Joe Gray, Dani Moreno win XTERRA Trail Run Worlds
Press Release / Photo : Xterra / 04.12.2018
December 2, 2018 (Kaaawa, HI) - Joe Gray and Dani Moreno defended their titles when they each won the 11th annual XTERRA Trail Run World Championship at Kualoa Ranch this morning.
Gray, from Colorado Springs, finished the muddy course in 1:23:08, about two minutes in front of 2018 XTERRA Trail Run National Champ, Brett Hales, who ran 1:25:22. Hales lives in Billings, Montana. Andy Wacker, from Boulder, Colorado was third in 1:27:54.
This is the fourth XTERRA Trail Run World title for Gray, who is now tied with Max King, who won the race from 2008-2011. Gray won the race in 2012, 2016, 2017, and now in 2018.
In the women’s race, Santa Barbara, California’s Dani Moreno won with a time of 1:41:09, holding off two-time XTERRA Trail Run World Champ Polina Carlson from Kaneohe, HI, who finished in 1:42:49. Taylor Ward, from Ogden, Utah was third in 1:44:03.
The men’s race took off with Joe Gray, Brett Hales, and Andy Wacker quickly establishing the lead pack, which included Abu Kebede Diriba.
“It was a great race,” said Gray. “Brett and I traded the lead a couple of times until we hit the mud in the back of the valley.”
Gray, who excels in muddy conditions made his move at about mile five. Even though he didn’t look back, Gray said that he didn’t let up for a minute.
“I’ve been on world teams with Brett and Andy, so I definitely couldn’t dog it or lag the pace because I knew they would come back and make it an honest race,” said Gray. “So, I had to keep pressing. The course was definitely muddy. I bit it a lot. I’ve never fallen on this course as much as I did this year.”
When Gray crossed the line and the crown of flowers and wreath of ti leaves was placed on him, Gray’s singlet and shoes were brown with Hawaiian soil.
“Joe and I ran toe to toe with one another for the first few miles,” said runner-up Brett Hales. “The separation happened between miles four to five on the backside of the valley where it got sloppy. It was fun to mix it up with Joe but he’s strong in the mud.”
Hales’ performance validated the opinion that he is of the most promising trail runners in the country. Previously, his wins at the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship came after he jumped into the race on a whim. Even though he has been planning on running in XTERRA Worlds, he has had a year full of change including a move, a new job, and a new baby on the way.
“My training has been good but running didn’t take as much precedence this year,” said Hales. “I’ve been going out and training because I’m scared not to. The way I decide what races to do is whether or not they sound interesting. And if it sounds interesting, I want to make sure I’m in shape enough to drop everything and go do it.”
Next year, Hales wants to return to the U.S. Mountain Running Team as well as qualify for the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials.
“Brett and Joe and I were close in the beginning but that was only for about two miles,” said Wacker, who was third. “Joe and Brett are just so strong. They pulled just far enough away, and this course is so windy that I barely saw them again.”
Wacker also emphasized just how tough this course is. He was in third place until about mile seven, when he was passed on a steep climb by Diriba. This was a bit of déjà vu for Wacker, who was passed at a similar spot in last year’s race by Sage Canaday.
“There is always a place in a race where you get tested and for me, it was miles seven through ten, when I was passed,” said Wacker. “It’s mentally challenging to be in fourth because I always want to podium. I knew I had to be really patient.”
Wacker decided to use the muddy and slippery downhill descent at mile ten to claim his podium spot and he put in a surge past Diriba.
“I felt lucky to know this course and my own strengths,” said Wacker. “Each year you get a little better and know yourself a little more.”
In the women’s race, Taylor Ward took an early lead, but the pack of talented elite women remained close throughout the race.
“I’m stoked I got to defend my championship,” said Moreno (pictured), who was the eventual champion. “It was definitely the hardest race I’ve run this year with a truly great field of women. I was excited to race with them because they all bring something different to the table.”
Through the first mile, it was Ward, Polina Carlson, Louise Mercer, Sam Lewis, and Lauren Wallace who remained tight. One of Moreno’s strengths is her technical ability on the trails, and her strategy was to be patient until she hit the more gnarly sections of the course.
“A lot of people say they run scared,” said Moreno. “But for me, I have to run with confidence. I told myself that when I took the lead, I had to do so with purpose because everyone knew what they were doing out here. I took deep breaths and tried to keep myself calm and relaxed.”
“I don’t think I was ever unsure,” said Moreno. “But once I had the lead, I was looking over my shoulder the entire time because I know these women have great leg speed. The last couple of miles, I looked back and saw Polina and thought, oh my gosh, I really have to get going.”
Carlson, who won this race in 2013 and 2016 also praised her fellow competitors, including Taylor Ward, who ran with Carlson for about half of the race.
“I know how good Taylor is,” said Carlson. “She is an amazing marathoner. She has a lot of speed, and she’s strong and consistent. We were together for about six miles until I felt like my heart rate and legs were good enough to go. But it was amazing to be out here with the level of competition in the race this year.”
Third-place Taylor Ward was the surprise of the day. The second American female finisher at the Chicago Marathon in October, Ward PR’d there with a time of 2:32. She hasn’t been training on the trails and wasn’t even planning on coming to Hawaii to run until a few days ago. Her husband, Kurt Ward, was fourth at the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship in Utah in September.
“I decided to come less than a week ago,” said Ward. “This was my first race back after Chicago and I decided to do it for fun and to get the legs moving again. I haven’t done a lot of trail runs previously, but I’m definitely coming back again. I thought it was so much fun.”
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