The Stubai Valley will welcome runners near and far when Telfes, Austria, hosts the 14th WMRA/WMA Masters World Mountain Running Championships on Saturday, September 6.
The event provides an opportunity for athletes ages 35 to 79 to compete in their age group for podium honors. The top three men and women in each 5-year age category receive medals – gold, silver, bronze – and there is team competition as well which consists of the first three to finish for each country per age categories up to 60-64.
Anyone who meets the age standards can compete. There is no qualifying race, no selection race criteria. According to Wolfgang Muenzel, WMRA technical delegate to the event, “For mountain runners, it is a must to come to Telfes.”
The venue is no stranger to hosting world-class mountain running events, including the 1990 and 1996 and World Mountain Running Championships, the 2009 European Mountain Running Championships, and WMRA Grand Prix races. Ernst Kunz was the race director for each of these events and is on the organizing committee this year for the masters competition. Kunz, along with race director Andy Stern, look forward to welcoming runners to Telfes.
“We are expecting 1000 athletes,” said Kunz, “In Bludenz (Austria, host in 2007), there were 1000 runners, why not here?
“I know many American runners,” reflected Kunz. “Jay Johnson (World Mountain Running Champion 1987) is one, Lyndon Ellefson was a good friend…Rickey Gates. I invite Americans to come and enjoy the course. The music and the people of Telfes are very friendly, especially to Americans.”
To date, 15 runners from the United States have accepted Kunz’s invitation and two age groups – men 35 and men 50 – are eligible for team awards as they have the requisite three athletes.
The U.S. runners represent all regions of the country with both newcomers to the competition, to include Ellen Miller, 55, Vail, CO, and Gabriel Rodriguez, 35, Baltimore, MD, as well as veterans of the event Dave Dunham, 50, Bradford, MA, silver medalist in the World Mountain Running Championships in 1993, and a member of last year’s silver medal 45 men’s team, and Bob Cooper, 60, San Anselmo, CA, who competed in Croatia in 2009.
The courses for masters competition are typically of the uphill variety and are run almost entirely on trail or unpaved surfaces. In this year’s event, the course will be approximately 7.5 kilometers with 700 meters of vertical gain for women (all categories) and men 55 and over, and 11.5 kilometers with 1200 meters of climbing for men 35-54.
“The best part of the course is the last 50 meters,” says Kunz who was a decathlete ‘back in the day’ and now, nearing age 70, hikes with his daughter’s dog Jack on the trails in the Stubai Valley. The views from the top of the mountain are amazing and make the last steep push to the finish line well worth the effort.
Kunz considers the course perfect, “The top runners will enjoy the course very much because it is a fast course. For the mid-pack runners it is good because the footing is easy…comfortable.”
Much of the track is new since 2013, but the first part of the men’s course has been used for races held over the past 25 years and is very challenging with grades nearing 15 percent for much of the first four kilometers and a variety of terrain from single track, to meadows and wider pathways. A test course was run on the entire masters course in July of last year with about 200 runners and Kunz sees runners testing the course regularly, “Every week some people are here to run up and down.”
After the masters championships, an annual event on the course is planned with a race date in August, one that will not conflict with other mountain races in the region.
In addition to participating in the championships, runners are encouraged to enjoy the area. Says Stern, “We want to showcase our region. Most of the athletes will stay a minimum of two nights, a lot of athletes will come earlier and may stay for one week or more, with their families.”
The region is famous for the Stubai Glacier located at the end of the valley. It is the biggest glacier skiing area in Austria with a season running from the end of September to July. The summit reaches 3200 meters and the area boasts 80 kilometers of skiable terrain. Innsbruck, which hosted the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976, is just a short train ride from Telfes.
Regional cuisine will be enjoyed by the runners with Kaiserschmarrn, a pancake-like dessert, sure to be a favorite along with the ever-popular dumplings, a mainstay in Austria. With each runners’ entry fee, two meals are included, as well as a T-shirt, and a ride on the cable car back to the start area following the race.
During the opening ceremonies and at the prize-giving ceremony, the Dixie Combo band, of which Kunz has been a member for the past seven years, will play. “There are five of us, all retired. I sing and play banjo,” says Kunz whose favorite songs in his 40 years of banjo playing include, “Oh When the Saints,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” and “Down by the Riverside.”
Although entries close online Friday, August 22, late entries for the championships are possible says Kunz. Visit the website for contact information.
If a trip to the championships in 2014 is not possible, consider traveling to Betws y Coed, Wales in September 2015 to participate in the 15th WMRA/WMA Masters World Mountain Running Championships.
To receive the latest news from the WMRA, check their Facebook page.