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Smyth, Babkina Win XTERRA Trail Worlds

Smyth wins second straight XTERRA championship trail race over a strong field.

The winners took home a $2,000 payday for their victories.

Patrick Smyth’s plan to forgo running more marathons and instead reinvent himself as a trail runner is off to a pretty good start.

So far the 27-year-old Salt Lake City resident with a 2:15 marathon PR has raced just twice on the trails. But those two races have netted him a national title and a world championship, $3,000 in prize money and a spot on Nike’s newly formed trail running team.

Smyth torched a strong field at the sixth annual XTERRA Trail Run World Championship on Sunday on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. He covered the rolling 21K course over a combination of singletrack trails and dirt roads in 1 hour, 16 minutes, 38 seconds.

PHOTOS: 2013 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship

Joe Gray (Colorado Springs), who tied for the XTERRA win last year and placed seventh at this year’s IAAF World Mountain Running championships in Poland, was second in 1:17:26, while Max King (Bend, Ore.), a four-time winner at the XTERRA World Championship and 2011 IAAF World Mountain Running champion, was third in 1:20:53. Nathan Peters of Salt Lake City (1:23:44) and Roberto Mandje of Boulder, Colo., (1:26:53) rounded out the top five.

Polina Babkina, a 26-year-old Russian who is going to grad school in Honolulu, won the women’s race in 1:37:24 with a 31-second margin over last year’s winner Lucy Smith of Sidney, B.C., Canada. Both Smyth and Babkina earned $2,000 for their victories.

Smyth shot to the lead from the start with Gray and King hot on his heels. In the early going, Smyth extended his lead on the climbs and flat sections, only to have King and Gray catch up on the descents and semi-technical sections. By 4 miles, though, Smyth had a lead he would never relinquish.

“Basically what I tried to do was open it up on the flat, doubletrack trails and create a big gap,” Smyth said. “On the technical stuff, I don’t have the reckless (instincts). I still have a bit of a governor, I guess, when it comes to the trails. Early on, Max and Joe were passing me on the steep, technical downhills. I just tried to keep pushing it on the flatter and wider sections. It was kind of a cat-and-mouse game at that point.”

He eventually built a 75-second lead, but after getting through a muddy technical descent near mile 10, he admitted he had to run scared over the final 3 miles of the course. He didn’t know how big his lead was and had to contend with slower runners from the concurrent 5K and 10K races.

“I was popping around people on the trail and I got off the side of the trail and kind of tumbled head over heels, so I knew whatever lead I might have had was probably closed down,” said Smyth, who finished with a scraped shoulder. “I had the image of last year running through my head—where there was a surprise attack at the end when there was a tie at the finish. I was just imagining Joe or Max sneaking up and catching me after that, so I got up and kept going as hard as I could to the finish.”

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For Babkina, winning was sweet redemption for her effort in last year’s XTERRA Trail Run World Championships, when a wrong turn cost her the lead and she had to settle for third place. She used this year’s race as a tune-up for the Dec. 8 Honolulu Marathon. She’s hoping to run 2:43 or faster there to earn the 2016 Olympic qualifying standard.

“I think it helped me to know the course and know what to expect,” Babkina says. “I knew the field was going to be tougher than last year. I tried to push as hard as I could and give it my best effort.”

Canadian Megan Franks (1:40:24), Seattle’s Rose Wetzel (1:40:46) and New Jersey’s Corinne Fitzgerald (1:43:08) rounded out the top five in the women’s field.

In his first trail race on Sept. 22, Smyth stunned the field of the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship at Snowbasin Resort near Ogden, Utah. He beat Gray and an injured King in that race, too, winning by a 90-second margin. On Sunday— thousands of miles away from his home state and in temperatures dozens of degrees warmer—Smyth proved he is no fluke.

“I didn’t think it would come this quickly, taking back-to-back races like this,” Smyth said. “I’ve run a lot of races against some of these guys, just not on terrain like this. Getting my mind and body ready for the trails was my biggest concern, so to get back-to-back wins is really nice.”

After an All-American career at Notre Dame, Smyth found modest success on the track and roads. Highlights included placing second in the 2010 U.S. cross country championships, finishing 35th in the 2010 world cross country championships and third in the 2011 U.S. half marathon championships. He’s posted personal bests of 28:33 for the 10,000-meter run, 1:02:01 for the half marathon and 2:15:00 for the marathon.

He might still go back and run on the roads or compete in cross country, but he’s definitely interested in exploring more trail racing opportunities.

“Growing up in Salt Lake City, I would always hop on trails for easy runs here and there, but once I started running collegiately and professionally after that, trails almost became a hazard more than anything, so I pretty much ran all on flat roads and the track,” he said. “But now, it’s kind of reinvigorated me in the sport.”

In all, more than 1,900 runners from 12 countries and 36 states participated in the three races. Kevin Enriques of Honolulu and Nancy Hobbs of Colorado Springs won the 5K races in 20:55 and 24:26, respectively. Honolulu’s Jorge Mendez won the 10K with a 3-minute margin in 38:37, while Karen Miller of nearby Kailua was the women’s 10K winner in 47:57.

For complete results, go to the XTERRA Trail Run Worlds page.