Dani Moreno's run to success

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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

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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

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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.

Dani Moreno Is Out to Defend Her XTERRA Trail Run World Title

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It’s hard to imagine a more adventurous athlete than Dani Moreno. She’s an avid spear fisher, lobster diver, motorcyclist, ocean kayaker, snowboarder, and skydiver. She also works over 50 hours a week as a program manager at a construction software company.

Oh, and did we mention she is one of the fastest female trail runners in the world?

“It’s lobster season right now so that’s very much at the forefront,” said the 2017 XTERRA Trail Run World Champ. “Many days I wonder if I should go diving first or run first. A lot of people will choose running, but I’ll choose diving. I just say, ‘Well, I have some breathing exercises before my long run today.’ It’s all good.”

Moreno’s easy-going personality and huge smile might disguise the fact that she is a huge threat out on the dirt. But the same passion that guides her under the ocean and into the sky also propels her to cover ground at a blistering pace that most can’t keep up with. 

Despite winning most of the trail runs she entered last year, she decided to venture off the comfortable path and try Skyrunning this year. Primarily a European sport, Skyrunning typically happens at over 2000 feet in elevation over extremely technical terrain at a steep vertical grade.

In her first year as a Skyrunner, Moreno won the Winter Ezakimak in Mammoth in April, the Broken Arrow Skyrace 26K in Squaw Valley in June, and the Audi Power of Four 25K in July. At the Broken Arrow Skyrace, she also set a new course record. 

In a few weeks, Moreno is going to put her mountain training to the test when she sets out to defend her title at the 2018 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship on December 2nd at Kualoa Ranch. Last year, two-time XTERRA Trail Run World Champ Polina Carlson dropped out in the first couple of miles because of an injury but will return this year to challenge Moreno. 

Moreno welcomes the competition and doesn’t succumb to pressure. Last year, she was disappointed that Carlson couldn’t race, and she always welcomes the opportunity to challenge herself. Like many college athletes, Moreno suffered burnout after college and took time off. Now, she is back with a totally new perspective.

“The reason I started running again was because I love it and it is so much fun and so freeing,” said Moreno. “Whenever I find myself overthinking, I remind myself that no one is making me do this. I am choosing to run because it makes me so happy. I think my balance comes from knowing at the end of the day, running doesn’t make me who I am. It just adds to me. It’s not like I’m a runner but my name is Dani. I’m Dani and I happen to run.” 

Another of Moreno’s strengths is that she completely slays the downhills. On terrain that might slow another runner down, she is fearless. Yet, she blends that fearlessness with a focus that results in her feet landing in precisely the right place.

 “I honestly think downhill running is just a matter of letting go,” she explained. “For me, it’s always about trusting your instincts and not thinking too much. If you start questioning, ‘If I put my foot here, what can happen?’ then you will start thinking of all the ways you can fall. No matter what, you’re going to fall at some point. But 19 times out of 20, when you are about to fall, your body is going to catch itself whether you run it out or put your foot someplace else. Just know that your body is a lot smarter than you give it credit for. It doesn’t want to fall.” 

2018 was a huge year of growth for Moreno as Skyrunning forced her to work on her uphill running as well as to continue to hone her downhill skills. While she’s always been successful on the trails, she didn’t have the confidence when she climbed that she did on the downhills. 

“Previously, I ran too fast uphill initially, so this year, I did a lot of work to learn what gears I had going up a hill,” said Moreno. “On the flats you can gauge an 80 percent effort, a sustainable pace, and an all-out pace. I wanted that on the uphills too.”

Rather than just train on mountains, Moreno and her coach came up with a plan that included two weeks training on flat terrain followed by a hard week on the trails and hills. 

“During the flat weeks, we worked on speed and threshold with track and tempo workouts,” explained Moreno. “During the trail weeks, we ran on trails of varying levels of steepness. The cadence I got from speed workouts during my flat weeks carried over into the trail weeks and I learned to develop that same cadence on the uphills.”  

Moreno is a true workhorse, putting in 70-80 miles a week while maintaining both a career and her relationships with family and friends. 

“My coach calls our running group the Blue-Collar Runners because we all have full-time jobs,” says Moreno, who is also sponsored by rabbit and Hoka One One. 

And yet, she has another side that is completely wild and free-spirited and keeps her jumping out of planes and flying down mountains, either on her own two feet or a snowboard. Perhaps that is why she is so at home on the trails. XTERRA races require both an extreme level of fitness as well as the ability to roll with whatever Mother Nature throws at you. 

What’s clear is that the blend of discipline and bohemian spirit has resulted in a runner who is extremely comfortable in her own skin. At the end of the day, Moreno’s life is so full that she doesn’t need another title to make her life better. 

“It’s better to just be happy with who you are,” she said. “You can win and still not love yourself because nothing you do will ever be good enough. Yet, you see girls finishing in the middle of the pack and they are so ecstatic and happy that they are the ones who are actually winning that day. So whether you are in the front or the back of that pack, that’s the mentality you need to have.” 

Running is sometimes considered a simple sport. The old joke that you start out strong, pick it up and then sprint to the finish, sometimes is how the race is won. However, Moreno has a keen understanding of the subtle biomechanics and mental fortitude required for trail running. She can back up her go-for-broke attitude with solid training and an extremely intelligent approach to gravity, physics, and biology. She also understands that strength and fitness aren’t enough. To truly succeed in this sport, you must also accept the adversity that shows up during the long, lonely miles, whether it’s a cramp or a competitor. 

“Every little movement of your body causes some shift,” she explains. "Downhill running and spearfishing both require precise measurements. But they also require the ability to let go. When you’re on the trail and in the ocean there’s nothing stopping anything else from being there. It’s not your environment. It’s just the place you are present in.” 

The only question is whether her approach will be enough to beat the other women out there who are equally hungry for that crown of ti leaves at the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship on December 2nd. 

Learn more about the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship. 

Triumph on the Trails—2 National Titles in 2 Weeks for rabbit

Triumph on the Trails—2 National Titles in 2 Weeks for rabbit

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Santa Barbara, California — For rabbitPRO Anthony Costales—whose main focus as a competitor is the road marathon—success at the Moab Trail Marathon was years in the making. Costales finished fourth at the race in 2016 and improved that result to a second place finish in 2017. Improving on that result provided a difficult but tantalizing goal for Costales, who secured victory in the 2018 edition of the race, edging out the second place runner Andy Wacker by just seconds to earn the USATF Trail Marathon Championship. Thinking back on his victory, Costales credited his conservative start for allowing him to finish strong. “This was the first year I felt strong through the last section and cut down the 60 second gap to 10 seconds. In the last mile, as the course flattened out, I was able to find some gears to take the win.”

One week later, Costales’ rabbitPRO teammate Dani Moreno was running to victory as well, winning the 27k race at the Franklin Mountains Trail Runs to become the Sky Running USA Champion. Moreno’s victory—which came in a course record time of 3:18:31—also earned her enough points to secure a win in the season-long Migu points series. For Moreno, whose considerable success on the trails belies the fact that she is still a relative newcomer to the discipline, the victory capped off a dream season full of stellar performances.

Keep an eye out for Costales at the California International Marathon next month, where he’ll have the opportunity to earn the USATF Road Marathon Championship by improving on his fourth place finish at last year’s race. As for Moreno, she’ll be headed to Hawaii on the same day to defend her title as the XTERRA Trail Run World Champion.