Broken Arrow Vertical Uphill Race Launches 2023 Valsir Mountain Running World Cup

First race of the 2023 Valsir Mountain Running World Cup sees international podiums and historic snow conditions

It was already a historic edition of Broken Arrow due to the record breaking snowfall in Lake Tahoe, but it didn’t disappoint on the racing front either. Runners had to contend with long snowfields and a huge snow gully, with patches of dirt trail  and scrambly ridge in between them, which presented a very challenging course. There’s even a high altitude ladder for the top.

The day couldn’t have been more perfect, with clear blue skies and a temperature of around 9 celsius on the start line. However, up at the summit of Washeshu Peak (2,700m) it was a different story with gusting winds, making things difficult for drone operators.

The vertical uphill race was our first Gold Label race in the 2023 Valsir Mountain Running World Cup, some exciting fields were assembled and anticipation was high. There were some high profile withdrawals before the race, most notably Allie McLaughlin (USA) and Grayson Murphy (USA), who both raced in the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships last week, but there were still very deep fields in both the men’s and women’s race.

The course itself starts on the valley floor and climbs its way up 954m (3,100 feet) over 6.8km (4.5 miles) to the summit of Washeshu Peak at 2708m (8885 feet).

Along the way it takes in some brutally steep terrain, leading up to the Headwall Ridge and the ‘stairway to heaven’ bolted ladder to the summit of Washeshu Peak. Ater the KT22 summit at around halfway there is a slight respite in the form of a downhill section, where the runners can either recover a little, or just push even harder and try to open a gap.

Rostan and Aymonod battle it out on the steepest section of the course. Photo: Robbie Britton

The battle begins on the snow

Right from the start of the men’s race there was one runner determined to lay down the gauntlet and that was Andrea Rostan (ITA). There were a number of international runners in the men’s race, who all seemed determined to make their journey worthwhile. Henri Aymonod (ITA) and Zak Hanna (IRL) chased Rostan hard, along with Darren Thomas (USA), the 2021 champion from the vertical uphill race.

In the women’s race there was also a runner who struck out early on and that was Anna Gibson (USA), an athlete who’s achieved track success as well as showing her strength in the mountains by finishing 5th at the 2021 USATF Mountain Running Championships and winning The Rut vertical race.

Behind Gibson there was a group of women who were attempting to stay in touch with her. This included Jade Belzberg (USA), who finished 5th here in 2022, Sara Willhoit (GBR), fresh from the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships, Amanda Basham (USA) and Nicole Mericle (USA). It was all to play for in the race for second and third, but could Gibson be caught?

Track and XC college star Anna Gibson flies up the VK. Photo: Robbie Britton

At the halfway point where the runners hit the downhill section after KT22 Rostan was still out in front, showing no signs of fading. Aymonod and Thomas were by this point together and changing positions, with Hanna just behind.

Rostan had opened up a lead of 80 seconds and although Aymonod and Thomas were just starting to draw him in a little, there just wasn’t enough distance left to really make a difference. Rostan emerged at the stairway to heaven ladder first and took the win in a fast 39.51. Thomas pulled away from Aymonod a little on the final climb and he finished second in 41.10, with Aymonod just behind in 41.29.

Photo: Peter Maksimow

In the women’s race Gibson stretched her lead out to 2 minutes by the halfway point and, although anything could happen once they hit the final climb, she just looked so strong that it was looking unlikely. But it was all shaking out in the chasing group. By now Belzberg and Willhoit had pulled away from the others in the group and it was looking like a battle for second and third. Gibson couldn’t be caught and she won in 47.09.

Belzberg won the duel with Willhoit and they did in fact claw some time back on Gibson, with Belzberg finishing in 48.00 and Willhoit 48.25.

Sara Willhoit excelled at altitude in the US, with a close turn around from the World Champs just recently too. Photo: Peter Maksimow

It was an exciting first race to start off this year’s Valsir World Cup and we only have to wait one more day before our next race, the 23k Broken Arrow Skyrace on Sunday 18th.

Strong battle for first Irishman

California based Paddy O’Leary normally has a pretty good chance of being first Irishman in most of his races, but this week Zak Hanna came to ruin the party. The two have been running together around O’Leary’s home before the event and both ran well in the event that suited the style of Hanna.

Hanna was just off the podium by 22 seconds in fourth with 41:51 and O’Leary was 12th in 45:30.

Full results can be found at: Broken Arrow Skyrace: VK Results (