Even the hardiest ultrarunners likely can attest that although any type of trail running and mountain running can be difficult, nothing quite trumps the physical and mental rigors of vertical racing.
Most runners have never even heard of a vertical uphill race, and although the term “vertical“ may be a slight exaggeration, for all intents and purposes, the vertical uphill mountain running race is about as sadistic as mountain and trail running get.
At the 2023 World Mountain and Trail Running Championships, which are still currently taking place in Innsbruck-Stubai, Austria, the vertical uphill race was the shortest of the elite races, though the lack of distance was certainly more than made up for in the enormity of the vertical gain.
The vertical uphill event at the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Innsbruck-Stubai took place on Wednesday, June 7, 2023.
The grueling course was only 7.1 km long but involved more than 1000 meters of elevation gain.
The gradient approaching the finish at Elferhutte reached a nearly unfathomable 40% incline.
This means that for every 100 meters of horizontal distance traveled, the runners ascended 40 meters.
The winners of the elite vertical mountain race at the 2023 Mountain and Trail Running Championships were Austria’s own Andrea Mayr on the women’s side and Kenyan runner Patrick Kipngeno in the men’s mountain running race.
Mayr finished in 48 minutes and 14 seconds, beating the entire field of 102 runners, putting a margin of 37 seconds between her and the runner-up finisher in the event.Although this was Andrea Mayr’s seventh world title, it was her first individual world title gold medal since 2017, which is an accomplishment in its own right given the fact that 42-year-old Mayr was older than many of her competitors.
Mayr represented her native community of Austria at the 2005 and 2007 World Athletics Championships in the steeplechase and in the 2012 Olympic Games in the marathon.
Mayr exemplified patience and grit in her vertical mountain race execution. She was in 13th place as she came through the first 900 m mark in the first trail section at the base of the mountain.
By the halfway point in the mountain race, Mayr had not only climbed in vertical distance along the course, but also in place, moving up to the front of the pack.
Reportedly, she remarked that her race goal was to finish in the top five, though her secret “A goal“ was to win the race.
She couldn’t have executed a better race plan according to her self-reported strengths as a runner.
As Mayr told World Athletics:
“On the flat, it’s not for me as I’m not that fast anymore; this year I’m 44 but I know that as soon as the steep part starts, my part starts, then I could overtake and overtake.”
In a true display of grit and determination, Mayr leaned into the incredibly steep vertical climb to the finish, edging out competitor Philaries Jeruto Kisang from Kenya, who ended up needing to walk some of the final stretch to the finish.
Kenya won the team event, while Germany placed second and the United Kingdom earned the bronze medal.
In the men’s vertical uphill mountain race, Patrick Kipngeno earned his second gold medal in the event, winning in 2022.
He led the majority of the race, finishing in 40:18, beating out Uganda’s Levi Kiprotich by an impressive 1:33 margin.
Josphat Kiprotich from Kenya Took third, helping Kenya seal the gold medal in the team event, ahead of Uganda and Switzerland.
Interested in trying some mountain running yourself? Check out our guide to mountain running for beginners here.