MOUNT BACHELOR — Even after winning the men’s USATF Mountain Running Championship on Saturday morning, Patrick Smyth described himself as “not much of a climber.”
Natural climber or not, the 28-year-old resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico, completed three 4-kilometer laps on the slope of Mount Bachelor in 46 minutes, 10.3 seconds. Smyth beat Andrew Wacker, 26 and of Boulder, Colorado, by 10 seconds. Three-time U.S. champion Joe Gray, a 31-year-old from Lakewood, Washington, finished third in 46:51.8.
“It was a really hard race — not an easy win at all. I really had to work for that one, so it feels amazing,” Smyth said at the finish line. “I was banking on being able to take off and go on the downhills, and the uphills were just sufferfests for me.”
Smyth had led for the majority of the race when he noticed Wacker and Gray had closed his 20-meter lead on the third and final uphill stretch.
“I kept every ounce of energy I had to stay in front so I could have the lead on the way down, but we all got to the top (of the slope) pretty much at the same time,” Smyth explained. “I have pretty decent leg speed, and I was hoping I could just turn it over on the downhill. So long as I could keep my legs under me, there was nothing aerobically holding me back at that point, just trying to Fred Flintstone it down.”
Wacker, the runner-up, said he has learned to appreciate punishing uphills and harrowing descents since his first mountain running championships.
“I loved this course. I ran the up-and-down championships two years ago, and it terrified me, because I was like, ‘Wait, we’re running up and down a black diamond ski slope? This is not what you should be running, this should be for skiing,’” Wacker said. “Today I came in with a little bit better attitude and a little bit more open-minded. It’s beautiful to get up on the ski slopes. It’s beautiful to be able to run fast up and down and it really just shows the strength of the runners and what we can do.”
The top six finishers from the field of 116 runners qualified for the world championships in Snowdonia, Wales, on Sept. 19. Bend’s Ryan Bak, 33, finished in seventh place, missing a spot on the national team by just nine seconds.
“At the top of the first climb it was just me, Patrick and Joe broken away from the rest of the field,” Wacker said. “That was nice because I knew the rest of the field, we’d have a little gap so we wouldn’t have to worry quite as much about making that top six for the team. Wales is just a beautiful place, and I’m excited to see what the USA team can do and hopefully we can get that gold medal as a team.”
Part-time Bend resident Morgan Arritola, 29, will also be making the trip to Wales after winning the 8K women’s race in 36:20.1, besting runner-up Kasie Enman, 35 and of Huntington, Vermont, by more than a minute.
Arritola, who also won the national title in 2013 and finished second in 2014, initially trailed third-place finisher Kimber Mattox, a 26-year-old former Bend resident who now lives in Eugene, but passed her and took lead of the 49-woman field for good at the top of the first climb near the top of the Sunrise Express chairlift.
“I started to put a little more lead on that downhill, but I also knew I didn’t want to blow my legs out on the downhill,” Arritola said. “So it was a little conservative. And then on the last lap it’s all or nothing, so I let it go.”
Unlike many of the runners on hand Saturday, Arritola said she would have been fine with an even tougher course.
“It was fast and fun and you have to meet everyone’s needs and expectations,” Arritola said of the Mount Bachelor course, which was designed by fellow Bend resident Max King, who placed 27th in the men’s race. “I don’t worry too much about the course, it is what it is. I would always prefer something more technical. I’d like to come down and jump over logs.”
Alayna Szuch, of Evergreen, Colorado, finished in seventh in 39:42.7, missing a spot on the four-woman national squad by about 30 seconds. But as a fellow competitor reminded the 11-year-old (yes, 11-year-old) after Saturday’s race, she still has decades to snag a spot on Team USA.
“I know I’m an underdog, so I was looking around (at the starting line), and I didn’t really know where I’d be at, so I just went out there and I wanted to have fun and give it my all,” Szuch said. “I wanted to go to worlds, but I didn’t know if that was possible, because there was so much competition.”
Szuch’s mother, Caroline Szuch, 42, said Alayna has entered — and won — several high-profile 5Ks in their home state, but this was her first time traveling by plane to a race or competing against a field stocked with professional runners.
“I knew uphills were my thing, and I knew I just had to hold it on the downhill, and that’s my weakness,” Alayna Szuch said. “But I felt really good and it was great running with top competition here in Oregon.”
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