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Chris Balestrini smashes course record to win NACAC gold for Canada

Canada's 50K record holder delivered a huge win for the host country this weekend at the NACAC Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Saskatchewan

2023 NACAC Mountain and Trail Running Championships Photo by: Athletics Canada

Chris Balestrini of London, Ont., delivered a huge victory for Canada in southern Saskatchewan on Saturday by winning gold in the 2023 North and Central American Mountain and Trail Running Championships’ 50K and shattering the Beaver Flat 50 course record in the process.

Balestrini, who has held the Canadian 50K record (2:48:32) for more than two years, sliced more than 25 minutes off the previous course record set by Vancouver’s Mike Sidic in 2018 (4:37:21), finishing this year’s race in 4:11:25.

Underscoring the strength of Balestrini’s performance was the fact he finished almost 20 minutes ahead of his closest competitor, even as the second- and third-place finishers also broke Sidic’s previous course record. Adam Sjolund ran 4:30:47 to take silver for the United States, with Mexico’s Miguel Ángel Pérez Alvarado taking bronze in 4:35:38.

The glint of irony in the course’s name wasn’t lost on Sjolund, who titled his Strava entry from Saturday’s race “beaver not flat 50k.” The course, located in Saskatchewan’s Landing Provincial Park, features more than 2,300 metres of elevation gain and “hill repeats in the worst kind of way,” said race organizer Jeff Dudar.  “There’s cacti, juniper bushes, rock, sand, snakes and water.”

 

In an Instagram post following the race, Balestrini congratulated his competitors for how they met the challenge of high temperatures and tough terrain in Saturday’s race. “Always an honour to lace up the trail shoes with the Canadian Team. Beautiful ridge line running, countless punchy climbs, and a blazing sun beating down on us set the stage for an epic duel in the hills of Saskatchewan,” he wrote.

Balestrini said the race “started out hot, up one of the steeper climbs of the [day] before descending onto the ridge. A few Americans were pushing hard and we traded surges and positions quite a few times in the first 35K. I made a move and got a small gap so I kept the pedal down to the finish. When the 50K and 2,300m vertical gain was said and done, I came away with the hard-fought win.”


He added that while he’s not sure what’s next for him after Saturday’s win, “I do have some placements in Alberta & BC coming up, so maybe some late-season mountain running before I switch gears to the roads for the CIM Marathon in December!”

In the women’s 50K, North Vancouver’s Shannon Penway ran 5:21:37 to win silver for Canada. Americans Sarah Biehl (5:10:26) and Kristina Randrup (5:30:27) won gold and bronze respectively.

In addition to the 50K, Landing Provincial Park also hosted the NACAC Championships’ Classic Up and Down, a 10K event with 420 metres of elevation gain. Care Nelson of Victoria ran 49:39 to win bronze for Canada, with Americans Gabrielle Orie (47:22.4) and Megan Lacy (48:45.7) finishing in the top two spots.

American Liam Meirow topped the podium of the men’s race in 40:42, followed by Justino Luz Coronado (41:24)  and Jesus Quiroz de la Cruz (41:51) of Mexico.

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