Innsbruck, 7th June 2023, the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships sets the bar high, with an uphill event that it will be hard to top.
Today at 1pm CET the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships got off to a thrilling start with the uphill race. Competitors from 70 countries toed the start line to vie for the title of World Champion.
The runners took on a tough course of 7.1km with 1020m of ascent. With the temperature at 20 – 22 degrees centigrade on the course, this wasn’t too problematic in itself but with almost no wind heat was going to be a factor in the more exposed parts of the route.
After a 900m circuit of the village of Neustift in Stubai at the start (at around 988m in altitude), the route then headed quickly uphill on narrow, steep forest switchbacks. There was then a brief respite for runners after the lungbusting first 4km where the route passed Autenalm at 1665m and then traversed a short, flatter section across the mountain.
But this faster section was short-lived as the course then kicked steeply upwards again from the Panoramabahn Elfer top station towards the Elferhütte. For the final sting in the tail the route headed directly onto a ski slope, where the runners had to scale a cruel 220m of ascent in just 700m of distance.
The men’s race
Last year’s uphill winner, Patrick Kipngeno (KEN), was back to defend his crown. But with such a strong field, including the silver and bronze medal winners from the last World Championships, Ombago Kiriago Philemon (KEN) and Alejandro Garcia (ESP), as well as a host of others expected to contest the podium, it was predicted to be a close and exciting race.
It was Kiriago Philemon who took the race out from the start, with Kipngeno keeping it cool and leading the chase. The area of steep, narrow switchbacks really served to stretch the runners out, despite the lack of opportunities to overtake. Once the runners emerged from this long section at Autenalm (3.9km) it was Kipngeno who was in the lead, posting a split of 25.27, with Levi Kiprotich 29 seconds behind and Josphat Kiprotich 14 seconds behind him. How would the flat section and the the final, brutal uphill shake up the field?
In the end it was Kipngeno who stretched out his lead to win in 40.18, with a cool dominance we’ve seen so often at in the World Cup events. Levi Kiprotich was second in 41.50 and Josphat Kiprotich third in 42.04.
Team gold went to Kenya, who had three runners in the top 10 (1st, 3rd, 7th), silver to Uganda (2nd, 4th, 15th) and bronze to Switzerland (10th, 11th, 24th).
Men’s top 5
1. Patrick Kipngeno (KEN) 40.18
2. Levi Kiprotich (UGA) 41.50
3. Josphat Kiprotich (KEN) 42.04
4. Eliud Cherop (UGA) 42.16
5. Joseph Gray (USA) 42.32
Men’s team competition
1. Kenya (11 points)
2. Uganda (21 points)
3. Switzerland (45 points)
The women’s race (and the real action)
Allie McLaughlin (USA) was also back as defending champion and facing an incredibly strong field, including last year’s second placed runner, the legendary Andrea Mayr (AUT). McLaughlin hit it hard right from the start and Joyce Muthoni (KEN) went with her. In what was an exciting first couple of kilometres the lead changed hands several times. Grayson Murphy (USA) joined the group, then Andrea Mayr (AUT) appeared and the race was on.
On the narrow section through the trees McLaughlin dropped back a little and suddenly Mayr made her move and quickly took a decisive lead. Could there be a fairytale 7th World title for the 43 year-old Mayr on her home turf?
Valentine Jepkoech Rutto (KEN) and Philaries Jeruto Kisang (KEN) were hot on her heels, as was Murphy.
At Autenalm it was Mayr in the lead with a split of 30.08, with Kisang 33 seconds behind and Murphy 19 seconds behind her. Would the fast, flat section offer the opportunity for runners to challenge the lead, before the final climb?
Kisang took the lead just before the final climb and it looked like the dream was over for Mayr, as Kisang proceeded to open a gap. But Mayr never lost touch with her and as they hit the steep last few hundred metres she started to reel her in.
A race to remember!
As the commentator put it, it seemed as though the home crowd were collectively pushing Mayr to the finish. Once she took the lead again Kisang was reduced to a walk and there was no doubt that the title was Mayr’s. She stretched the gap out further, and Kisang had nothing left.
“A finish like that, for an athlete on home soil, is hard to beat,” said FR editor Robbie Britton, watching online. “What an experience it must have been, even for an athlete with a history in the sport as extensive as Mayr’s. ”
Check out the incredible finish to the race on this Youtube link, with the excellent commentary provided by Martin Gaffuri.
Mayr won her seventh world title in 48.14. Kisang maintained her second place in 48.51 and Murphy was third in 49.22.
What an incredible start to the championships! Kenya took the gold medal in the team competition, with three runners inside the top 10. Germany took silver (with 4th, 7th and 22nd place) and Great Britain bronze (with 8th, 20th and 22nd).
Women’s top 5
1. Andrea Mayr (AUT) 48.14
2. Philaries Jeruto Kisang (KEN) 48.51
3. Grayson Murphy (USA) 49.22
4. Laura Hottenrott (GER) 49.56
5. Valentine Jepkoech Rutto (KEN) 49.59
Women’s team competition
1. Kenya (17 points)
2. Germany (33 points)
3. Great Britain (51 points)