This year, the Trail Sacred Forests race will host the Trail World Championships in Badia Prataglia, Italy, east of Florence in Tuscany. The course is measured at 50 kilometers in length and with 3,000 meters of climb, a significant shortening of the IAU Trail World Championships courses from 2015 and 2016. As such, it looks like it will favor those who can work steep hills well at shorter-distance ultramarathons. The race is competitive in its breadth and depth, truly a world-championship event. Racing together we’ll see some of the best road ultrarunners, trail runners, short mountain-running specialists, long-distance ultramarathon specialists, fell runners, and more–from six different continents–all in one place. The women’s race has 111 entrants, vetted for participation through their country’s qualification process.
Last year, Teams France, Spain, and Great Britain filled out the the team podium, while individual medals went to Caroline Chaverot (France), Azara García (Spain), and Ragna Debats (Netherlands).
France, Spain, and Great Britain once again bring strong teams, though their composition has changed significantly. This year is the year that Team USA brings a team that seems well-matched to the race’s specific conditions and I think they have team podium potential. The wild-card teams are Italy and, ahem, Argentina. Teams are scored by the cumulative times of their top-three team members, and a tie break is decided by the time of the team’s third finisher.
On the individual side, Chaverot isn’t returning but García and Debats are along with a total of seven of last year’s top-10 finishers. Playing chase will be a passel of new talent to this year’s race. In the end, I suspect it’ll be the likes of García, Gemma Arenas, Megan Roche, Debats, Nathalie Mauclair, Jo Meek, and a few surprise women we can’t predict vying for the women’s individual podium.
This preview is organized first by teams we expect to dominate, and, then, by additional individuals outside of those teams we expect to feature highly in the individual race. Because of this organization, note that there are some really fast runners listed toward the bottom of this preview–don’t miss them! A full list of the entrants (pdf) is available.
The race starts at 8 a.m. on Saturday, June 10, which is 12 a.m. MDT heading into Saturday in the U.S. As you’d expect, we’ll be reporting on the race live. Stay tuned.
Be sure to check out our in-depth men’s preview, too.
While Team Spain lacks in star-power depth compared to their 2016 team, for 2017 they bring two international-level runners in Azara García and Gemma Arenas, and, then, a group of four women who’ve had strong national-level performances.
Azara García should lead out the team, and she returns after taking second at the Trail World Championships last year. Elsewhere in 2016, she took second at the Skyrunning World Championships in the Sky discipline at the Buff Epic Trail and she won the 2016 El Reventón, which was the 2016 Spanish Trail National Championships. Earlier this year, she won Transgrancanaria. Though Transgrancanaria showed García’s long-race potential, she’s been specializing in shorter ultra-distance races and sub-ultra-distance races since she converted from track and field to trail running in 2011. I think this race course is perfectly in García’s wheelhouse, and she’s due a big international win. The only red flag one has to wave was her drop with muscle problems from the 2017 Spanish Trail National Championships.
Her fifth-place finish at the Trail World Championships last year was one race in a huge 2016 for Gemma Arenas (pre-race interview) that additionally included a third place at the 2016 Spanish Trail National Championships (behind winner Azara García), sixth at Transvulcania, first at Ultra Skymarathon Madeira, and first at Ultra Pirineu. With her top skyrunning performances, she was also the 2016 Skyrunner World Series Ultra division champion. This past March, she won the 2017 Spanish Trail National Championships.
The rest of Team Spain:
- Laia Canes – 19th 2016 IAU Trail Worlds, 6th 2016 Spanish Trail National Championships; 2nd 2016 Penyagolosa Trails MiM 62k (behind Gemma Arenas); 1st 2017 Penyagaloa Trails MiM
- Anna Comet – 5th 2016 Ultra Skymarathon Madeira and 3rd 2016 Ultra Pirineu (both behind winner Gemma Arenas); 2nd 2015 Transvulcania Ultramarathon
- Nuria Domínguez – 4th 2016 Ultra Montseny (behind winner Gemma Arenas)
- Montserrat Martinez – 5th 2016 Spanish Trail National Championships
Team France, like Spain, lacks the star power of the previous couple IAU Trail World Championships. Most notably, the 2016 IAU Trail World Champion Caroline Chaverot is not returning. However, Nathalie Mauclair returns as the highest-ranking member of the team, and beyond her is a group of women with strong potential, but much of it is unproven beyond the national stage.
Nathalie Mauclair (pre-race interview) was fourth at the Trail World Championships last year, and she was winner of both the 2013 and 2015 IAU Trail World Championships. 2015 was a bang-up year for Nathalie as she was also the winner of UTMB. The last couple years, she’s raced less, although she has two second places at the 2016 and 2017 editions of the Marathon des Sables. Nathalie’s certainly focused her efforts at longer ultramarathons in recent years, so it will be interesting to see how she does in a race that’s over in five hours or so.
Adeline Roche was the far-and-away winner of the 2017 Trail du Ventoux 46k, the qualifier France used for its 2017 Trail World Championships team and an early season French barn burner. There, she beat everyone in the field by just under 15 minutes. In 2016, she took third at Trails de le Vésubie 55k, the 2016 French Trail National Championships. Though her trail experience appears limited, she seems to have significant road-running experience. In 2010, she ran a 2:38 marathon and 1:16 half. And in 2014, she ran a 2:47 marathon.
I am expecting a strong performance out of Lucie Jamsin. In 2015, she ran to 25th place at the World Mountain Running Championships. In 2016, her best results were fifth at Les Templiers and fourth at La SaintéLyon 72k. In March, she took a very strong second at the Team France qualifier, the Trail du Ventoux 46k.
Sandra Martin has appeared once previously at the IAU Trail World Championships, taking 18th at the 2013 event. In 2016, her best runs were a win of the Trails de le Vésubie 55k, the 2016 French Trail National Championships (ahead of third-place Adeline Roche), and an eighth place at Les Templiers (behind fifth-place Lucie Jamsin). She qualified for Team France by taking fifth at the 2017 Trail du Ventoux 46k.
The remaining members of Team France:
- Amandine Ferrato – 2nd 2016 Mont Blanc Marathon; 3rd 2017 Trail du Ventoux 46k
- Céline Lafaye – 3rd 2011 Sierre-Zinal; 3rd 2016 Limone Extreme; 3rd 2015 Mont Blanc Marathon; 7th 2015 Sierre-Zinal
It’s also curious to me that the very strong runner Anne-Lise Rousset is not one of France’s six designated team runners, so she won’t score for the team. She ran in and finished fourth at the qualifier Trail du Ventoux 46k, some 16 minutes faster than Sandra Martin, who is on the team. She was fourth at the 2015 IAU Trail World Champs and a DNF at the 2016 edition. In 2016, she was also second at Transvulcania. Nevertheless, she’s still competing in the women’s individual race.
I realize I may bring subjective bias to this preview as a journalist from the U.S., but in trying to be objective, I think this is the year Team USA could run well at the IAU Trail World Championships. You have to go back to the first IAU Trail World Champs, held in 2007 at the now-defunct Sunmart 50 Mile in Texas, to see U.S. women running well at this event, in what looked like a silver-medal performance behind Team Japan.
Where the 2017 Team USA lacks women with international accolades, it makes up for it with women who have deep national-level success. Perhaps frustratingly, though, and unlike other countries, the U.S. has a multitude of “trail national championships,” so it’s difficult to compare these women with each other. If I have this right, the USATF hosted 100-mile, 100k, 50k, 30k, marathon, and half-marathon trail national championships in addition to the U.S. Mountain Running Championships in 2016.
Digressions aside, this year’s Team USA contains women with multiple USATF trail national championships titles, who are mountain-running standouts, and who are strong ultrarunners. Let’s look at the team.
Megan Roche (pre-race interview) should lead Team USA, and I think she stands as the U.S.’s best chance for an individual medal, too. The serial short-distance trail racer’s best national performances include three wins (including a course record) at the 2015 through 2017 Way Too Cool 50ks, which are early season U.S. barn burners, and a course record at the 2016 Tamalpa Headlands 50k, which was the 2016 USATF 50k Trail National Championships with an incredibly strong field. She also won the 2016 USATF 30k Trail National Championships at the Pikes Peak Ultra 30k. She’s gone international with her racing a couple times, but I don’t think she’s raced to her potential outside the U.S. She was 21st at the 2014 World Mountain Running Championships and 19th 2015 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships. That said, she’s been second and first at the 2015 and 2016 NACAC (North American) Mountain Running Championships. If she can run in Italy this weekend like she does in her California home, she’ll be on the podium.
Caitlin Smith has all the potential for a top performance this weekend if she can handle the extra vertical packed into this course over her home California terrain. In the last couple years, Smith’s best trail performance has been her win of the 2015 Tamalpa Headlands 50k, which was the 2015 USATF 50k Trail National Championships, and her third place at the same event in 2016 (behind winner Megan Roche). The two-time U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier is also strong on the roads, as she has 2:41 marathon and 1:18 half-marathon bests. On an international level, the last two years she’s finished sixth at the IAU 50k World Championships.
I’m not sure I have a good grip on the trail and ultrarunning potential of Ladia Albertson-Junkans. In 2015, she was sixth at the U.S. Mountain Running Championships, and she followed that up with a fourth in 2016, earning her a spot on Team USA for competing and the 2016 World Mountain Running Championships, where she finished 15th. Also in 2016, she was second at the Lake Padden Trail Half Marathon, the USATF Half-Marathon Trail National Championships, and she was second at the NACAC Mountain Running Championships (a few seconds behind winner Megan Roche). She won the competitive 2017 Chuckanut 50k in March, her first ultra. The woman certainly has plenty of short-distance leg speed as, in college, she was a two-time NCAA Division I All-American in cross country while running for the University of Minnesota.
Speaking 100% subjectively for a moment, Anita Ortiz is one of my favorite trail runners. She’s a mom of four, a teacher, an adult-onset runner who started competitive running in her mid-thirties, and she just celebrated her 53rd birthday. In her more than 15 years of competitive racing, she’s tried everything and done well at it all, including winning the 2002 through 2004 U.S. Mountain Running Championships and the 2009 Western States 100 Mile. Talk about diversity. Ortiz’s best performances of late have been a 13th place at the 2016 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships and a second place at the 2016 Pikes Peak Marathon.
Here’s the rest of Team USA:
- Keely Henninger – 7th and 8th at the 2015 and 2016 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships; 8th 2016 USATF Trail Half Marathon National Championships (behind second-place Ladia Albertson-Junkans); 2nd 2017 Way Too Cool 50k (behind winner Megan Roche)
- Corrine Malcolm – Only returning member of Team USA from the 2016 IAU Trail World Champs, where she finished 28th (and was Team USA’s highest-placing runner); 1st 2016 USATF 50-Mile Trail National Championships; 7th 2017 Chuckanut 50k (behind winner Ladia Albertson-Junkans)
Team Great Britain
Team Great Britain has an interesting composition of women with significant global experience and women who’ve proven themselves nationally. Only three women from last year’s bronze-medal team return, however, making room for different crop of women.
I suspect that Jo Meek still has unrealized trail and ultramarathon potential. She is Team Great Britain’s highest-returning finisher, having taken seventh at the 2016 IAU Trail World Champs. Also in 2016, she took second at the CCC. So far in 2017, she’s been second at the TransLantau 100k, and she participated in the global Wings for Life World Run, finishing as the top runner in the Slovakia location and 12th in the world overall. Looking further back, her most competitive finishes have been eighth at the 2015 TNF EC 50 Mile, fourth at the 2014 IAU 100k World Championships, and fifth at the 2014 Comrades Marathon. She has a 2:47 marathon best, and I think this shorter, faster course will suit her and her leg speed well.
I generally think of Jo Zakrzewski as someone who excels on flatter, longer terrain. Cases in point, she’s been second once (2011), third two times (in 2016 and 2014), and fifth once (2015) at the IAU 100k World Championships. She’s also had three top finishes of the Comrades Marathon, fourth in 2012 and 2013 as well as eighth in 2016. I think she also holds a 2:39 marathon best and maybe a 1:17 half-marathon best, if I’ve got that right, both from 2013. That said, when the IAU Trail World Championships were run in hilly Wales in 2013, she was fourth. Last year she took 29th at the Trail World Championships. It’s hard to suss out exactly how her chips will fall in this weekend’s shorter race with its steep ups and downs.
Julie Briscoe brings the most leg speed to Team Great Britain. I believe she’s at least a 2:39 marathoner (2014) and a 1:14 half marathoner (2013). Briscoe was the way-ahead winner of the 2017 Haworth Hobble 32 Mile, Team GB’s qualifying event, finishing seven minutes ahead of any other woman. Going back to 2013, it looks like she was seventh at the 2013 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships.
The balance of Team Great Britain:
- Sally Fawcett – 27th and 44th at the 2015 and 2016 IAU Trail World Champs respectively; 2nd 2016 Highland Fling 53 Mile; 2nd 2017 Haworth Hobble 32 Mile
- Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn – 3rd 2017 Haworth Hobble 32 Mile; ran a 17:57 Bob Graham Round earlier this year, which is the second-fastest time for a woman
- Helen Bonsor – 23rd 2016 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships; 3rd 2016 Tromso Skyrace; 4th 2017 Haworth Hobble; 3rd 2017 Transgrancanaria Advanced 82k
I’ll be honest, I have no concept of the potential of Team Italy and its members in the individual race. As described in our men’s preview, the Italian tradition of mountain running is certifiably insane and not well understood by the rest of the world. First, it has decades of little-documented history (at least outside of Italian). Second, national-level races are wildly competitive. Third, there is little by the way of Italian off-road running journalism and media which brings all this to the rest of the world.
Here’s my best shot at rustling up some national and international results for the members of the home team, Team Italy:
- 2nd 2017 Zegama Marathon two weekends ago
- Runaway winner by 16 minutes of the 2017 Val Bregaglia Trail 43k, which was the Italian selection race for the IAU Trail World Champs
- 2-time Sierre-Zinal finisher, 12th in 2016 and 9th in 2014
- 2nd 2017 Val Bregaglia Trail 43k, the selection race for Team Italy for the IAU Trail World Champs
- 5th 2017 Trofeo Nasgeo 21k, the 2017 Italian Long Distance Trail National Championships
- 19th 2016 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships
- 3rd 2016 Giir Di Mont
- Appears she does some road running, but I couldn’t get a good lock on her PRs
- 3rd 2017 Val Bregaglia Trail 43k
- 3rd 2017 Italian Long Distance Trail National Championships (ahead of fifth-place Barbara Bani)
- 12th 2015 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships
- Has a road-running background and the fastest time I can find for her is a 2:48 marathon earlier this year.
Lidia Mongelli – 4th 2017 Val Bregaglia Trail 43k
Lisa Borzani – We know her quite well from her serial racing of the longest and toughest mountain ultras around the world. For example, in 2017, she’s been eighth at Transgrancanaria and third at the Madeira Island Ultra-Trail. I think this distance is probably too short for her to have equitable success.
Lara Mustat – Winner of the 2016 Trail Sacred Forests 50k in 5:40, the race venue at which this year’s IAU Trail World Champs takes place. She’s at least a 2:49 marathoner (2011).
Team Argentina is a super long shot for a team medal, but I’m tipping my hat to this group, which is definitely the strongest group of women to come out of Argentina together to compete internationally. Someone in this group will go top 20, too.
These three are likely to be Team Argentina’s top performers:
- Verónica Ramirez – 16th 2016 IAU Trail World Champs; 1st 2016 Patagonia Run 130k
- Adriana Vargas – Tied for the win with Tania Diaz Slater at the 2017 50k Champa Ultra Race, which was Argentina’s Trail National Championships; 5th 2016 Transgrancanaria; 14th 2016 Transvulcania
- Tania Diaz Slater – Tied for the win with Adriana Vargas at the 2017 50k Champa Ultra Race; 1st 2017 4 Refugios; 1st 2017 El Cruce Columbia
Belen Barrera, Maira Mardones, and Valentina Cha make up the rest of Team Argentina.
Top Individual Women to Watch
Outside of the nations which are bringing deep fields to compete both as teams and as individuals, there are loads more women in the race who will be in the mix for the women’s top individual positions. Let’s take a look at those women. They are listed in alphabetical order for ease of reading, but that doesn’t indicate how we expect them to sort out competitively.
- Hilde Aders (Norway) – She was 12th at last year’s IAU Trail World Championships, and before that she had a string of strong national performances.
- Jennifer Asp (Sweden) – She took second at the 2016 AXA Fjällmaraton 43k, just a couple minutes behind winner and global phenom Ida Nilsson.
- Ragna Debats (Netherlands, but lives in Spain) – Third at last year’s IAU Trail World Championships in a breakout international performance, she’s already run well internationally this year by finishing fourth at the stacked Transvulcania Ultramarathon. Her top results from 2016 include a seventh place at the Skyrunning World Championships in the Sky discipline at the Buff Epic Trail and a fifth place at Limone Extreme.
- Kellie Emmerson (Australia) – Emmerson’s been 19th and 30th at the last two IAU Trail World Champs. Back in Australasia, her top regional results of late have been a win a few weeks ago at the 2017 Ultra-Trail Australia 50k and a fourth at the 2017 Tarawera Ultramarathon.
- Karin Freitag (Austria) – Freitag ran well internationally in 2016 on both the roads and the trails, as she was fourth at both the IAU 100k World Championships and sixth at the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships.
- Kathrin Götz (Switzerland) – Sixth place at the 2016 IAU Trail World Champs, Götz is probably the highest-placing returnee from last year who I know the least about. Her top other 2016 results are second at the Eiger Ultra-Trail and fifth at the Swiss Alpine Marathon.
- Annie Jean (Canada) – Jean caught our attention when she took fourth at the stacked 2016 TNF EC 50 Mile Championships. But before that, she’d already run to 12th at the 2016 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships.
- Katarina Matrasova (Czech Republic) – Matrasova had two strong international results last year, 11th at the 2016 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships and 20th at the IAU Trail World Championships.
- Michaela Mertová (Czech Republic) – Another Czech runner to be on the lookout for as she finished inside the top 10 at the Trail World Championships last year in ninth. She was also second at the 2016 Matterhorn Ultraks 45k.
- Nikolina Sustic (Croatia) – Sustic seems to cross over quite easily between running disciplines. Flat, steep, shorter, longer, road, trail, Sustic has diverse international results. Cases in point: second at the 2016 IAU 100k World Championships, 31st place here last year, 18th at the 2016 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships, and ninth at the 2015 IAU 50k World Championships.
- Katharina Zipser (Austria) – Zipser has been 20th and then seventh at the last two World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships.
More Women to Watch
Watch these women for their potential to break into the top-20 finishers. We list them in alphabetical order:
- Ester Alves (Portugal) – 27th 2016 IAU Trail World Champs; 3rd 2017 The Coastal Challenge
- Sara Brito (Portugal) – 21st 2016 IAU Trail World Champs
- Kathryn Drew (Canada) – 6th 2017 Chuckanut 50k
- Claudia Kahl (Germany) – 22nd 2016 IAU Trail World Champs
- Elisabet Margeirsdottir (Iceland) – 5th 2016 Hong Kong 100k
- Manikala Rai (Nepal) – 6th and 7th at 2015 and 2016 CCC
- Sofia Roquette (Portugal) – 4th 2017 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail
- Dominka Stemlach (Poland) – Winner 2017 Wings for Life World Run
- Natalia Tomasiak (Poland) – 6th 2016 Trofeo Kima; 7th 2016 Glen Coe Skyline
Call for Comments
- Who do you see going top five individually in the women’s race?
- And how do you think the women’s team dynamic will play out? Which team will take gold?
- Are there women who we haven’t listed who you think have potential for a top-20 finish? Leave a comment to let us know who they are and why you think they have that potential.
- What about women we’ve listed who aren’t racing after all? If you have any updates, leave a comment. Thanks!