Mayr Wins Seventh Šmarna Gora; Bečan Takes Men’s Race

Written by Richard Bolt for the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA). Photos by Richard Bolt. 

After Friday’s rainy record run, dawn broke with low clouds and fog across the Sava River valley just North of Ljubljana, where over 220 athletes prepared for the 43rd edition of the Šmarna Gora Mountain Running Race. Taurus vadbeni park was the perfect starting venue for this WMRA Valsir Mountain Running World Cup event with its ample parking, indoor facilities and even an all weather track for runners to warm-up on. Also perfect was the weather with no wind and temperatures in the low teens (centigrade). 

First to sprint down the flat, straight tree lined start of the race were the younger age groups and masters beginning at 9:50 AM. As race radios crackled to life with progress reports on the early waves, the elite runners finished their final warm-up sprints as they visualized 10 kilometers of forest track and 705 meters of elevation gain that lay ahead. At the end of that journey would be the green Šmarna Gora finish arch set-up alongside the historic Puščavnica in zvonček svetega Antona chapel with its commanding view over Ljubljana.

Bang! The starter’s pistol marked the race start at 10:10 AM sharp sending some of Europe’s best mountain runners into the forest. Would Andrea Mayr (AUT) take her 7th Šmarna Gora win or would she be denied by Sarah McCormack (IRL) Could Michael Selelo Saoli (KEN) or Lengen Lolkurraru (KEN) challenge local hero Timotej Bečan (SLO).

As the top runners reached the 5 km mark the race was beginning to spread out and sort out. Bečan had the lead with a healthy gap over the trio of Lolkurraru, Jacob Adkin (GBR) and Selelo Saoli. Next in view was Luka Kovacic (SLO) 5th followed 10 seconds later by Isaco Costa (ITA) in 6th, and another 10 seconds to Andrej Cerne (SLO) in 7th, and yet another 10 seconds to Isaco Costa (ITA in 8th). Not to be outdone by the young guns, 54 year old Miran Cvet (SLO) rolled through the 5 km mark in 9th place. Rounding out the top 10 men at halfway was 23 year old Klemen Spanring (SLO). In the ladies race Mayr came through the 5 km mark in 1st place looking comfortable. About 1 minute later McCormack rounded the corner along the gravel road.

A large crowd of finishers from the earlier race waves, mountain running fans, hikers and race officials gathered around the finish area not much bigger than half a tennis court and waited for the elite runners to finish. With low clouds obscuring the views there was only the last few meters of race course to watch as a large race clock counted up the finish times. At 43:47.7 With under 10 seconds warning KGT Papež member Timotej Bečan burst through the finish arch breaking the tape for the win. He was followed by Atlletica Saluzzo club member Lengen Lolkurraru who ran 44:11.3 and Run2gether’s Michael Selelo Saoli in 44:32.8. This was a change from the 5 km mark as British Athletics World Championships Uphill Selection Race champion Jacob Adkin had twisted his ankle in the final kilometers and dropped back to 9th place. The rest of the men’s top 10 was Isaco Costa (ITA) who moved up to 4th, 5th for Ross Gollan (GBR), 6th for Luka Kovacic (SLO), 7th for Klemen Spanring (SLO), 8th for Miran Cvet (SLO) and 10th for Luke Micallef (MLT).

They say “Italy expects” at world championships but for Andrea Mayr, “Šmarna Gora expects” and she didn’t disappoint, taking her 7th win in 48:38.2. Inov-8 runner and coach Sarah McCormack took 2nd place in 50:37.6. Coming all the way from Finland, Susanna Saapunki finished in 3rd place in an excellent time of 51:13.9. Another running coach and hometown hero Lucija Krkoc (SLO) finished in 4th in 52:48.0. Rounding out the top 10 ladies were Nusa Mali (SLO) in 5th, Dominika Zupancic Valant (SLO) in 6th, Spela Gonza (SLO) in 7th, Caterina Stenta (ITA) in 8th, Antia Meznar (SLO) in 9th and Irena Pisek (SLO) in 10th. 

As the middle of the pack was finishing the sun burned way the clouds and the view across Ljubljana and the mountains beyond opened up. By 12:30 when the awards ceremony got underway the sun was shining fully, the temperatures rose and perfect running weather evolved into perfect picnic weather for the runners who enjoyed homemade food from Gostilna Ledinek – the summit restaurant and friend of the race going all the way back to 1979.