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Ultrarunner Kelly Wolf Wins 25K At Copper Mountain
The sport of trail running is one of many beneath the wider running umbrella that has seen growth in recent years, evidenced by the growing numbers of trail races and racing series popping up in the United States and around the world. This particular sport’s rising popularity also benefits from increasing numbers of younger participants, something for which 23-year-old ultrarunner Kelly Wolf, who has been tackling trails since 2015, is grateful. “When I started, I was the youngest trail runner in my group by a decade,” Wolf told Women’s Running after winning her latest race to date, the 25K at Under Armour Mountain Running Series’ Copper Mountain location in Colorado on July 14.
The way Wolf races, trail running often becomes a solo enterprise, anyway. During the 25K last weekend, the Under Armour athlete finished well ahead of her female competitors, even though she was still somewhat in recovery mode after the Lavaredo 120K in Italy’s Dolomites on June 22, a race in which she also placed first. “After that race I took a full week off, and I’ve been doing super easy transitioning back into fun running this month,” Wolf said. “Today I was kind of nervous; it was the first effort I’ve asked of my body since [Lavaredo]. It was hard to tell how I was going to feel. I was feeling super rested and recovered, but then I started running and was like, ‘Nope! Not at all.’ It was tough. There were good girls out there. I had to stay on top of my game to be first.”
Despite the discomfort she felt during the Mountain Running Series 25K, Wolf didn’t consider the race to be much of a struggle mentally or physically. “I was easy on myself, just getting back into running,” Wolf said. “I think at this point I just know that feeling enough, that discomfort during racing, where I can just embrace it and stay at that steady discomfort level.”
Though the 25K distance is challenging for many runners, it’s a snap for Wolf. Others that toed the starting line had energy gels and water bottles stashed in pockets and hydration vests, but Wolf—a self-described “minimalist runner”—relied on aid stations for her on-course fueling and hydration, though she arrives at longer races prepared with the hydration, fuel and trail equipment she expects to need. This particular 25K, comprised of single tracks with switchbacks scattered along the course, was described by many who ran it as primarily difficult for the elevation gains (the course climbed as high as 12,000 feet, with the base elevation starting closer to 9,800 feet), leaving Wolf free to run without the trekking poles she taught herself to use on courses that are more technically difficult.
With her mid-summer tune-up race now out of the way and two recent victories on her résumé, Wolf is carefully strategizing her path to the next big goal on her list: tackling a 100-mile race. But it can’t be just any 100 miler. “I have to be super inspired about the race itself,” Wolf said. “I’m inspired about the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, a 100-mile race around Mont-Blanc, and also the Hardrock 100, because that’s exactly the mountains where I live—the race runs right by my house. The last race I did had similar, mountainous terrain to both of those and did give me a lot of confidence that I can tack on 25 miles, which I know will be exponentially tougher. But it did give me confidence that I am moving in that progression.”
Wolf’s ultrarunner identity may seem like a far cry from the rock climber she used to be, but many of the skyrunning races she enters demand rock-scrambling measures that make use of both talents. Regardless of the terrain or distance, Wolf seems to be searching for races that will for her be new, challenging or both—and as one of several women who took to the trails at Copper Mountain, she’s hopeful that she’ll soon be joined by greater numbers of female competitors. “I hope for deeper women’s fields at races,” Wolf said when discussing her wishes for trail running’s future. “The most memorable and exciting races are those that are competitive, with a deep field.”