Previews03 Nov 2022

Leading off-road runners descend on Chiang Mai for inaugural World Mountain and Trail Running Championships


Joyce Muthoni Njeru on her way to winning the Trofeo Ciolo (© Marco Gulberti)

For the first time ever, all the world's best off-road athletes will come together for a single, spectacular global event when the Thai city of Chiang Mai hosts the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships this week (4-6).

The inaugural championships is a collaboration between World Athletics, the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA), the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) and the International Trail Running Association (ITRA).

More than 900 athletes from 46 member federations will gather in Chiang Mai this week to compete in five elite races for men and women, including one for U20 athletes.

Friday 4 November
Classic uphill (mountain, 8.5km, 1014m elevation gain)

Saturday 5 November
Long trail (80km, 4910m elevation gain)
Short trail (40km, 2777m elevation gain)

Sunday 6 November
Junior classic up and down (11.2km, 441m elevation gain)
Classic up and down (mountain, 11.2km, 441m elevation gain)

The championships will be live streamed on YouTube.

Mountain races – women

Kenya’s Joyce Njeru has been the dominant force in women’s mountain running in recent years. The World Cup champion has this year been in even better form on the circuit than in 2021 and has dominated the World Cup series, taking six Gold Label wins.

She finished 13th at the 2018 World Mountain Running Championships, but has improved significantly since then and will head to Chiang Mai as one of the big favourites in both mountain races.

Compatriots Lucy Murigi, a two-time world champion, and recent Sierre-Zinal third-place finisher Philaries Kisang also have good chances of a top-five finish in both races.

Lucy Murigi in action at the La Montee du Nid d’Aigle

Lucy Murigi in action at the La Montee du Nid d’Aigle (© Marco Gulberti)

Switzerland’s Maude Mathys was the standout performer at the European Championships, winning gold in both senior women’s races to earn her fourth and fifth consecutive continental titles. She has maintained her form since then, with runner-up finishes at both Sierre-Zinal and Pikes Peak Ascent. After taking silver in 2018, she will be highly motivated to win her first world title. Like many of the leading contenders, she too is entered for both disciplines.

Sixteen years after her first World Championship win, legendary Austrian runner Andrea Mayr goes in search of a record-equalling seventh world title in Chiang Mai in both events. Now 43, she shows no sign of slowing down and has taken numerous big wins in 2022.

Defending champion Grayson Murphy may be out injured, but the US women's line-up is still packed with talent. Allie McLaughlin, the 2014 long distance world champion, runs in both races, so too does Lauren Gregory, junior bronze medallist in 2017 and winner of the inaugural USATF Vertical Mountain Running Championships at Loon Mountain in July.

The Ugandan women's team might be the biggest unknown at this championship. While the men have swept the medals at four of the past seven championships, the only time the country has sent a full women's team was in 2015, when Stella Chesang won gold and her country claimed team bronze.

Rispa Cherop, who is entered for the up and down race, looks set to lead Uganda’s charge this time, having taken a comfortable win at the trial race in early October.

Romania’s European silver medallist Monica Madalena Florea, who finished 18th in the long distance race in 2019, has shown she could go a lot better this time round. Her teammate Denisa Dragomir was long distance bronze medallist in 2017 and won this year's Balkan Championships.

Ireland’s Sarah McCormack had a disappointing run at the European Championships but has been impressive since, winning at Trofeo Vanoni and finishing second at Smarna Gora. One of a few athletes running only one race, McCormack is entered for the up and down event.

Argentina’s Chiara Mainetti is also foregoing the uphill race. She added a South American title to her multiple national titles in San Juan in August, before taking to the roads and making her marathon debut in London.

Italy’s Alice Gaggi, entered for the up and down race, has abundant championship experience, taking the title in 2013 and finishing in the top six on six occasions. She won Trofeo Ciolo in late September, beating a number of her teammates in the process.

Compatriot Elisa Sortini has also shown strong form recently, finishing second at Trofeo Vanoni behind McCormack and ahead of Gaggi. She is entered for the uphill race this week.

Also look out for Britain’s Scout Adkin and France’s Christel Dewalle who took bronze in the up and down and uphill races respectively at the European Championships in July.


Mountain races – men

Patrick Kipngeno, the revelation of the 2022 Valsir World Cup, may well be the man to beat in both races.

With six Gold Label wins on the World Cup circuit, including multiple course records, and further victories at Dolomitenmann and Thyon-Dixence, the Kenyan has had a spectacular season.

Patrick Kipngeno celebrates his Vertical Nasego win

Patrick Kipngeno celebrates his Vertical Nasego win (© Marco Gulberti and Giacomo Meneghello / Corsa in Montagna)

His teammate Philemon Kiriago, second in the Valsir World Cup, joins him in Chiang Mai and both will be vying to become the first Kenyan man to become a mountain running world champion.

Uganda’s Joel Ayeko has an impressive World Championships CV. Junior champion in 2016, Ayeko took silver in 2017 and 2018, finishing behind a teammate on both occasions. Having won the Ugandan trial race in early October, he will be looking to go one better in the uphill race this year.

Timothy Toroitich, a championship debutante with a 27:21 PB for 10,000m, features on the Ugandan team for the up-and-down race. He has achieved top-eight finishes on the track at the World Championships and Olympic Games, as well as at the World Cross Country Championships, so he will be hoping for a similarly high finish in Chiang Mai.

USA’s Joe Gray is back to defend the title he won in Argentina in 2019. He has had some mixed results this year but always seems to find something extra when he's racing in his national colours, as his win at Challenge Stellina in August demonstrates.

One of only two people to have won a world title in both the uphill and up-and-down formats, Gray is entered for both races in Chiang Mai. Gray's teammate Andy Wacker, the runner-up in 2015, is another returning world medallist.

Italy’s Cesare Maestri, silver medallist in 2019, was the leading man at the European Championships, taking gold in the uphill and silver in the up-and-down. He is also entered in both races here.

As ever, Italy fields a strong squad; their team includes 2021 World Cup winner Henri Aymonod, who looks to be back to full strength after injury, and 2017 European champion Xavier Chevrier.

The surprise package at the European Championships, Maximilien Drion du Chapois, timed his race perfectly to take the short trail title. Moving down to the shorter distances in Thailand, the Belgian will be a marked man this time around.

Ireland’s Zak Hanna came within seconds of a medal when he finished fifth in the uphill race at the European Championships. He will contest that discipline again in Chiang Mai. He has also had three Valsir World Cup podium finishes this year and finished third in the series overall.

Miquel Corbera, who outsprinted Hanna to place fourth at the European Championships, is part of a strong Spanish contingent which also features Sierre-Zinal winner Andreu Blanes and 2019 long distance medallist Oriol Cardona. Look for them to feature in the team competition.

Other possible contenders include South American champion Javier Carriqueo of Argentina, entered for the up and down race, Britain’s Chris Richards, and Marek Craschina, whose bronze medal in 2019 led the Czech team to gold.


Trail races – women

Blandine L’Hirondel will start as a strong favourite to retain her title in the long trail race. The French runner triumphed in 2019, winning by more than eight minutes, and has continued to be a dominant force in the trail-running world.

Poland’s Dominika Stelmach is ranked second in the field according to the ITRA performance index (PI), ahead of Nepal’s Sunmaya Budha, Asia’s leading trail runner.

Keep an eye out also for Spain’s Azara Garcia, who finished fourth at the 2019 World Championships and will be aiming to go at least one place better in Chiang Mai.

Only 13 points separate the second and the 10th-ranked womenon the PI, so a close-fought race can be expected.  The team title, meanwhile, looks set to be a shoot-out between France and Spain.

Miranda do Corvo women's podium, from left: runner-up Ruth Croft, winner Blandine L’Hirondel, and third place finisher Sheila Aviles

Miranda do Corvo women's podium, from left: runner-up Ruth Croft, winner Blandine L’Hirondel, and third place finisher Sheila Aviles (© )

The ITRA PI suggests the short trail race could be a close contest between Anaïs Sabrie of France, Spain’s Sheila Aviles Castaño, Nuria Gil Clapera, Mathilde Sagnes, Britain’s Eleanor Davis and Switzerland’s Ariane Wilhem.

Sabrie took silver at the 2018 European Mountain Running Championships. Castaño, meanwhile, earned bronze at the World Championships in Portugal in 2019, and will be determined to retain her place on the podium this year.

Sweden’s Tove Alexandersson, who leads the PI, is a late withdrawal from the championships.



Trail races – men

The PI ranking is tight between the top seven men entered for the long trail race. Among them are Germany’s Hannes Namberger, Britain’s Tom Evans, USA’s Adam Peterman, France’s Thibaut Garrivier and Nicolas Martin, Italy’s Andreas Reiterer, and Switzerland’s Martin Anthamatten.

Martin was fifth at the last World Championships, two places ahead of teammate Ludovic Pommeret. With Garrivier also in the squad, France appears well equipped to contend for the team title.

But while Thailand may be a holiday paradise, it’s also hot and humid compared to Europe and the US. Japan’s Hirokazu Nishimura and Hong Kong’s Wong Ho Chung are the top-ranked Asian athletes entered for the championships and the conditions may be more to their liking. Thailand’s Jantaraboon ‘Jay’ Kiangchaipaiphana or Britain’s Harry Jones – who lived in Chiang Mai for several years – could also exploit their familiarity with the conditions to upset the rankings.

Jonathan Albon heads to Chiang Mai not only as the defending champion for the short trail race, but also as the athlete with the highest ITRA PI.

Jonathan Albon after taking the world trail running title in Miranda do Corvo

Jonathan Albon after taking the world trail running title in Miranda do Corvo (©

Among those seeking to prevent the Briton from retaining his crown are France’s Frederic Tranchand and Thomas Cardin, Norway’s Stian Hovind Angermund, Japan’s Rui Ueada, Italy’s Francesco Pupi and Switzerland’s Martin Anthamatten.

Pupi, who finished fourth at the 2019 World Championships, will be determined to make it on to the podium this time.


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