Team USA Wins Three Gold Medals at NACAC Mountain Running Championships

Written by USA Team Leader Jason Bryant and WMRA Treasurer Nancy Hobbs. Photos by Nancy Hobbs and Tad Davis.

The NACAC Mountain Running Championships were held on Sunday, October 20, at a countryside venue located just 30 minutes from Tepatitlan de Morelos, Jalisco, Mexico. On race day, the Cerro Gordo mountain added the additional challenge of mud and slick rocks to the competition.

Andy Wacker, Boulder, CO, and Dani Moreno, Santa Barbara, CA, earned NACAC championships titles with Moreno leading the US women to a gold medal and Wacker leading the men to silver.

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Stormy weather throughout the days preceding the 16th NACAC Mountain Running Championships did nothing to damped the spirits of the record five nations competing this year. The host event, the 12th Carrera Cerro Gordo, offered a challenging course with over 2000 feet of climbing from a starting elevation of 7000 feet to nearly 8700 feet at the high point — the turnaround point — on an out and back course covering 12 kilometers of trail. The route featured rocky sections, hard-packed dirt, grassy terrain, and muddy spots along the trail.

The competitors began the ascent of Cerro Gordo quickly moving onto the cobblestone road leading to trail. Wacker soared up Cerro Gordo, reaching the top with a small lead over Jesus Nava of team Mexico. Mexico ran in a tight pack close behind Wacker with teammates Eric BlakeDavid Fuentes and Travis Fuller of team USA just behind the Mexico pack.

2019 NACAC Mountain Running Champion Andy Wacker. Photo by Tad Davis.

On the women’s side, US teammates Sam Lewis and Moreno led the way approaching the mountain top turn around. Behind these two, the ladies’ field had begun to string out with a mixture of the Mexican, Canadian and US team members Kristen Findley and Maria Dalzot in pursuit.

Returning down the mountain, Wacker cut loose, extending his lead to arrive at the finish as the NACAC Mountain Champion in a time of 53:30 followed by Mexico’s Jesus Nava and Brayan Rodriguez in 54:22 and 55:26 respectively. Fuentes would be the next USA runner down in seventh position with a time of 56:43. Fuller followed closely in eighth with a time of 56:50, just ahead of Blake who finished ninth in 57:02. Mexico took the NACAC team title with 9 points, USA followed with 12 point for the silver medal, while Canada claimed bronze with 28 points. El Salvador, fielding a full team for the first time, finished in fourth with 42 points.

Wacker spoke about his goals going into the race, “Whenever I come to an event like this, I have personal goals, but it’s also about how we’ll do as a team. I wanted to win, but there were a lot of really good competitors on the start list, so it was something I expected.”

“I think the course was challenging,” continued Wacker. “It had lots of different parts. It was muddy, and rocky, and there were also flat sections. All of it was a good primer for Argentina next month (where he’ll race for the USATF Mountain Running Team at the World Championships). I’m proud of our team. Both the men and women were really solid and I’m happy with the result.”

This was Wacker’s second time competing at NACAC in Mexico. He finished fifth when he raced on a mostly uphill course on Cerro Gordo in 2016“I blew up, so this was redemption. It’s my first big win in a while. Probably back to 2016 when I won the USATF Half Marathon Trail Championships.”

Fuentes had this to say about the course, “I loved it. It was runnable, technical and hard. I wasn’t ready for the altitude, but I’m happy with how I finished.”

Fuller added his thoughts about the race, “The course was nice and open so it gave room to pass. It was beautiful and it was muddy…it reminded me of a cross country race in college. I felt pretty good about where I was at today, but going up was tough. I was breathing through a straw. I could feel the altitude, and going down, it was a little sketchy. It was fun to be a little reckless.”

Blake said, “I liked the uphill, that’s my strength, and the downhills were runnable. I was third to the top (after Wacker and Jesus Nava (MEX)), and I was glad when my teammates came up behind me with about one kilometer to go. I just wanted to help the team the best that I could. I think me setting a solid first half helped the team and my teammates helped me go faster on the descent.”

2019 NACAC Mountain Running Champion Dani Moreno. Photo by Tad Davis.

The lead two USA women would stay out front of the rest of the field on the return down Cerro Gordo for a one-two finish. Moreno overtook Lewis on the descent to claim the women’s NACAC Mountain Champion title in a time of 1:05:28. Lewis claimed the silver position in 1:06:26. The final podium spot would go to Susana Bautista of Mexico in 1:07:22. Findley just missed a podium finish following closely in fourth timed in 1:07:49, while Dalzot crossed the line with a tenth place finish in 1:16:36. The USA women claimed the team title with 7 points ahead of Mexico in team silver with 18 points. Canada took the team bronze with 22 points. For the first time, there were five countries competing in the women’s division with Costa Rica and El Salvador each entering one athlete.

Said Moreno following her victory, “Coming into the race I definitely wanted to podium, or win. I’ve been racing less this year and I had a good buildup going into this race as I’m getting ready for Argentina (where she’ll race on the USATF Long Distance Mountain Running Team September 16). Overall, I’m super happy with my race. I’m stoked about how our team did. The course was challenging in all the right ways. It was a muddy playground. I fell on the way up, but I was happy that my teammate (Lewis) was behind me. It lifted my spirits. I stayed behind Sam on the way up, and she said with a sense of humor… ‘Come catch me,’ and I did.” Added Lewis, “It was literally 15 seconds before Dani caught me on the downhill.”

Even though Moreno had a shoelace come undone on the descent, she kept focus and continued on to the finish for the victory. “I’m really proud of my effort and that of my team and I can’t wait for Argentina,” said Moreno.

Lewis offered her thoughts on the course, “I really liked the mud and the pools of water on the course. It made it more technical navigating the mud and where to step. It was a harder uphill than I expected, and the downhill with the mud and cobblestones was challenging, but a great learning experience. It was a good prep for Argentina (where Lewis will run on the USATF Mountain Running Team having earned her spot at the Waterville Valley Mountain Race last month) and definitely a confidence booster. It is only going to help me for Worlds.”

Findley said, “I thought it was a lot of fun. I liked that we had adverse conditions and that there were people all along the course from the bottom to the top cheering us on. The fog (near the turnaround at the summit) kept it kind of exciting. It kept you honest in your effort because you didn’t know who was behind you or ahead of you.”

Dalzot summed up her thoughts stating, “The biggest challenge for me was coming from sea level. That was definitely the biggest challenge. I really loved the conditions. Even though it was muddy and hard, I enjoyed the challenge. Usually the messier the better.”

Maria Dalzot tears up the mud. Photo by Tad Davis.

Event organizer, Miguel Lopez commented, “The NACAC Mountain Running Championship in Tepatitlan was developed with great excitement, which fills us with pride as it is the first occasion in which five countries in the area participate and motivates us to continue promoting this beautiful modality of athletics. I thank the delegations of the United States, Canada, El Salvador and Costa Rica, as well as the Mexican team for their emotional participation, as well as Tepatitlan and San Ignacion, which together leave a great taste in the mouth for the organization and development of the event. Thank you all and Tepatitlan is your home.”

Added USA team leader Jason Bryant“Returning to Tepatitlan eleven years after I ran here in 2008, brought back fond memories of hospitality of Tepatitlan. I am glad to support our young USA athletes in their enjoyment of mountain running.”

Delegations were led by Liz Neely (CAN), Miguel Angel Lopez Navarro and Pedro Fletes (MEX),  Pamela Allie-Morrill (ESA), and Jason Bryant and Tad Davis (USA).

The NACAC Mountain Running Championships rotate between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. This is the fifth time Mexico has hosted the Championships, the third time in Tepatitlan (2008, 2016, 2019).  In 2006, 2011 and 2014, Ajijic, Jalisco, was the host venue. The event will most likely travel to Canada in 2020 and back to the USA in 2021.

In addition to the Championships race, the Carrera Cerro Godo event staged 6-kilometer races for juniors 19 and under, and open races for ages 20 and older.

For additional details and full results visit: https://www.tepatitlan.gob.mx/comude/nacac

See event more photos and video of the race in our Google Photos album.

The Witching Hour: 2019 World Trail Championship

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Original Blog Post

After her amazing victory at the 2019 US 50k Trail National Championships held at the FOURmidable 50k in Feb, rabbitPRO Dani Moreno secured her spot on Team USA for the 2019 World Trail Championship. Dani shares more about her experience at World's on the blog...

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While regular race reports focus on the race itself, I decided to shed some light on what happens beforehand. I think it's easy to feel alone in your thoughts and doubts, and this blog post aims to demonstrate that a lot of people are quite often thinking the same things. Welcome to what my coach dubs as "The Witching Hour," with this one taking place the days leading up to the 2019 World Trail Championship.

 

The Witching Hour: 2019 World Trail Championship

 

I arrived in Lisbon Sunday before the race. I did this because I was going to be working remotely, and this allowed me to get settled before the work week started. (#worklifebalance)  While this part went according to plan, it wasn't long before I ran into my first fork in the pre-race road: the unprecedented heat waves causing me to question what race day conditions would be. Immediately this became the focus as I began thinking of how long it had been since I ran a hard workout in the heat. And it's safe to say my mental heckler started growing.

 

With the thought of humidity leading the charge, there were a few other things that began to fog my confidence, one of them being my PMS. I have found that not many women talk about this topic since it can sometimes be misunderstood and seen as an excuse. But at least for me, it's just what it is, and we can't help it! In my opinion, it's best to educate yourself and acknowledge what your cycles are like, especially when you have a competition coming up that is going to require a lot of you. For myself, when I have races that fall into this period (no pun intended haha), I know I need to be attentive to weather conditions. Similar to many women, I tend to overheat, making it difficult to sleep, and umm...run in the heat! Over the years this phase has lined up with some warm races, and while it can be tough, it isn't impossible, it just requires careful attention.

 

Typical to many "Witching Hours" self-talk is helpful along with the ability to come up with band-aid type solutions. So, in this case, hot weather and PMS..mmm not too bad as statistically I was sure at least 30% of the field would be dealing with it. The band-aid solution quickly became to drink more water and consume more electrolytes than I typically do. While the heat did die down in the days leading up to the race, I believe this excess hydration helped me and played to my favor considering race day did end up being quite warm.

 

Alright so heat, PMS, where else did my mind drift during the week leading up to the race? Well, I had a tough time letting go of the fact that I felt like I lacked emotional and mental strength. (#woof) It had been a long training block filled with international travel for work, buying a Condo with my significant other (which alone felt like a dumpster truck of mental labor), and long weekends filled with heavy mileage. So when I got to Portugal feeling like I was just hit by a "this is adulting bus" I was a bit bummed. Blame it on the excess estrogen, but I had no idea how I was going to conjure enough grit to pull off a solid race. My past few races I had trended towards feeling overly excited and filled with energy when I tapered, but those first few days in Lisbon had me feeling unexcitable.

 

What about the self-talk? It was tough, but eventually, I found enjoyment in the alone time. With space to think freely, I told myself that I had five days to rejuvenate my energy stores, most of which would feel restored once my teammates joined me. Not giving into the swing of emotion I was able to take control of the situation and decided to take that time to think about where I was heading, where I was, and where I had been. I think it's essential to have those moments, and it seemed appropriate considering I was getting ready to race against a very competitive field. This was a pivotal moment in "The Witching Hour" because while the tiredness made me feel uneasy, the time alone helped me to rediscover my "why," as in "why am I doing this race?" The answer was to represent my country and do the best I could for my team. Thus, it should come as no surprise that things began to change when my team showed up. (queue national anthem)

 

Most of Team USA showed up on Wednesday before the race. While there were some last minute roster changes on both the men's and women's side, we made light of it, and this is where I think "The Witching Hour" began to take a turn for the better.  Thinking back to those first introductions, it was clear that the chemistry amongst the team was unique. Everyone was down to earth, friendly, humble, and addictingly optimistic. Heck 2 of the guys didn't even have their bags and could care less! For them, they had packed their jerseys and shoes into their carry-ons, and in their perspective, that's all they needed.

 

From the airport, we all traveled to the Miranda Do Corvo, the city where the race would be taking place. And, from that moment on this particular "Witching Hour" began to fade from existence. While we did run into the realization that the course was not any of us had expected my mental heckler stayed silent considering at that point, we had no time for hesitations. The good faith and optimism of my team helped me feel at home and recognize that this is what these competitions were about: camaraderie.

 

"Witching Hours" can be tricky as each one is different. I have grown to appreciate the time leading up to each race and think it's important to recognize beforehand there is a scale of emotion I can encounter. Having done this running thing for a while now, I embrace the mental challenges it presents and how it requires me to have a resilient self-talk toolbox. A toolbox that also helps me in other areas of my life as well. While it can be daunting at times, it's essential to have a constant belief that it's nothing I can't handle, especially with the help of some friends. ;)

 

The Result: I placed 27th with the best part of my race occurring after 16k. I passed 28 women in total and got re-passed by one of them in the last 5k.  Team USA had a great showing, and it was only the second time in the history of the event that the entire US team finished the race.

Dani Moreno's run to success

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You can find the original article here!

Alex DominguezMarch 27, 2019

DOWNEY — Daniella “Dani” Moreno’s legs have propelled her farther than she ever thought they would.

Moreno, 26, got her running career started at Griffiths Middle School during the weekly and monthly half-mile and mile runs that took place in PE class.

“I was pretty obsessed with always getting better at those,” said Moreno. “I also played soccer. That’s kind of where my fascination with running started.”

She continued to pursue running at Warren High under Coach Jay Waldron.

“I would say that was when my running career really began,” said Moreno.

Moreno says that she likes the individual and the group aspect of competitive running. Especially as a singular competitor, preparation was key.

“It was really fun to run as a team, but it was easier to see your improvements as an individual,” said Moreno. “It was not just the physical aspect, but the mental aspect of it too; especially in cross country each course is slightly different, and so you had to be well prepared for all of them.”

“I think your mental approach to the sport as a whole was a bigger benefit to you as a whole as far as finding success.”

After graduating in 2010, Moreno competed for the University of California Santa Barbara, again competing in cross country and track.

She found success despite a slow start.

“I was injured coming in just as a freshman,” said Moreno. “I ended up being the top runner my last three years there. I got a couple of all-time marks as well.”

“I would say it was a fairly successful career. I feel that I fell a little short because I never quite got a school record and I never was an All-American…overall it was a great experience and, if anything, I learned how much potential I possibly had, so I think that was the biggest thing to come from it.”

Now living in Santa Barbara and after having graduated, Moreno took a break from running and took up a job in outdoor guiding.

Her new occupation ended up opening a door to a whole new running experience: trail running.

“When I was outdoor guiding, I would be in these really cool places and I wanted to explore outside of the job, or where we hiked for the job,” said Moreno. “Either early morning or late in the day after we were done working with the kids or the groups we were working with, I would go for short little runs and that is where the passion started to pick up again.”

Photo courtesy Dani Moreno

Shortly thereafter, her competitive nature started to kick in once again.

“I was doing these runs and I was curious if there were competitions that included this,” said Moreno. “I didn’t really know what to think of it or if it even was a thing, me running on these trails, but every once-in-a-while I’d see other people running and they seemed a lot more prepared than I was.”

“Eventually I found out that there were trail races, so I signed up for one in my area; super low key.”

Moreno won that race, and within a month was entered into a bigger race with prize money attached.

“Being the broke outdoor guide that I was at the time, I was like, ‘Okay, if I can try and get top five I could grab some money, or at least see how fast I need to be in order to start winning money,’” said Moreno.

She won that race too, and took home $1,500.

“I beat a few women that had been on USA teams before for mountain running,” said Moreno. “That’s where it really started.”

After that race, it wasn’t long before Moreno was picked up by her first sponsor, Hoka One One. Rabbit Pro followed.

Her sponsors now include The Lab, Avasol, Sunners High Herbals, Laird Superfood, Whalebird Komuchal, and Unived.

Now a sponsored pro, the door has opened even wider to the path of running success for Moreno.

“It’s honestly the best thing to ever happen to me,” said Moreno. “It’s cool to have kind of found my niche with the trails…My life feels very packed and jammed in all the time, but I don’t mind it…not all athletes get full scholarships for school, so it’s just nice to make a little bit of extra money, pay for the school that allowed me to run in the first place, and let my legs take me to new countries and stuff like that.

“It’s very cool, I’m very grateful.”

Dani Moreno | Patience and Speed on California’s Central Coast

You can find the original article here!

Dani Moreno (HOKA/rabbit) lined up for her first trail ultramarathon last week and ran away with the USATF 50k Trail Championship title. Nice work for her first ultra! Want to hear more about her training and whether we’ll see her at more ultras?

Dani Moreno after FOURmidable 50k Championship

Make no mistake, Dani Moreno’s no newbie to the trails or to competition. She had a successful collegiate career (UCSB) in the 10k and has been racing sub-ultra distances on the trails for a few years, finding success in X-Terra races and events that require a lot of climbing. However, Dani and her coach have been patient in moving up in distances too quickly. Smart move on her part, but frustrating for those of us who want to see her crush some ultras!

So how does this former collegiate 10k runner use her legspeed on the trails? How does she train for altitude when she lives on the beach? How does she bomb the downhills so effectively? (Answer: Just run down them fast!) And what’s her strategy when she lines up against other top women? While many people associate coastal Santa Barbara as a lazy beach town, Dani’s running with a group of speedsters in some of the toughest mountain trails in the country.

rabbit’s Dani Moreno Defends XTERRA World Championship in Hawaii

rabbit’s Dani Moreno Defends XTERRA World Championship in Hawaii

Photo Credit: Jesse Peters/XTERRA

Photo Credit: Jesse Peters/XTERRA

You can find original article by clicking here!

Putting an exclamation point on an amazing season, rabbitPRO Dani Moreno defended her title in the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship at Kualoa Ranch in Hawaii, holding off former champion Polina Carlson to secure the win by over 90 seconds. For Moreno, the added visibility of being the returning champion provided both pressure and excitement. “For me, this was probably the most nervous yet the most excited I was for a race. It was the first time I had to defend a title since I began trail running, so it was fun to embrace it.”

For Moreno, it was the fifth win of the season and a fitting follow up to her performance at the US Skyrunning Championships in November, where her victory in the 27k race distance secured her grip on the Sky Running USA Championship as well as the season-long points competition. Other notable results for Moreno this season included wins at the Broken Arrow Skyrace 26k in June and at the brief but brutal Winter Ezakimak in Mammoth Lakes, both of which showcased her remarkable ability to perform at altitude despite being an ocean-loving sea level dweller.

Earning the victory in Hawaii took everything that Moreno had, with a stacked field that included elite marathoner Taylor Ward and two-time race winner Carlson putting her to the test. “These women not only know how to race but they know how to race when the stakes are high. Even on the start line, you could tell people were there to win and I loved it,” recalled Moreno. “When I pulled away around mile 4 I knew I had to keep pushing because anyone could catch me at a moment if I let my guard down. It was a lot hotter than last year and around mile 9 I felt some cramps coming on and I had to really breathe to make sure I could keep pushing.”

Moreno will now take a well earned and “much needed mental and physical break” before making her return to training. Needless to say, trail running fans everywhere will be looking forward to seeing what the champion has in store for 2019—rumor has it that her season may include her first attempt at an ultramarathon.