The U.S. Mountain Running Championship will return to Loon Mountain Ski Area in Lincoln, N.H., on July 3, 2016 and will be the sole selection race for next year’s U.S. mountain running team that will compete at the world championships in Bulgaria.
Men and women will both run a 6.6-mile course that climbs 2,950 feet to the summit of the ski area, a departure from a team selection strategy dating back to 2011 when the team staff recommended selection races very closely mirror the World Mountain Running Championship (WMRC) courses for men and women in both distance and profile.
When established in 1985, the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) modeled its championship (then called a “Trophy”) race distances on the precedent set by the IAAF’s World Cross Country Championships where women ran a shorter distance than men. (Note: Beginning in 2017, men and women will run equal distances at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships.) These unequal distances are codified in the WMRA Constitution and U.S. team selection races from 2011 to 2015 used the WMRC courses as a guide, featuring separate course lengths and profiles for men and women.
This decision by U.S. Mountain Running Team staff to equalize race distances was made based on information from a number of sources including feedback an online survey of members from the mountain running community, input from elite mountain runners and the USATF MUT Executive Committee and a review of the effectiveness of the current selection strategy.
After considering the aforementioned sources and other factors, a 10K course was selected due to a limit of available vertical gain at Loon Mountain, and with a 2,100-foot difference between the top and bottom of Loon Mountain (requiring some downhill running to achieve the current 3000 feet of climbing), this results in a 6 percent average grade compared to 8 percent for the men’s course at next year’s world mountain running championships ( roughly 12K). Adding distance to the men’s course would have resulted in a further reduction in average grade.
Equal distances for men and women at the U.S. Mountain Running Championships may not be an annual thing just yet. In fact, it may change again in 2017 because up/down courses at the world championships for odd numbered years are substantively different from uphill courses due to the multi-lap format (as was the case in 2015).
“This is not to say that the U.S. Mountain Running Team staff does not fully support gender equity,” says team leader Richard Bolt. “We do, and we will continue to advocate for gender equity at the World Mountain Running Championships in race distance and team size. In the meantime, we need to be sure to manage a selection process that is rational and fields the best possible team for the world championships. When the location and course for the 2017 world mountain running championships are determined, the U.S. Mountain Running Team staff and the USA Track & Field Mountain/Ultra/Trail Council will again evaluate options for an appropriate selection race.”