Dawn patrol: At the start of the inaugural Mt. Taylor 50K. Photo: Paul Gordon Pictures
In late September, nearly 150 ultrarunners converged on Grants, New Mexico, on the eve of the first annual Mount Taylor 50K trail race. The course promised a scenic, challenging circumnavigation of the 11,300-foot peak, which is laced with jeep roads and singletrack, including a just-finished section of the Continental Divide Trail. Mount Taylor is a stratovolcano that blew its top some 1.5 to three million years ago, and on a typical, clear day, you can see its hulking profile from more than 80 miles away, the lone mountain wavering on the horizon, rising out of a high, hazy volcanic field.
For the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, and Acoma people, Mount Taylor (or Tsoodził, “turquoise mountain”) is a sacred peak, part of their ancient mythology and the southern boundary of their traditional homeland. So it was only fitting that proceeds from the inaugural 50K Trail Race would go to support young Native American athletes in the region through a non-profit called Nídeiltihí Native Elite Runners (NNER), and that one of the most talented Navajo distance runners of his generation would be racing.
Irish Paralympic sprinter Jason Smyth is aiming to achieve the same feat accomplished by Usain Bolt in the Olympics. If the 25-year-old wins the 200m final on Friday night at the Paralympics in London he will have taken gold medals in both the 100m and 200m in back-to-back Games. He won both races in the T13 division at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.
At eight years old, Smyth was diagnosed withStargardts disease, a genetic condition that causes a gradual loss of vision. "For me to see what a normal person can see 100m away I have to stand 10m
away. The quality of my vision is about 10 percent to that of a person with
full sight," Smyth told Spikes. "I can see what car is driving past but I couldn’t see any
At 16, a coach noticed his speed at school and put him under the wings of his current coach, Stephen Maguire. He won three Irish school championships, and didn't stop. In 2010, he became the first Paralympian to qualify for the European Championships. In 2011, he qualified for the World Championships. Smyth's dream is to become the first visually-impaired athlete to compete in the Olympics and Paralympics in the same year. In 2011, he missed qualifying for the "A" standard time set for London 2012 in the 100m by 0.04 seconds, but he hasn't ruled out the possibility of qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Trail running is one of the few sports where the top women can compete with elite men, and often beat them—a phenomenon affectionately known among runners as “getting chicked.” Likewise, it's also one of the few sports that typically favors seasoned competitors, with many ultra trail runners not peaking until their mid 30s or even early 40s.
Katylynn Welsch can beat elite athletes three times her age. Photo: Welsch family
Which makes 12-year-old Katylynn Welsch’s victory at the XTERRA 21K Trail Run in Waco, Texas, on August 18, doubly impressive. Welsch, a Houston-area seventh grader, won the women’s field to become the youngest ever champion of an XTERRA trail half-marathon, placing 11th overall with a time of 1:39:31. Two minutes back was 42-year-old Claudia Spooner, an Ironman triathlete known for running away from the other females at XTERRA races across Texas ("I think she was sick that day," offers Katylynn). In third place after Spooner came Katylynn’s kid sister, Heather—the Serena to Katylynn's Venus—who’s all of 10.
It's unlikely that much of runner Nick Symmonds' pre-Olympic training began at a table covered in cans of Coors, but the Games are over. Symmonds has moved on from his fifth place finish in the 800m in London, as evidenced by the recently released videos of his attempt to break the world record in the beer mile. He began by training at a table, chugging a beer in a respectable 8.9 seconds. Symmonds then moved to the track to start the real work. He had to down a beer before each of the four laps required to complete a mile. If he threw up, he had to run a fifth lap as a penalty.
Here's a little inspiration for anyone pondering whether to go out for a run this weekend. Watch as South African runner Ryan Sandes sets off to complete the 52-mile trail in Fish River Canyon in five days.