This year, the Trail World Championships (TWC) travel to Valencia along the eastern coast of Spain. The race will be hosted by the Penyagolosa Trails race organization, which has for years hosted the 60-kilometer MIM and 108km CSP races, the longer of which is a race in the Ultra-Trail World Tour. The course for the Trail World Championships is specially designed as a one-time 85km course with around 5,000 meters (16,000 feet) of climbing to meet the distance target of this year’s world championships. The race begins in the coastal town of Castellón de la Plana and climbs a net 1,280 meters (4,200 feet) before finishing on the flanks of Penyagolosa Mountain.
As the Trail World Championships are one of the few races we cover in a given year with a meaningful team aspect, we’ll take a look at a couple top squads before moving on to some women who could make waves individually. You can find the full race roster on the International Trail Running Association (ITRA) site (scroll down). In the team competition, six runners can officially run for each country with the times of a country’s top-three runners added to determine the team competition.
The iRunFar team heads to Spain this week, so keep an eye out for our pre-race interviews and, of course, our Trail World Championship live coverage once the race starts at 6 a.m. on Saturday, May 12th, which is 10 p.m. MDT Friday night in the U.S.
Be sure to check out our in-depth men’s preview, too.
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The French Team
Before looking at the actual team members and already knowing that 2015 runner-up and 2016 world champ Caroline Chaverot had recently declined her spot on the team, I could have correctly predicted the French team as the favorites for this year’s Trail World Championships. The French women have won each of the past three years and usually had a strong showing in earlier TWCs, before it became an annual event. Only one of the past three years was reasonably close, when the Spanish women fell to France by a total of 14 minutes.
Even if she doesn’t end up as their top finisher, Nathalie Mauclair is the team leader, having won this event in 2013 and 2015, taking fourth in 2016, and fifth in 2017. On the Thursday before the race, Nathalie Mauclair has withdrawn do to injury. [Updated May 10] That said, the French return last year’s world champion and the runner-up, Adeline Roche (pre-race interview) and Amandine Ferrato, who finished a scant 3 seconds part at last year’s 50km race (post-TWC interviews with Roche and Ferrato.) Currently, the pair also share identical ITRA rankings of 761. Last year, Adeline followed up her world-championships title with a win at the 31km French short-distance trail national championships. Later last year, Amandine took third at Sierre-Zinal as well as at OCC. We’re unaware of any results for either Adeline and Amandine so far this year.
The French will not return last year’s sixth-place finisher, Celine Lafaye, but Lucie Jasmin, who finished eighth, will return. After last year’s world championships, Lucie was second at the French long-distance trail national championships and seventh at Les Templiers. So far in 2018, she’s been second at the Transgrancanaria Marathon and won the competitive 48km race at Trail du Ventoux. The final two members of the French squad are Sarah Vieulle and Claire Mougel. Sarah has been 14th at the 2015 TWC, ninth at last year’s Transvulcania Ultramarathon, and won last September’s French long-distance trail national championships. Claire’s highlights appear to include taking eighth at last year’s Les Templiers after finishing third at the French long-distance trail national championships a month earlier. She was also second at this year’s Trail du Ventoux.
The Spanish Squad
After giving the French a tough run for the championships in 2016 (and being a not-so-close second in 2015), a strong Spanish women’s team had what can only be described as a disappointing race at last year’s Trail World Championships, where they finished third behind France and Italy. However, that’s the past, and this year another incredibly strong Spanish squad has the advantage of racing in their home country.
If you’ve read iRunFar over the years, then Maite Maiora (pre-race interview) needs no introduction. She led the Spanish team with her third place at the 2015 TWC. Last year alone, she won the Zegama Marathon, Livigno Skymarathon, Tromsø Skyrace, and Ultra Pirineu along with taking second at CCC. Along with Maite, Azara García represents a real chance for a Spanish woman to win individually at this year’s TWC. Although Azara was a DNF at last year’s TWC, she was second the year before at the more comparable 85km event in Portugal. She also has a win at the Zegama Marathon in 2015 and at Transgrancanaria in 2017 to her credit.
While Maiora and García may represent the highest potential for the Spanish team at Penyagolosa, the trio of Gemma Arenas, Laia Cañes, and Teresa Nimes make for a very formidable team. Each of these women has been in the top 10 at the TWC in the past three years. Last year in Italy, Laia Cañes was the top Spanish woman, when she finished seventh. (She was 19th at the 2016 TWC.) Later last year, she took third at CCC. This year, she’s been second at the Transgrancanaria Marathon and won the competitive Reventón Trail in early April. Importantly, Laia has raced the 61km MIM race at Penyagolosa each of the past seven years! She was second every year from 2013 to 2016 before finally winning last year.
Two years ago, Gemma Arenas ran to fifth at the TWC, to put the Spanish within range of the team win. She didn’t fair as well at last year’s TWC where she took 25th. Arenas races a ton with many wins such as at Penyagolosa MIM, Ultra Skymarathon Madeira, and Ultra Pirineu in 2016, as well as the 116km Penyagolosa CSP in 2017. She was third at the Reventón Trail last month. In case you missed it, Gemma’s won each of the Penyagolosa races over the past two years… so she knows what she’s getting into. Finally, there’s Teresa Nimes, who was 10th at both the 2015 and 2016 TWC. Teresa was third at CCC in 2016 and 11th at UTMB last year. While I can’t see her on the individual podium, she could be a key piece in the team-podium chase.
Mónica Vives, who looks to be rapidly improving, rounds out the official team. She had what is almost certainly her best ultramarathon in winning the 64km Transgrancanaria Advanced in late February. Mónica has previously raced Penyagolosa, taking fourth in the MIM last year. Nuria Domínguez is the team’s alternate. She finished 52nd at last year’s TWC and finished fourth at April’s Reventón Trail.
Teams to Round Out the Women’s Podium
At least on paper, it really does appear to be a match-up between France and Spain for the women’s team title. Behind them, there are four teams that would seem most likely to compete for the team bronze. Italy has twice joined France and Spain on the women’s team podium over the past three years, taking third in 2015 and second as the host nation last year; however, it seems unlikely that they’ll do so again this year. The ladies from Great Britain took third in 2016.
Beth Pascall (pre-race interview) was second woman for Team GB during their bronze-medal performance in 2016 when she placed eighth. She followed that up last year with a second place at the Madeira Island Ultra-Trail, fifth at Glen Coe Skyline, and sixth at the Diagonale des Fous. Beth was fourth at Transgrancanaria back in February.
Holly Page has some solid shorter-distance finishes the past three years including fourth places at Trofeo Kima in 2016 and at both Marathon Pirineu and Limonextreme in 2017. Page just won the Yading Skyrun in China a few weeks ago. Last year, Katie Kaars-Sijpesteijn finished 23rd for Team GB at the Trail World Championships as well as taking eighth at the Mont-Blanc 80k and seventh at Glen Coe Skyline. In 2017, Sarah Morwood was second at the Swiss Alpine Marathon. Earlier this year she took sixth at the Vibram Hong Kong 100km. A few years earlier, she took 11th at the 2014 UTMB and 26th at the 2015 TWCs.
No stranger to the Trail World Championships, Sally Fawcett has placed 27th, 44th, and 33rd over the past three TWCs. (I’ll pause to point out that is was Jo Zakrzewski in 29th who was the third scoring GB runner in 29th place at the 2016 TWC on the way to their team bronze.) Rachael Campbell–5th 2017 Vibram Hong Kong 100km and 10th 2017 Mont-Blanc Marathon–rounds out Team GB.
I’ll add the usual caveat that there’s a good bit of competitive racing in the U.K. that doesn’t always show up in international-results databases, so please feel free to share other recent highlights from these women’s resumes. Notably, while Jo Zakrzewski is on the entrants list, she won’t be racing.
Clare Gallagher (pre-race interview) will likely lead the U.S. women and she could challenge for the win if she’s on. Her ascendency since winning the Leadville Trail 100 Mile in August 2016 has been remarkable. Among her accolades in the past year and a half are her fifth place at the 2016 The North Face 50 Mile Championships (TNF 50 Mile), which she improved upon by placing second last year, and winning the CCC last August.
Until last summer, Kaytlyn Gerbin’s success was limited to the U.S. Pacific Northwest where she’d won races like the 2016 Pine to Palm 100 Mile and 2017 Gorge Waterfalls 100km. Then, she placed fourth at last year’s Western States 100 Mile before going on to win the Cascade Crest 100 Mile in August. With her fifth place at last month’s Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, Amy Leedham continues her steady improvement of the past few years. In the past half year, she’s also been 10th at the 2017 TNF 50 Mile and fourth at the 2018 Way Too Cool 50km, where she finished one spot lower but seven minutes faster than last year.
There’s no doubt that Sabrina Little can crush it on flat and fast courses; she ran a 15:23 100 miler at Rocky Raccoon in February… and that doesn’t even match her 14:55 there two years ago, while she ran 152 miles (244.669km) in 24 hours back in 2013. However, she doesn’t match that level of performance on the hills, with highlights including second and third at the 2016 and 2017 Cayuga Trail 50 Mile and ninth at the 2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. Coming from a road-running pedigree with an impressive 2:41 marathon best, Dani Filipek won last year’s Cayuga Trails 50 Mile, but has since dropped out of the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile and Bandera 100km. Sarah Pizzo comes into the TWC with some strong results from 55km and shorter (2nd 2016 Kendall Mountain Run, 4th 2016 Flagstaff Skyrace), but limited experience above that distance. She was 16th at last year’s TNF 50 Mile, the only race result above 55km that we can find for her.
A Czech woman ran her way into the top 10 at the TWC in both 2015–Anna Strakova in ninth–and 2016–Michaela Metová also in ninth–and each of these women will be back in 2018. This will be Metová’s fourth-straight year representing Czechia at the TWC, as she was also 67th in 2015 and 19th in 2017. She’s also been a regular on the European Skyrunning World Series seen the past years, with a pair of fifths at High Trail Vanoise and Matterhorn Ultraks as well as a sixth at Livigno Skymarathon last year. Strakova’s been racing trails for quite a while and she has at least four-straight wins at Sierre-Zinal from 2006 to 2009. Metová and Strakova went 15th and 17th respectively at last year’s World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) Long Distance World Championships at Giir di Mont.
While her ITRA ranking (692) doesn’t jump off the page, Katerina Matrasova could be the solid third leg to take Czechia to team bronze. The past two TWCs she’s been 20th and 26th, she was 24th at lsat year’s WMRA Long Distance World Champs, and an even stronger 11th at the WMRA Long Distance WCs in 2016. While the Czech team has the disadvantage of having only the minimum number of scoring runners on the start line, each has the experience and strength to give their team a high ranking.
Austria-based Kristin Berglund is the most experienced member of the Swedish team. After crushing races around German-speaking regions in the Alps in 2016–winning the Zugspitz and Grossglockner Ultra Trails and taking second at the Transalpine Run–she was fourth at Transgrancanaria and 11th at CCC last year.
In 2017, Johanna Bygdell-Bergman had a pair of overall wins with her 15:10 for 100 miles at the Täby Extreme Challenge and 13:26 at the 129km High Coast Ultra. She was also runner up (by 20 minutes) to one Ida Nilsson at the Ultravasan 90k in August. The Swedes have a wildcard in their third runner, 24-year-old Fanny Borgström. She doesn’t have much in the way of top-level trail racing experience, but she just beat Berglund by 7 minutes to win the 48km Alcudia de Veo Trail in Spain last month, in what may have been a Swedish team tune-up, as André Jonsson won the men’s race. Borgström has also been teammates with Nilsson and Emelie Forsberg on the Swedish ski-mountainerring national team.
Top Contenders on Other Teams
To be honest, most of the top women’s competition will come from members of the six teams already previewed. Those teams include 22 of the top-28 female entrants, based on ITRA rankings. That said, there are four additional women with a decent chance of racing into the top five.
Leading that group is Ragna Debats of the Netherlands, who was third at the Trail World Championships in 2016 and fourth last year. She’s a prolific racer, so I’ll stick to sharing her results from last year when she won Matterhorn Ultraks and The Rut 50km; was second at the Tromsø Hamperokken Skyrace, High Trail Vanoise, and Yading Skyrun; third at Glen Coe Skyline and Limonextreme; and fourth at Transvulcania… and those are only the highlights. While she races for the Netherlands, Ragna has lived in the Spain for years. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see her racing for the podium once again.
Anne-Marie Madden should lead the Canadian team. She’s previously fared well in very competitive 80km-ish races, such as taking fourth and sixth at the 2014 and 2015 TNF 50 Mile and fourth at Les Templiers last year. She’s also got plenty of speed if it comes down to that, having been second at the Chuckanut 50km in both 2016 and this March, which was easily her fastest time at a race she’s run three times in four years. Madden did race the TWC in 2015, when she placed 60th.
Poland’s Magdalena Łączak is no stranger to strong ultramarathon finishes, having been sixth at UTMB back in 2012. However, she had what might be her first big win at Transgrancanaria in February. Previously, she’s posted results along the line of third at the Mont-Blanc 80k and eighth at Les Templiers in 2014 as well as fifth at Transvulcania in 2015.
If I had to name a dark horse for this year’s TWC, it’d be Mercedes Pila of Ecuador. Aside from her sixth at last year’s Transgrancanaria, she has the highly relevant experience of winning the 116km Penyagolosa CSP in 2016 and taking second last year. She’s a frequent racer who tends toward 80 to 125km events, so this is in her wheelhouse.
Other Women to Watch
- Mel Aitken (New Zealand) — 1st 2016-18 Big Easy Marathon
- Ester Alves (Portugal) — 27th & 40th 2016 & 2017 Trail World Championships; 6th 2015 Transgrancanaria; 7th 2015 Transvulcania
- Lisa Borzani (Italy) — 11th, 68th, & 24th at 2015-17 Trail World Championships; 3rd 2017 Madeira Island and Lavaredo Ultra Trails
- Naomi Brand (South Africa) — 3rd 2016 & 2017 Ultra-Trail Cape Town; 6th 2018 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail
- Robin Bruins (Australia) — 10th 2017 UTMB; 4th 2017 Ultra-Trail Australia
- Lou Clifton (Australia) — 3rd 2017 Ultra-Trail Australia; 5th 2018 Tarawera Ultramarathon; 8th 2017 Eiger Ultra-Trail
- Tania Diaz (Argentina) — 34th 2017 Trail World Championships; 2017-18 Argentine ultra national championships
- Gill Fowler (Australia) — 23rd 2015 Trail World Championships; 4th 2015 Lavaredo Ultra Trail; 7th 2017 Ultra-Trail Australia
- Ying-Suet Leung (Hong Kong) — 6th 2017 Vibram Hong Kong 100km; 1st 2017 Oxfam Trailwalker
- Inês Marques (Portugal) — 32nd 2017 Trail World Championships; 5th 2017 Transgrancanaria Advanced; 2nd 2016 Marathon Pirineu
- Lidia Mongelli (Italy) — 21st 2017 Trail World Championships
- Chhechee Sherpa (Nepal) — 1st 2017 Everest Trail Race; 1st 2018 Mustang Trail Race
- Eva Sperger (Germany) — 5th 2018 Transgrancanaria
- Glykeria Tziatzia (Greece) — 3rd 2017 Marathon Pirineu; 2nd & 4th at 2016 & 2017 Olympus Marathon; 8th 2018 Matternhorn Ultraks
- Manuela Vilaseca (Brazil) — 8th & 10th at 2013 & 2015 UTMB; 7th 2016 Lavaredo Ultra Trail; 8th 2017 Ultra Pirineu
- Denise Zimmermann (Switzerland) — 15th 2015 Trail World Championships; 3rd & 9th at 2015 & 2016 UTMB
Call for Comments
- Which individuals and teams do you think will challenge for the win?
- Are there any runners you think will surprise the world this weekend?
- With top runners from such a variety of countries, it’s impossible to have context for the ability of all the runners. Please let us know how the top runners for your country who will be racing stack up!
- Have we mentioned someone who you know isn’t racing?