Local talent shines in XTERRA Oak Mountain races

Published 9:01 pm Monday, May 22, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

PELHAM – While the best off-road distance runners came to Oak Mountain State Park to compete in the XTERRA Americas Trail Run Championship, Alabama athletes stole the show during the races on May 21, 2023.

Sameul Ongaki, who lives in Anniston after being born in Kenya, took the inaugural trail run marathon title at Oak Mountain over Arkansas’ Jake Anderson.

He led the marathon wire-to-wire, finishing in 3:47:01, beating the field by just under 24 minutes. He had nothing but praise for the Oak Mountain trails.

“I love running uphill, so the hills were my favorite part,” Ongaki said after the race. “The course was so well-marked and the whole experience was awesome.”

Montgomery’s Johnny Anthony finished third in the men’s division with a time of 5:32:49.

Three other Alabama runners finished in the overall top ten: Billy McMahon from Hoover, Cecile Maramba from Montgomery and Jon Simpson from Helena.

Atlanta’s Megan Kelly took the women’s division title in her first race at Oak Mountain, and she’s already looking forward to returning.

“This was my first time in Oak Mountain State Park, and it was absolutely beautiful,” Kelly said. “I had my share of bumps and scrapes but the overall experience was unbelievable. I definitely want to come back. We crested a mountain that I’d love to return to when I have time, so I can actually appreciate the view.”

In the half marathon, Belgium’s Sebstien Carabin won the race, but three of the top five runners were from Alabama: Birmingham’s Gatlin Holland, Daphne’s John Walker, Homewood’s Alan Ash.

Three more Birmingham natives placed in the top ten: two-time Oak Mountain champion Richard Kimani, Beau Beard and Henry Fisher.

Holland placed third, and Walker finished fifth despite having to balance his running training with his career at the U.S. Naval Academy.

In the women’s division, Taryn Garlington of Kokomo, Indian won with Trussville’s Jana Villanueva finishing in third.

Many of the top finishers received qualification slots into the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship at Sugarloaf Mountain in Carrabassett Valley, Maine on October 1.

In addition to the trail run distance races, the XTERRA World Cup off-road triathlon competition took place on Saturday and Sunday.

The full-length triathlon was on Saturday, and two French runners took the titles. Arthur Serrieres won the men’s elite race with a time of 2:25:30, while Alizee Paties won the women’s elite at 2:47:18.

Serrieres only won by 38 seconds over American Eric Lagerstrom after the Frenchman pulled away early in the trail run.

Vail, Colorado’s Josiah Middaugh, who has won five of his thirteen races at Oak Mountain, finished fourth while racing for the first time in Alabama with his son, Sullivan, who finished ninth.

Multiple Alabama runners also competed in the triathlon as amateurs. Auburn native Anthony Federico and Mobile’s Trey St. Johns finished with times under three hours, and Birmingham’s Spencer Martin placed second in the Men’s 30-34 year-old division.

Paties led the field by over five-and-a-half minutes en route to winning the women’s race, beating Italy’s Marta Menditto after New Zealand’s Samantha Kingsford led coming out of the swimming portion.

Serrieres went back to the top of the men’s podium on Sunday by winning the inaugural Short Track race at Oak Mountain.

The Short Track format is much shorter than a full triathlon. It consists of a 400m swim, 7.5km mountain bike ride and a 3k trail run.

Serrieres won by 17 seconds over Jens Emil Sloth Nielson with a time of 33:28. Three Americans placed in the top 10: Lagerstrom and both of the Middaughs.

Loanne Duvoisin won the women’s Short Track race in 38:20, with Paties and Kingsford rounding out the podium.

Nielsen held his season-long World Cup points lead, but Serrieres’ two wins means he is just eight points behind. Meanwhile, Paties extended her dominant lead on the women’s World Cup to 56 points.