2015 Kenai Central graduate Allie Ostrander hasn’t quite had the chance to digest what it means to be a junior world mountain running champion yet, and it’s hard to blame her.
Ostrander was reached at 6 p.m. ADT Sunday at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. She had flown out of the airport in Manchester, England, at 2 a.m. ADT on Sunday, and had one layover in Philadelphia before flying to Phoenix. After her flight from Phoenix to Boise, she was due to get back to the Boise State campus at about 9 p.m. ADT.
Thus, Ostrander said she hadn’t had a lot of time to reflect on winning the junior women’s race at the 31st World Mountain Running Championship in Snowdonia, North Wales.
“I still don’t think of myself as a world champion,” Ostrander said. “Mountain running isn’t as huge of a sport, so there’s probably some good mountain runners that weren’t there.
“It’s not as big as a track or cross-country world championship, but I feel really happy to come away with the win.”
Ostrander completed the 2.92-mile course with 820 feet of elevation gain in 19 minutes, 44 seconds, for the victory. That was 39 seconds ahead of runner-up Michaela Stranska of Czech Republic and 47 seconds ahead of third-place finisher Elsa Racasan of France.
The Boise State freshman became the second American to win the women’s junior title and the first Alaskan to rule the world in mountain running.
Although Girdwood’s Mount Alyeska, in 2003, became the first and still only place in the United States to host the World Mountain Running Championship, Ostrander and Levi Thomet of Kodiak drew renewed interest to the sport by getting chosen to race in North Wales on Saturday.
Thomet, a 2015 graduate of Kodiak High School, finished second in the junior men’s race for the first podium finish by an American junior man in the history of the event.
Ostrander said she was as curious as anyone to see what mountain running was all about when she ran through the course Thursday after arriving in North Wales on Wednesday.
“It was definitely different than an Alaska mountain race,” she said. “Instead of power-hiking, the uphill was a run.
“During the race, there was one part where I power-hiked for five to 10 steps, but that was just because I needed a little break to be able to keep up the pace.”
Power-hiking is the technique where a racer bends over and powers both hands into the thighs while taking slow, loping, powerful steps up a steep hill.
It’s the predominant technique racers use during Mount Marathon, with the senior race rising and falling 3,022 feet in 3.1 miles and the junior race going halfway up the mountain.
Ostrander is a six-time Mount Marathon junior girls champion and ran the second-fastest women’s time in race history in finishing second in her senior debut in July.
In the first portion of the North Wales course, racers gained about 721 feet in .658 miles. Ostrander said that was like laying three Bear Loop uphills at Tsalteshi Trails back-to-back-to-back.
“From the start, there was a pretty narrow road so there was pushing and shoving, but I was able to make my way to the front after 200 meters,” she said.
By the top of the climb, Ostrander said she had 10 to 15 seconds on the field. She then held that lead over rolling terrain for 1.2 miles before stretching out her lead while dropping 646 feet in the last .75 miles.
“I gained like 25 or 30 seconds on the field on the downhill,” Ostrander said. “That surprised me because the uphill is more my strength.”
Ostrander said she enjoyed her first experience with mountain running.
“It’s pretty intense,” she said. “It’s a muddy and rocky trail, not rolling hills like cross-country. The steep uphill and the rocks add to the excitement.”
But at this point, with her college career just one race old — a victory at the Dual in Speedway Meadow in San Francisco on Sept. 11 — Ostrander said she doesn’t know what the future holds for her in mountain running. She said she will consider trying to qualify for the U.S. senior team next year.
Her first priority is to get ready for the Griak Invitational in Minnesota on Saturday. She said keeping up on her classwork while traveling wasn’t that bad because so much of it is on the computer.
Racing in San Francisco and taking a run on the Golden Gate Bridge one weekend, racing in North Wales the next, and traveling to Minnesota the next weekend. What’s that like for someone who grew up on the central Kenai Peninsula?
“Everything is going by so fast,” Ostrander said. “It’s a whirlwind with racing, training and travel. It hasn’t really sunk in.”
Ostrander didn’t have time to see many of the North Wales sights, but she did have some memorable North Wales moments.
“North Wales has huge amounts of sheep,” she said. “They’re all over the place. There were a couple of times I went running up the mountain by the hotel and every time a herd of sheep was chilling up on a mountain.”
Amazingly, Ostrander is the third world junior champion from the central peninsula in the past year. Both Robin Johnson and Cipriana Castellano won International Powerlifting Federation RAW Classics World Championships in Salo, Finland, in June.
Ostrander said she knows Castellano and Johnson and has no explanation for the run of world champions from such a small area.
“That’s like half the population,” she joked.
Ostrander said it was also nice to catch up with Thomet, who is studying in Germany this year before heading to college next year. Both won the last three Class 4A state cross-country titles.
Ostrander said Thomet was pretty sore after the race because he had been training mostly on flat ground. Ostrander said the Boise State squad runs a lot of hills so she wasn’t as sore.
“He was super sore, but I think he wants to come back again,” she said.