Trail Runner of The Year 2023: Fifth

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Headshot of Corrine Malcolm, Editor-in-Chief at Freetrail

By: Corrine Malcolm

Freetrail Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Trail Society Podcast.

We’ve done it, we’ve made it to the top five of this year’s TROY awards! After quieter 2022 seasons for both of our fifth spot athetes 2023 was a gift that just kept giving. Injuries happen and it is clear that both of the runners we get to talk about today have risen from the adversity of the past year to find themselves on podiums time and time again. If you missed yesterday’s sixth place annoucement you can find that here.

In fifth position this year we have Saucony’s Grayson Murphy and Compressport x Scarpa’s AurĂ©lien Dunand-Pallaz.

Grayson Murphy on her way to WMTRC gold in the Classic Up & Down race. PC: Ryan Thrower
Grayson Murphy on her way to WMTRC gold in the Classic Up & Down race. PC: Ryan Thrower

While Grayson’s season was cut a little short do to health reasons, the sheer magnatitude of what she accomplished in the first six months of the year set her apart. (Her April alone sent us spinning) Grayson is what we’d consider a cross-over athlete, excelling  in more than one athletic discipline. While she’s raced well on the track, making into the US Olympic Trial’s Finals for the 3000meter steeplechase in 2021, she’s taken that speed to the road as well. To kick off her season Grayson took on The Milltown Half Marathon, running well under the 1:12 needed to qualify for the US Marathon Trials, winning the event outright in 1:10:34. We’re calling it the fastest half marathon in full tights of 2023.

Four weeks later Grayson launched an impressive attack on the US National Mountain Running Championships that acted as the final qualifers for the Classic Uphill and Classic Up & Down events for the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships (WMTRC). On back to back days Grayson took the win in both events securring her spots on the Worlds Team and giving her an oppurtunity to go after her second WMTRC title (having won the event in 2019 and missing the event in 2022 due to injury). In June, Grayson and Team USA headed to Innsbruck, Austria to see what they could do. In the first event of the week Grayson fought a star-studded field to come away with a Bronze medal in the Classic Uphill Race, her weaker of the two events. Three days later she took the line for the Up & Down race, which included sneaky fast road and downhill sections, she lit it up. Grayson flew, airplane arms and all, over the two lap course securring her second World Championship Gold and her second medal of the week.

Due to a mysterious and lingering autoimmune illness Grayson missed the back half of the 2023 season. That included taking herself off of many startlists, including stops on the Golden Trail World Series. While we would have loved to see her tackle races like Sierre-Zinal this year, we know she’ll be there when the time is right.

Aurélien Dunand-Pallaz (L) on the start line with Dylan Bowman (R) before the Hardrock 100 mile race. PC: Ryan Thrower
Aurélien Dunand-Pallaz (L) on the start line with Dylan Bowman (R) before the Hardrock 100 mile race. PC: Ryan Thrower

While AurĂ©lien’s 2022 season did not go to plan, including having to dropout of UTMB, he did get to celebrate the biggest win of the season with his wife Julia – welcoming their first child into the world. While some may argue that Dad strength doesn’t exist, that notion does not pertain to AurĂ©lien Dunand-Pallaz. Over the course of the 2023 season he raced six times winning four of them and never finishing worse than second.

AurĂ©lien had a patient and steady build throughout the spring, racing and winning the Entrelacs Run & Trail 37km before finishing second in both the Trail Nivolet-Revard 55km and the MaXi-Race du lac d’Annecy 88km. Then came the vert and high altitude preparation to be ready for the Hardrock 100-mile startline, a race he had gotten into for 2022 but could not attend with a child due the same month. While we had to wait a year to see it, boy did he deliver, winning the race in 23 hours almost an hour ahead of the competition. After some much needed R&R AurĂ©lien had one more big goal on the horizion – La Diagonale Des Fous (Grand Raid De La RĂ©union) – another intriguing doubleheader for mountainous 100-mile races. Along his way to La RĂ©union, AurĂ©lien ran and won the extremely hilly Wildstrubel by UTMB 70km knocking out two birds with ones stone – securring a spot in UTMB Finals for 2024 and getting a long effort in the legs. From there came the final hoorah of the season, La Diagonale Des Fous, a race which feels impossible to nail on your first time seemed to go flawlessly for the French standout. While that might have felt like the perfect way to end the season, his recent annoucement that he won’t be returning to Hardrock in 2024 because he and Julia are expecting their second child hit us right in the feels.

Every athlete experiences hurdles from time to time, and well… we all love a comeback story! Grayson and AurĂ©lien showed us so much grit and determination as they worked their way back to the top of the podium this season. We are uncertain where 2024 will take both of their stories, but we’ll be along for the ride.

Trail Runner of The Year 2023 is brought to you with support from our friends over at Ketone IQ

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