Addie Bracy admits she was so frustrated about her running recently, she nearly quit the sport. Try as she did, the 29-year-old runner from Longmont, Colo., couldn’t reach the necessary qualifying standards to earn a spot in the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Between the 3,000-meter steeplechase and the 10,000-meter run, she estimates she raced 10 times with the hopes of qualifying. She got close several times—her best steeplechase mark was only about 3 seconds off—but she never made it. All the while she watched as training partners, friends and rivals earned their times and started getting excited about the Olympic Trials—which are going on from July 1-10 in Eugene, Ore.
A few weeks ago, she thought she was ready to take a break from competitive running, and maybe a permanent one.
But just as she felt she was going to hit rock bottom with her running, she started running on the trails to rekindle her passion. That’s about the time her Hudson Elite teammate Matt Daniels suggested she sign up for the July 3 U.S. Mountain Running Championships at Loon Mountain ski resort near Lincoln, N.H.
“Why not?” she thought, and started a crash course in mountain training.
Well, it’s funny how things work out sometimes. As the U.S. Olympic Trials were going on in Oregon, Bracy stormed to her first national title by winning the women’s 10.6K race at Loon Mountain in 57:25. The course, comprised of dirt, grass, wide pathways, singletrack trails and rocky sections, had an average grade between 10-12 percent and gained 3,100 feet from start to finish.
The top four women finishers earned a spot on the U.S. Mountain Running Team that will compete in Bulgaria in September.
“It was my first trail race so I had no idea what to expect,” said Bracy, who earned $700 for her victory. “It went out a little faster than I thought it would. I settled in about third for the first mile and went to second around the second mile, about 50 meters behind the leader (Bethany Sachtleben). On the first major climb I made a move and just hoped I could hold it. I looked back a few times … I was a little worried.”
Bracy has also represented the U.S. twice before at the Bupa Great Edinburgh International Cross Country Championships in 2012 and 2013.
“My teammate Matt Daniels suggested I run this race about three weeks ago after I called my track season over,” Bracy said. “I don’t think I’m ready to leave the track, but the mountain championships was fun and I’m really excited about Bulgaria.”
Less than one minute behind Bracy was second-place finisher and the top collegiate runner, Sachtleban, 24, of Manassas, Va., who finished in 58:17. Kim Nedeau, 36, Leverett, Mass., was third to the finish line in 59:04, followed by Ladia Albertson-Junkans, 30, of Seattle, in 59:45.
In fifth, just one spot shy of making her first U.S. team was uphill specialist Kim Dobson, 32, Eagle, Colo., who finished in 1:00:20. The Pikes Peak Ascent record-holder and four-time winner of the Mount Washington Road Race earned a $100 bonus for posting the fastest women’s time on the super-steep Upper Walking Boss section at the top of the course. Kasie Enman, 36, Huntington, Vt., 2011 World Mountain Running Champion, finished in sixth, 29 seconds behind Dobson.
Earning yet another national championship title, his 10th, as well as his ninth consecutive mountain running team spot, was Colorado Springs resident Joe Gray, 32, who bested a stellar men’s field of veteran mountain runners and newcomers by hammering the course in 49:12. For his win, Gray pocketed $700, and an additional $100 as the fastest climber on Upper Walking Boss (7:27).
“It went out quite hard from the gun, then slowed a bit,” Gray said. “It quickly became a strategic race. We stayed together until about the halfway mark—the top five guys, all bunched together. We were all kind of working together at that point. I took the lead at about four miles on the first climb where it started to thin out.
“I got a gap, but at the top of that first climb, I looked back and I could see the other guys. The gap I formed initially kept until the gondola section.”
Just over a minute back for second was Brett Hales, 29, of Layton, Utah, who finished in 50:18 to earn a spot on the six-person men’s team bound for Bulgaria. In third, and the top collegiate finisher, was Daniels, 28, of Evergreen, Colo. with a time of 50:37.
Rounding out the top four was another mountain running newbie Hayden Hawks, 25, of Cedar City, Utah, in a time of 50:50. In fifth place, yet another newcomer to the mountains, David Fuentes, 29, of Austin, Texas, posted a time of 51:07 to earn a spot on his first mountain team. Andy Wacker, 27, of Boulder, finished in sixth to earn a spot on his second mountain running team with a time of 51:14.
To get ready for Bulgaria, Bracy will get pointers from fellow Colorado runners Daniels and Wacker. For now, she’s ecstatic about her result after nearly walking away from running in mid-June.
“A few weeks ago, I almost quit the sport. After having a difficult, unsatisfying two years it no longer felt worth it,” Bracy said. “When I decided to run this race as a chance to have some fun doing what I love, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would win my first national title. I can’t think of a better way to spend the 4th of July weekend than to earn a spot on Team USA for the World Mountain Running Championship. Oh yeah—and, that was hands down the most painful race I have ever run. Life—what a wild ride!”
Gray, the veteran of the U.S. squad, is optimistic about the American team’s chances in Bulgaria.
“You instantly start thinking how your team will do at Worlds,” Gray said. “That’s the first thing I think about when my teammates come in.”
The biggest strength for this year’s squad according to Gray is experience.
“Everyone in the top six have had a long career of running superb,” he said. “They are tried and true. If everyone runs well on race day, that will equate to a good result.”
For complete results of the 2016 U.S. Mountain Running Championships, click here.