Spain’s Manuel Merillas and Germany’s Daniela Oemus won the 2023 Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon, in doing so ushering in first-time champions and new storylines to the iconic event.
Like last year, the Zegama Marathon opened the 2023 Golden Trail World Series (GTWS) when the event started on Sunday morning local time, on May 14, 2023. The event is a doozy, delivering over 8,800 feet of climb in the marathon-length course through steep ascents and descents, and consistently technical terrain.
Zegama also delivers one of the best fan-runner interaction experiences in the sport of trail running, with a purported 15,000-plus fans lining its mountainous course come rain or shine to watch the competition.
While this year’s event didn’t match last year’s deep competition and fast-and-furious racing to both the women’s and men’s course records, set at 4:16:43 by Nienke Brinkman for the women and 3:36:40 by Kilian Jornet for the men, it was the same celebratory party of trail running for which the event is known, along with plenty of competition to keep us all on our toes.
Unlike last year’s nearly perfect racing weather, this year brought rain, thick clouds, and tricky underfoot conditions courtesy of that weather, likely slowing times on the burly course by a bit, but certainly not tempering the energy of both runners and fans.
2023 Zegama Marathon Women’s Race
The 2023 Zegama Marathon saw a new champion in Germany’s Daniela Oemus, who crossed the line in 4:31:54. It was most certainly a breakout victory for Oemus, whose top results until now have been a fourth place at the 2022 Marathon Mont-Blanc and a 14th at the 2022 OCC.
Oemus ran to victory through placing herself in podium position or nearly so from about 15 kilometers onward. She moved into first position by the halfway point, at the top of the Aizkorri climb, which is the course’s high point. From there, she added seconds to her lead at each of the checkpoints, including on the final technical downhill back to the town of Zegama. At the finish, she was just over 2 minutes clear of her nearest competitor.
Second place was New Zealand’s Caitlin Fielder, who finished in 4:34:04. Like champion Oemus, Fielder put herself in podium position early in the race and stuck with it, never falling back further than fourth position, no matter if it was a steep up or down, or one of the event’s sneakily fast flat sections. When she crossed the line to celebrate her second place, she had plenty of distance on third place, some 3.5 minutes.
Theres Leboeuf of Switzerland improved on both her place and time from the 2022 edition of this race, taking third in 4:37:41. Last year, she was seventh in 4:39:55.
2023 Zegama Marathon Women’s Results
- Daniela Oemus (Germany) — 4:31:54
- Caitlin Fielder (New Zealand) — 4:34:04
- Theres Leboeuf (Switzerland) — 4:37:41
- Sylvia Nordskar (Norway) — 4:43:57
- Blandine L’Hirondel (France) — 4:48:32
2023 Zegama Marathon Men’s Race
Because of the Zegama Marathon’s iconic status as a competitive spring mountain race, over the years it’s brought in the top competitors of mountain running, who often return year after year. Spain’s Manuel Merillas’s story is no different.
Merillas has finished the event at least a half dozen times, landing on the podium multiple times and as close as second place in the past. In 2022, he took third in 3:45:43, we believe his fastest time at the event until now. This year, he vaulted all the way to the winner’s position, setting another Zegama Marathon personal best in 3:42:01.
Merillas ran to victory using a style which has previously worked well for him, by letting others set the pace and moving up as the race progresses. This year, he moved into pole position by around 34k into the race, and increased his lead to a scant 27 seconds at the finish.
Moroccan Elhousine Elazzaoui also improved on last year’s fourth place in taking second place this year, and a time improvement by about five minutes. Elazzaoui moved into podium position a few kilometers after the halfway point, and landed in second by around 28k in, a position he’d hold to the finish.
Jon Albon, who is from the U.K., but who lives in Norway, took third place in 3:45:01. Albon raced steadily all race, running in or just beyond podium position by a couple seconds, from basically the first checkpoint onward. He even moved into the leadership position by 28k, before yielding it at about 34k, and moving back into third place by the finish line.
2023 Zegama Marathon Men’s Race
- Manuel Merillas (Spain) — 3:42:01
- Elhousine Elazzaoui (Morocco) — 3:42:28
- Jon Albon (U.K., lives in Norway) — 3:45:01
- Rémi Bonnet (Switzerland) — 3:48:19
- Robert Pkemboi Matayango (Kenya) — 3:49:25