox, who won’t make this year’s event.
“The Paul Mitchell XTERRA Trail World Championship is one of the most amazing and unique trail races in the country with the most breathtaking views of the mountains,” said Carlson, a former stand-out cross country runner at Hawaii Pacific University.
“It’s a tough course, but I enjoy the challenge and I try to embrace it. Every year I look forward to coming back, because it’s not a just typical race, it’s a true adventure! Running the last few miles of the race are the toughest but the most memorable. The last hill is killer, but the breathtaking views definitely make up for it, and having cows mooing and spectators cheering as you approach the finish line is just epic!”
Four other women who finished in the top 10 last year are back for another try, including Ashley Jensen, who was 5th, 14-year-old Japanese sensation Kasuga Watabe, who was 7th, Kelly Wolf (9th), and Molly Ashkenas (10th).
Jensen, who ran cross country at both Providence and USC, said she’s hoping to improve on that 5th place showing last year.
“I was happy with my performance but I did struggle on the hills and power walked for a bit on the super steep grade portion,” said Jensen. “I've added more hills to my training runs and speed workouts, so the goal is no walking this year! I also came back this year because it really is my favorite race I've ever run. I feel like I've learned a lot from racing it 2x in the past (she was 8th at the inaugural event in 2008) and think as they say, the 3rd times the charm. Also, Jurassic Park is one of my favorite movies and was filmed at the ranch! Sometimes I like to pretend I'm in the sequel and racing through the Dino park!”
Also of note is Kelly Wolf, 22, who graduated from Arizona State over the summer, won the Flagstaff 55K and was third at the National Trail Marathon Championship in Moab this year. She certainly has the endurance, but will she have the speed to keep up with Carlson?
Then there is XTERRA triathlon pro Sarah Graves, who was a star cross country runner when going to school at Montana State University – Billings. She won the tough XTERRA Beaver Creek half-marathon the day after racing the Mountain Champs triathlon this summer.
There are also several age group World Champions returning to the ranch to defend their crowns including some of the aforementioned runners like Kasuga Watabe (10-14), Niam Macdonald (15-19), Colton Barber, and Kelly Wolf (20-24), Smyth (25-29), Sergio Florian (35-39), Christian Friis (40-44), Wilhelm Northrop (45-49), Kawika Carlson (50-54), Todd Marohnic (55-59), Ed Bugarin (65-69), Nancy Andrade (65-69), and Ellis Andrews (70-74).