Trail Runner of The Year 2023: Tenth

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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 started Trail Runner of The Year (TROY) in 2022 because we had a strong desire to recognize the very best in the sport by capturing the truly global nature of the trail running community. This is an award voted on by the international public, by the athletes’ peers, by the trail running media, and by you the fans of the sport. We learned a lot in the first iteration of TROY last year, and set out to improve upon it again this year by adding a weighted vote for members of the PTRA (Pro Trail Running Association), members of the trail running media, and those who placed in the top ten for Freetrail Fantasy over the entire season. In total roughly 1000 ballots were cast by individuals from over 40 countries representing 6 continents. There were 104 athletes, representing twenty-seven nationalities, on the ballot and each one of them received at least one vote. We want to thank those of you who took the time to cast your ballot again this year as we celebrate what was accomplished by so many athletes over the course of the 2023 season. Thank you – let’s roll!

In tenth position this year we have KIPRUN’s Blandine L’hirondel and Nike’s Anthony Costales.

Blandine L'hirondel runs home in 24 hours and 22 minutes to take 3rd place at the 2023 UTMB.
Blandine L’hirondel runs home in 24 hours and 22 minutes to take 3rd place at the 2023 UTMB. c/o UTMB Media

Coming out of phenomenal 2021 and 2022 seasons the sky seemed to be the limit for the the French trail runner and physician – truly an ascendt athlete. As a refresher Blandine took a surprising win at the 2019 World Trail Running Championships in the 80km, won and set the course record at OCC in 2021, won the European Trail Championships, won and set the course record at CCC and won the World Trail and Mountain Running Championships (WMTRC) in the 80km in 2022. If runners were stocks we were going all in on Blandine.

While 2023 saw numerous wins and podium finishes it would not come without a few hiccups for Blandine L’hirondel. After a podium at the French Cross-country Running Championships (yeah she’s got that kind of range), a win and course record performance at the Istria by UTMB 69km race in April, and a 5th in the always competitive Zegama-Aizkorri in May things went a little off the rails. A nagging and mysterious foot injury took her out of the WMTRC 80km in June where she had most certainly been a favorite for the win as she looked to defend her title. After a month of cross-training, logging many hours on a bike, Blandine was able to ease back into running in the hopes of toeing the line of her first every 100-mile race at UTMB in Chamonix. While it might have been a leap into the unknown, outside of having to backtrack for a forgotten glove, Blandine made her first every 100-mile race look like she was a veteran at the distance. After running in second place for much of the day, Blandine ultimately finished third in a time of 24 hours and 22 minutes and didn’t even swear off the distance in her post-race interviews (which is promising for all us fans).

After such an incredible debut at the event we expect to see Blandine back in Chamonix in 2024, for now she’s letting a calcaneal stress fracture heal and slowly easing back into running.

Anthony Costales (center) claims his golden ticket to WSER ahead of Janosch Kowalczyk (left) and Tom Evans (right).
Anthony Costales (center) claims his golden ticket to WSER ahead of Janosch Kowalczyk (left) and Tom Evans (right). PC: Ryan Thrower

Anthony Costales definitely falls into the category of “the people’s champion” – and that’s not just because he’s a teacher who logs many of his weekly miles running to and from school. Salt of the earth. Blue-collar runner. All of these things don’t begin to describe the guy who legitmately ran the biggest 100-mile race in the United States (and one of the most important trail ultras in the world) in an old Chico State cross-country singlet because he was unsponsored… Unsponsored despite running the fastest time ever and besting a world class field at the Black Canyon 100km in Feburary. Okay okay – thankfully I can step off my soapbox now as Anthony became the newest member of the Nike Trail family this fall getting to celebrate that signing with one last start line for the year.

While many people raced more than Anthony this year the season that he put together impressed many of us, and we sure hope this trend continues into 2024 even if that means he has to retire the Chico State singlet for the time being. Before showing up in Arizona at Black Canyon, where he snagged his golden ticket into the Western States Endurance Run 100-mile, he ran and won the Arches 50km in 3 hours and 41 minutes. Depositing that golden ticket in the bank, Anthony then showed up to WSER running one of the best ever debuts on the men’s side to finish 3rd in just over 15 hours ( 5-minutes out of 2nd place). The performance that likely sealed the deal for many of you was one last hoorah to Cape Town, South Africa where Anthony went on to finish 3rd at UTCT’s classic 100km in an international field to round out his season.

With the conveted M3 bib already secured for WSER 2024 we hope Anthony is kicking his feet up a little bit before getting ready for the big dance in June.

Blandine and Anthony are two particularly gifted trail runners and we will most certainly be cheering for them louldy at whichever races they pin on bibs for in 2024. Any guesses on who made their way into the ninth position? Come back here tomorrow to find out!

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

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