Celebrating mountain running’s leading women

WMRA recognises International Women's Day

Andrea Mayr

by WMRA |

Pic: Andrea Mayr

On International Women’s Day, the World Mountain Running Association takes a look at some of the women who have helped shape the sport.

Isabelle Guillot

Isabelle Guillot of France won bronze in the European Mountain Running Championships in 1988 and then she proceeded to string together an incredibly consistent and lengthy set of impressive results. This included four golds, three silvers and two bronze medals in the World Championships, as well as European gold, then she bookended those with another bronze in the European Championships in 2006. She has had considerable success as a masters athlete since.

Izabela Zatorska

A few years after Guillot began her run of success, Poland’s Izabela Zatorska began one of her own. There followed an amazing run of podium and top-10 finishes between 1996 and 2005, including European Championships golds in 1999 and 2000, and three World Cup wins. In the World Championships she achieved a silver and three bronzes. She also won iconic mountain races like Drei Zinnen, Challenge Stellina and Smarna Gora. As well as achieving success in the mountains, she also won many road races all over the world, from 5km to marathon.

Melissa Moon

At around the same time that Zatorka burst onto the scene, Melissa Moon, a track and cross-country athlete from New Zealand, was coming to the conclusion that mountain running might be the sport for her. The reasons? Firstly, a third at the 1997 World Championships, which she was persuaded to take part in after staying on in Europe for a week after the World Student Games. And secondly, she said: “I also loved the culture of the mountain runners, just like an extended family, and I felt energised in the mountain and villages of Europe.” After a third and fourth place in the World Mountain Running Championshipsshe went on to win in 2001 and defended her title in 2003.

Angela Mudge

One of the athletes with whom Moon enjoyed an epic tussle at the 2003 World Championships was Angela Mudge of Scotland. Coming from the world of hill and fell running (she won the British Fell Running Championships five times), she achieved great success in mountain running. She won the World Cup three times, won the 2000 World Championships and finished second in 2003, leading Scotland's women's team to the gold medals. She won Pikes Peak Marathon and Sierre Zinal, breaking many course records at iconic international races during her career.

She continues to give so much back to the sport as the national lead for hill and mountain running in Scotland and she has inspired many runners along the way. GB runner Sarah Tunstall says of her: “Angela Mudge has probably been my greatest inspiration and personally I have always looked to her times as a guide of how well I have raced on the mountains. When I was still a junior I saw her storm the inter-county cross-country, even though the commentators didn’t know her name, and qualify for the 1999 World Cross Country. This always stuck with me and gave me confidence when I used to race the (much) quicker track girls over cross country."

Anna Pichrtova

Around the same time as Mudge, Anna Pichrtova of the Czech Republic was beginning a long and successful period in the sport. She was born in the Slovak Republic and initially balanced marathon running with mountain running. Her mountain running debut was in the World Trophy in 1992, where she won the silver in the junior race and then finished 13th in the senior race (for Slovakia) - in the same competition! An early feat which set the scene for her hugely successful career. She proceeded to do well in the World Trophy in 1993 and 1994, but it was the period of 2001 - 2009, competing for the Czech Republic, where she really dominated. She won gold, 2 silvers and a bronze in the World Championships, 2 golds, 2 silvers and a bronze in the Europeans, 2 golds in the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships and she won 2 World Cups. Her Sierre Zinal Course Record stood for 11 years, finally falling in 2019.

Andrea Mayr

The female athlete who has dominated most recently is of course Austria’s Andrea Mayr. It’s hard to sum up her illustrious career, particularly as it is still very much ongoing. Her results speak for themselves - she is a six-time World Champion (2006, 2008. 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016) and won the World Cup in 2010, 2014, 2016 and 2018 – but it also has to be emphasised that many of her victories were by large margins. Her speed and climbing ability are legendary.

As well as her success in mountain running Mayr has had huge success in ski -mountaineering, Red Bull 400 and even tower running. But what might be most inspiring about Andrea Mayr is the fact that she fits all of this around her job as a medical doctor in a hospital.

This just highlights a few of the inspiring female mountain runners we could mention. There are many, many more, such as Lucy Wambui Murigi (winner of the 2017 and 2018 World Championships), who has done so much to put Africa at the forefront of mountain running.

As well as athletes, we’d like to mention race directors like Danelle Ballengee, director of the Moab Trail Marathon, which is the 2021 USATF Marathon Trail Running Championships. She is also a four-time winner of Pikes Peak Marathon and a former member of the US mountain running team.

Also behind the scenes are strong team leaders like Anita Ortiz of the US under-18 team, who is a two-time US mountain running champion and world masters mountain running champion (as well as former Western States winner). She now shares the benefit of her wealth of experience with junior athletes. Similarly, Ellen Miller has been the US women’s team manager for the classic distance for the last 14 years, overseeing some great successes during that time.

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