Manuel Merillas and Daniela Oemus weathered treacherous conditions Sunday to win the Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon in Spain, the first victory for either runner in the lead-off race to the 2023 Golden Trail World Series. Spain’s Merillas completed the course (42.2-km with more than 2,700 meters of elevation gain) in 3:42:01, with Oemus leading the women’s field in 4:31:54.
It was a hard-fought victory for both runners, with much of the course awash in rain and mud, below-freezing temperatures at the summit and gusts topping 50 km/h, forcing organizers to reroute a section of the course. But following his win from him, Merillas said the menacing race-day conditions did n’t shake his confidence from him. “I felt great today. I must admit they set off hard, but I managed to fuel myself well and my legs were doing as they were told, so I could quickly hit the gas in the downhill,” said Merillas, who finished last year’s race in third place behind course record holder Kilian Jornet of Spain and Davide Magnini of Italy. “A great start to the year for me with this first victory on the Golden Trail World Series and my first victory in Zegama. I trained well, not specifically for Zegama, but when I see my time, it was faster than last year, so I’m thrilled.”
Morroco’s Elhousine Elazzaoui ran 3:42:28 for second place, and Britain’s Jonathan Albon finished third in 3:45:01.
Oemus, who was joined on the women’s podium by New Zealand’s Caitlin Fielder (4:34:04) and Switzerland’s Theres Leboeuf (4:37:41), took the lead after scaling the first summit and struggled with a recent foot injury in the race’s closing kilometers.
“I didn’t really know where I was during the race—there were a lot of girls in front. Then, I started to pick them off one by one after about 10km. I was told I was in sixth and after kilometre 15 I caught up with Caitlin … then I was on my own,” said Oemus. “I really had to fight right up to the end because I was exhausted 10km before the end and my toe was really hurting. I broke it 10 days ago and the downhills were really painful, but I hung in there.”
The Marathon du Mont-Blanc, the second stage of the Golden Trail World Series, takes place in Chamonix, France on June 25.