The fourth of five North American Elite Series races is this weekend, in Utah. With only two races remaining on the Elite Series schedule, it's now or never for racers who need to climb up the standings.
Before we get to Utah, though, let's look back at last month's Elite Series race in Mexico.
A Shocking Result in Puebla
If one was asked to describe the top 10 results from the Elite Series race in Puebla, the work "shocking" would be an understatement.
Only four men from the U.S. or Canada finished in the top 10, and the Mexican men dominated on their home soil. Veejay Jones took home the win to earn his first-ever Beast podium, but most of the Elite Series contenders struggled in their first race outside of the United States.
How Will the High Altitude Affect the Field?
It’s no secret that some athletes struggle at altitude, while others aren’t really affected by it. Here's an in-depth look at how the top men have done at altitude vs. not at altitude in major races (National Series, Regional Championships, and World Championships).
The Contenders: 11 Racers Who Can Win Utah
Most people aren’t aware that Joshua McAdams was in podium contention for most of the Utah race last year before DNF'ing about 100 meters from the finish. We also saw some major upsets in Mexico last month, as Ciro Perez and Eugenio Godinez Romero finished 2nd and 3rd, respectively. My gut is telling me that we might see another surprise this weekend. Let’s take a quick look at some of the main contenders to wind up on the podium in Utah.
He’s only run one Spartan Race — he finished 4th in Montana in May — so why the hell am I mentioning him as a potential podium finisher? Way back in 2015, he finished 3rd at the Warrior Dash World Championship, ahead of such OCR greats as Hobie Call, Ryan Atkins, Robert Killian, and Veejay Jones. He also won the 2014 XTERRA Trail Running National Championship Half Marathon, which was held at the same exact venue — Snowbasin Resort — as this weekend's race. Yes, those races were many years ago, but Brett's 4th-place finish two months ago proves that he's still dangerous.
Hawk finished 3rd at this same venue last year after leading for most of the race. With no Tire Flip, Hawk can easily win this race if he doesn’t struggle too much on strength obstacles, like the Hercules Hoist.
Josh recently ran the second-fastest time ever up the Manitou Incline, then down Barr Trail. That's a 2,000-foot gain, then a 2,000-foot drop, in less than 4 miles. That’s faster than Robert Killian’s personal record on the same route in 2019, before he won his second Spartan World Championship. Josh is fearless on technical downhills and is a strong power hiker uphill.
Any time there's a course with a lot of climbing, you should expect to see Josiah Middaugh with the leaders right from the start. Josiah likely would have taken 3rd in Big Bear if he didn’t fall off the rig, and this course has just as much climbing. In 2018, he won one of his 15 XTERRA National Championships at this venue (Snowbasin Resort), and familiarity with terrain matters.
Mark is on fire, and he's looking to continue his streak of nine straight Elite Series races in the top 9 (including four top-5 finishes). Despite about 4,000 feet of climbing, Utah is a runnable course that won’t require as much power hiking or steep descending. That will work to Mark's advantage.
Nic struggled with penalties in Mexico last month, which caused him to miss the top 10 for the second straight race at elevation. His 3rd-place finish in San Luis Obispo to start the year wasn’t a fluke, but he has historically done better on flatter terrain than he has in the mountains.
After a win at Big Bear, the defending Spartan World Champion reestablished himself as the favorite whenever he steps on a start line at a mountain venue. Ryan’s record in Utah speaks for itself. He finished 3rd in 2018, 2nd in 2019, and 1st last year. In 2021, he called out athletes who made excuses about not being prepared for the heat, so we’ll see if anyone listened to his advice.
Kempson has finished in the top 5 in eight of his last 13 Elite Series races, including a 4th-place finish in Utah in 2019. Ryan just finished 12th at the 2022 USATF Mountain Running Championships, roughly four minutes behind Ryan Atkins and two minutes behind Aaron Newell.
The Utah resident shocked the OCR world last year with a 2nd-place finish at this venue. Rylan followed that breakout race with three Elite Series performances where he finished between 5th and 8th. If Rylan is within striking distance of the podium at the top of the final climb, look for him to make up ground on the final downhill and obstacle gauntlet to claim a podium spot.
Tyler took 10th at the prestigious Broken Arrow Skyrace 26K a few weeks ago against some of the best trail runners in the country. This same Utah venue is where Tyler earned his first Elite Series podium in 2019, and he finished 5th here last year as well. If he can avoid going out too fast at the beginning, as he has done at some mountain races in the past, Tyler could easily end up on the podium this weekend.
Veejay Jones finally reached the podium at a Beast course with his win in Mexico last month, putting to rest any criticisms that he can’t race well for longer than 90 minutes. Until he misses the podium, you’d be a fool not to put Veejay in your top 3.
Predicting the Top 5 Finishers in Utah
It’s time to make some predictions! Here’s who I think will finish in the top 5, in order.