Saturday, December 27, 2014


The past 6 weeks I have indulged in many a cookie, cake and gelato washed down with hot sake and Malbec. I have stayed up way past 10p.m. watching movies, laughing with friends and reading every article in my Twitter feed. I took a planned week off of running (okay, 4 days) and have been keeping relatively low mileage with minimal effort workouts. The lax in focus on my training has been refreshing, relaxing and simply fun. However this wild and crazy lifestyle is starting to make me feel out of control and I'm itching to get back to normal.

Peanut butter on top of dark chocolate in a chocolate dipped waffle cone.
Come January 1st, it's back to serious business. I have an exciting 2015 race schedule planned and it's time to focus. So if anyone wants to have a gelato throw-down, pick a time and I'll meet you at Chocolate Necessities. You have 5 days left!


Sunday, November 30, 2014

That's a Wrap!

Cross country training started late in the game this year as I was focusing on preparing for the National Trail Half Marathon until mid-October.  The following week I switched over to shorter mileage, fast workouts and barely long runs. While I am in some of the greatest fitness of my running career, I wasn't able to fully showcase my potential in cross country this year given the short season we had.

The Bellingham Distance Project (BDP) débuted our new black and green jerseys at the Pacific Northwest Association Championship meet at Lower Woodland Park in Seattle on November 2nd. It's quite a shock to the body to go from racing for 2+ hours to just over 20 minutes. There is no time to lick your lips let alone have a life-changing experience. I was third overall on a hilly course. A solid performance for me and BDP placed second to Club Northwest. Full results here.

BDP Backsides.
The second race of the season was the USATF Pacific Northwest Region Championship at Lincoln Park in West Seattle on November 23rd.  Most people chose to wear racing flats on this course, fooled by the packed gravel along the perimeter of the course. The innards, however, were booby-trapped with slick as snot mud pits from the recent downpours. Spikes were advantageous and I was able to close the gap between me and 3rd place and open the gap between me and 5th place at all of these spots. I am most happy about my epic finish. Very rarely am I able to chase someone down in the finishing chute, but I dug deep to the line and beat a girl literally by a nose to keep my 4th place in 21:43. It wasn't pretty. Once again, BDP placed second to Club Northwest. Lauren Fleshman took the win and greeted all the finishers with good jobs as they came through the chute. She is as nice and down-to-earth in person as her online persona. Full results here.

Top Americans.
Our last race together was at the Canadian National Cross Country Championship at Jericho Beach in Vancouver, B.C. This is always a fun race for me because it is longer than women's cross races in the U.S. (8Km versus 6Km) and it almost always promises a ridiculously muddy course. I was really looking forward to seeing my WVU coach, Sean Cleary and three of my Canadian ex-Mountaineer teammates (Jessica O'Connell, Sarah-Anne Brault and Stephanie Aldea) who have been rocking it post-collegiately on the international scene. The temperature was in the 20's with a numbing wind chill. We put in 5/8'' spikes to help claw through the mud and wood chips. The course was 4 x 2Km loops. The field went out screaming fast, flinging mud up in our faces. I started in the back and began to pick my way through the field. Every time I ran past Sean and he lovingly yelled out, "Dalzot!" I got a feeling of nostalgia and my spirits lifted. At the 1Km a frozen clump of snow/mud collected and stuck to my shoe causing me to limp awkwardly for a good 3 minutes until I could dissolve it in a puddle. By lap two I couldn't feel my upper body and kept checking to see if my hands were still attached. By lap 4 the cold filtered into my hamstrings and I felt like one of those fire ants that had smoke blown on them to put them in a dormant state. I crossed the line and sharp pain immediately seized my hands. Have you ever had frozen hands and then when they start to thaw it feels like a knife is splitting each finger open? Yeah, that's what was happening. I stood there like a helpless whimpering puppy until Tad could come and put two shirts and big mittens on me.

'Flynn' dressed appropriately.
I placed 26th which isn't bad in such a competitive field, but I know that I could have offered more had I dressed appropriately. The course ran long and my splits were pretty consistent, averaging 6 flat pace or 30 minutes for 5 miles. Lesson learned: wearing less doesn't make you tough on a day like that. It makes you stupid. And cold. Full results here.

With that, my 2014 racing season is over. The (only) downside of not getting injured this year is having the opportunity to race every month. I have been training and on the go from Moab's Red Hot 33k in February all the way until the Canadian Cross Country Championship yesterday. Admittedly, I'm tired.

I will be taking a break next week from all forms of training while attending the annual USATF conference in Anaheim, California as a Pacific Northwest athlete delegate. I am excited to be a small part of the movers and shakers of the running world and to share my thoughts and opinions on a sport that I care so deeply about.

And when I return, it's back to work. Because February will be here before you know it and I have big plans for 2015. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

USATF Trail Half Marathon National Championships

I have been training a lifetime for a day like today. For such a big win to come together in front of my home crowd is truly special and worth every moment of pain, disappointment, injury and loss that have sabotaged my running many times throughout my career.

Photo Credit: Takao Suzuki
It is cliché to say that I was not expecting to win, but that is really the case. The women (and even more so the men) had a stacked field that included some fast road runners that could really give the trail runners a run for their money on this particularly “fast” course. Come race day I was ready for a top five finish. Ten days out from the race I had a breakthrough workout around the loop at Lake Padden. Having never run sub 16 minutes around the 2.6 mile loop in a workout before, I was able to do it twice in one workout by myself. We were excited.

The Nano Hobbs and myself.
My excitement was heightened by the fact that some of my favorite trail runners were coming to Bellingham for the National Championships at Lake Padden. Nancy Hobbs, Richard Bolt, Chris Lundy, Andrew Benford and Caitlin Smith… all of these people (whether they know it or not) have played an integral role in shaping me into the runner that I am today.

In 2006, Andrew Benford, fellow West Virginian, was selected for the US Junior Mountain Running Team. I read his blog report from his trip to Turkey and knew instantly that this event is what I wanted to do, too. Based on my high school track and cross country performances, I was chosen to be on the 2007 US Junior Team that competed in Switzerland for the World Mountain Running Championship. It was on this trip that I met Nancy and Rich and Chris who was on the women’s gold medal winning team. I really looked up to Chris and remember wanting to sit next to her at the opening ceremony so that I could ask her questions. This whole experience is when I fell in love with the mountains and trails and have pursued a spot on the women’s team ever since.

In 2013, I was learning how to race longer distances and ran a 27K in California. I knew Caitlin Smith, course record holder and 2:41 marathoner, was going to be there. The course started with a steep climb (my strength) and I dropped her easily. "Wow, that was easy," I naively thought, until she came blowing by me at mile 6 and I never saw her again. Caitlin taught me a huge lesson that day and I was very humbled. I think about that race often when I am racing. It is funny how life has come full circle and all of these pivotal people were here at the race with me today. 

Under control at 6.5 miles.
Photo Credit: Takao Suzuki
Race directors Tad Davis and Al Coyle worked together tirelessly over the past 6 months, fretting over every detail from laminated VIP parking passes to what kind of flowers were to be presented at the awards. The night before the race Tad emceed a panel press conference with some of the elite athletes that came in from Utah, Idaho, California, Arizona and other parts of Washington. I made an early appearance at the expo around 4pm before the excitement picked up and quietly slipped out for a relaxing dinner by myself at home watching Netflix and making sure my bib numbers were on straight.

I knew the course very well because I do interval and tempo sessions at Lake Padden almost every week. I also knew that the last 4 miles are a lot tougher than they seem, with many short and medium steep climbs. The advantage of knowing the course was huge. You don’t realize how much energy you spend trying to find the course or stay on course until you don’t have to do it. I didn’t have to think or worry or hesitate about which direction I was going and could just run.

Not-so-under-control at a half mile to the finish.
Photo Credit: Takao Suzuki
I anticipated a very fast start and figured that this would probably be a mistake. I hung back in 9th place, hitting a comfortable 6:10 for the first mile. When we hit the first climb, I started racing and moved into 4th. From here my strategy was to slowly close on the leaders saving as much energy as possible for the last 4 miles. I battled for first place with Andrija Barker and Tori Tyler between miles 4.5 and mile 9 when the later climbs started to take effect. Once I couldn’t sense anyone there, I ran scared the final 4 miles, desperately trying to reach the finish line before I was caught.

Tad and I always talk about the day training comes together and the magic happens. Racing feels effortless and you can push yourself in a way that you were never able before. As I was racing I was thinking to myself, “The magic is happening. Today is my day.” I felt so confident. Even when I was getting passed around the lake loop mid-way, I knew I had it. When Al handed me the American flag to carry into the finish, I felt so much joy that I am unable to put into words.

Bear with me while I express my gratitude to the team of people who made today possible.

Thank you to Tad, my boyfriend, coach, best friend, photographer, therapist, chauffeur and wardrobe stylist. We did it!!!

Photo Credit: Aly Howisey

Thank you to Al Coyle, head race director and adopted family member. I can’t begin to tell you how many ways you have touched my life. There are so many great people, places and trails that I would not know if not for you.

Happy Birthday, Al!
Thank you to La Sportiva, who have furnished me with shoes all year and have given me the opportunity to travel to some of the best trail races in the country.

Thank you to Jeff and the Trail Butter team.  It is an honor to be a part of such a genuine, lovely group of people. I am so proud of Trail Butter.
Jeff giving me a pre-race squeeze.
Thank you to Tonia Boze from Terrain Gym. You have transformed my body and made me into an elite athlete. I am so very grateful.

Face of joy, disbelief & relief.
Thank you to Dr. Chris Lockwood from Align Chiropractic. I can’t thank you enough for all of the time you have dedicated to taking care of my body over the past two years. You mean so much to me.

Thank you to Kerry Gustafson from Prime Massage & Sports Medicine. I am so lucky to be in the hands of someone so knowledgeable and passionate about what they do. Thank you for understanding what it takes to be a competitive athlete and for helping me reach my goals.

Thank you to my dear BDP teammates: Amber, Alyson, Courtney & Aly (and Lydia, too!). I am so blessed to have you as friends and teammates. Your never-ending encouragement, enthusiasm and work ethic motivates and inspires me every day.

Aly, Amber, Maria, Alyson, Courtney=BDP
Thank you to my posse, Nichole Braun, Mark Harding and the Bellingham Trail Running Club. You guys make running the trails that much more fun.

Thank you to everyone who liked and/or left a comment on my Facebook page, emailed, called or texted. The support I have received from the Bellingham and trail running community nationwide is overwhelming and brings me to tears.

Women's Podium
Photo Credit: Takao Suzuki

I haven’t slept in 3 days because of all the adrenaline pumping through my body. I will continue to savor this moment as I start training for a short cross country season that begins with the Pacific Northwest Championships in Seattle on November 2nd, followed by the Regional Championship on the 23rd and ends with the Canadian Cross Country Championships in Vancouver, BC on the 29th. 

Complete results of the USATF Trail Half Marathon Championships can be found here
Article from The Bellingham Herald here.
Article from The Western Front here.
USATF Press Release here. Press Release here.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

What a Difference a Year Makes

The end of this month marks my one year anniversary of my first day at Terrain Gym. The result? I have been injury-free for over a year for the first time since before 2008; I am running higher mileage than I have since the summer of 2009 and I am physically fitter than I have ever been.

Training at 6,000+ feet: Hannegan Peak
Bulgarian Split Squat, aka Ouch!
My good health also stems from the consistent work of Chris Lockwood, DC of Align Chiropractic. I receive adjustments from Dr. Lockwood at least twice a week. It is Dr. Lockwood who introduced me to Tonia (coach and owner of Terrain Gym) 12 months ago. If not for him I would be much weaker and injured and certainly not able to reach my full potential. For this and so much more, I am very grateful.

One-arm bench press.
Admittedly, it was really hard for me to embrace going to the gym at first – even though I knew it was the missing piece of my training. My legs were too tired. It was cold in there and I was used to the humid heat of the yoga studio. I didn't know what I was doing. Anytime you are put in an environment where you are clearly not the expert, it is truly humbling. There was a whole new language to learn, a new skill set to acquire. I felt weak and wimpy. I wanted to wear a sign on my back that said, ‘Give me a break; I am running 75 miles a week!’ Of course no one ever made me feel unwelcome; it was quite the opposite. It was all in my head, trying to deal with my insecurities.
Ab wheelin'.

Then, at some point, I started to see—and feel—a change. I started to get a high from the work I was doing, a feeling that I thought only running could produce. I started to acknowledge progress. I started to become comfortable in this new environment. And I liked it.

I now go to Terrain 2-3 times a week before my daily easy runs. I love the way it makes me feel, I love the positive supportive environment and I love knowing that I am doing everything that I can to be a strong, durable and mobile athlete. I am inspired by the people who are committed to going every day. They are firefighters, mothers, mountain rescuers and doctors. They don’t necessarily have a race to prepare for, but their work ethic is as great as any professional athlete. I am thankful to have Tonia as a female role model in my life. She is so strong and tough and just plain cool. She is just what you want in a coach. She will call you out when you are being a sissy and will push you out of your comfort zone. She is encouraging and motivates me to do my best. She also has a great taste in music.

...and down.
One-legged hinge lift up...

People often ask me if all of the strength has helped my running. Truthfully, this extra training has made me extra tired for my runs. Some workouts I am not able to hit the times that I want and other days I nail them. Tonia said it may take over a year to see the work translate through to my running.  After all, it’s about the big picture; being patient and consistent. If I made this much progress in the past 12 months, I am excited to see where I will be this time next year.

In three weeks I will be running the USATF Half Marathon Trail Championships here in Bellingham on the Lake Padden trails that I train on almost every day. I am very proud of all that Bellingham has to offer and I look forward to showing off our town and trails to my out of state running buddies.
La Sportiva Crossover GTX

In preparation for the pending rainy season I got a pair of the La Sportiva Crossovers. They have a Gortex body with a built-in gaiter which is perfect for the soggy winter Northwest Trails and for my morning commute to and from Terrain Gym. And if you’re wondering why I’m running so slow, give me a break; I just did 700 step-ups in a 25 pound vest!

Our favorite summer mountain run yet: Yellow Aster Butte
(Apologies for the finger cameo and Tad's head.)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Cutthroat Classic: Scones, Stings & Scenes

Having been in the northwest for almost two years now, we are just starting to explore beyond the Cascade’s boundaries.  Two weeks ago we went up and over Washington Pass to check out the course for the Cutthroat Classic, a race organized by the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association (MVSTA). Ever since moving here I have been asked if I have run this race for “the most incredible views” that are at the top of the climb. Indeed the views atop Cutthroat Pass are unbelievably beautiful and I am glad I was able to run the course beforehand to be able to enjoy the landscape—something I am never able to do while racing.

The Methow Valley has been hit hard this summer. That is an understatement. From extreme devastating wildfires that scorched a quarter-million acres (an area five times the size of Seattle!) to now mudslides caused by relentless rains and flash flooding, the Valley cannot catch a break. The camaraderie of the Valley’s people and businesses is moving; everyone is helping to support each other during this particularly hard time. This was obvious during my short visit.

You can’t help but be drawn to the allure of the Methow Valley.  Despite the disasters, the vibe is positive, welcoming and relaxed. Do not let Mother Nature deter you from experiencing some of the best trails, food and people in Washington. It is only a hop, skip and a jump away—a perfect weekend vacation that will not disappoint.

I was anxious to get back to Mazama for the Cutthroat Classic. I was particularly looking forward to the Mazama Store, a charming market and bakery with some of the best scones I have ever eaten in my life. Fortunately for the runners, the store opened early on Saturday morning for fresh coffee, breakfast sandwiches and baked goods to fuel our efforts. Tad and I were joined by our good friends, Al and Mark. Though they like to tease me and give me a hard time, there is no better company for trail adventures and I love them dearly.  

I was up and out of the tent by 5am to eat and gather my belongings for the race. The four of us—and 300 other runners—went to the Mazama store for coffee and then headed up the pass to Rainy Lake Trailhead. The race started with wave 1 of 5 at 8:00am. Thinking I had plenty of time, I started my 2 mile warm up at about 7:20am. When I finished, the bathroom line was forever. There was no way I was going to make it to the start on time if I waited. So I jumped in the bushes. Unbeknownst to me I squatted right over a hornets’ nest and when I felt the sting I jumped up in full Forrest Gump fashion and yelled, “Something bit me!” I ran out (never having gone to the bathroom) holding my rear end in disbelief of my stupidity. I was shaken up and still had to go to the bathroom with 5 minutes to race start. This is a runner’s nightmare. I ran to the start and decided to try again with two minutes to go. I rushed to the line having done no strides, no stretching, no pre-race mental preparation. I felt unfocused, discombobulated and my butt hurt.

Photo credit MVSTA

I lined up, coincidentally beside a group of guys all wearing La Sportiva shoes. We were off and in a quarter mile were on tight single track. The race starts at 4800 feet and climbs 5.5 miles to 6800 feet before crashing 2200 feet down to 4600 feet at Cutthroat Lake Trailhead for a total of ~11.1 miles. I felt bad on the climb. Part of it was physical; part of it was mental. I went into the race tired. The week prior, we bought a house, I started a new job, there was a creature in my current house running around eating my produce and I was running a lot and did not back off for this event. Mentally I was totally distracted and out of sorts.  I didn’t get it together until the top of the pass where a switch flipped and I finally went into race mode and worked together with a fellow racer to bomb the descent. This was probably my best downhill performance. My body verifies that this morning (hip flexor pain). I floated over the scree and scrambles and never faltered. It could have been the stability of my Bushidos, but I think I am really getting a lot better and more confident with descents.

I managed to pull off the women’s win by 11 minutes with a 30 second course record and 9th overall in a time of 1:26:12. This was far from my goal time—as inscribed by the splits on my arm—but all variables considered it’s not bad. Full results here.

Though my pre-race warm up was far from perfect, it was good practice for the future…because you know something like that is going to happen again. It may not be a lack of access to the port-o-potties or a sting in the buttocks, but a perfect pre-race preparation is not a guarantee and I need to be able to bounce back from adversity, re-focus and be in the moment.

Thank you to Danica Ready, MVSTA Program Director, volunteers and local businesses for a flawless event. The burritos made by the Methow Valley Nordic Junior Team were delicious. I look forward to coming back to Cutthroat next year and returning to the Valley this winter for some fun on your many acres of cross country ski trails.

For the record, MVSTA did include a warning in the race packet regarding Yellow Jackets (ground hornets) active along the course. They weren’t kidding! At least I get to go around in my best Forrest Gump accent and tell people that I got stung "directly in the buttocks."

*Thanks to Al Coyle for the pictures!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Steeplechase Showdown: Mountain Cup Finale

Course map and elevation profile.
A big lesson was learned the last time I went to Park City, Utah for the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase, the final race in the La Sportiva Mountain Cup: stay in a hotel with air conditioning. Last year the combination of a hot hotel room, laboring lungs and a constant nosebleed didn't leave me much to desire to return to this event. But this being the culminating race in the series, I couldn’t resist returning to get the opportunity to hang out with the La Sportiva crew and my fellow competitors who have grown to be great dear friends. Also, having only run 3 races in the series, I needed an extra race in order to place in the most competitive top 5 finish in the history of the series. The race itself –albeit a challenge for this sea-level girl— always brings a great sense of accomplishment and is a rewarding experience.

So off to Salt Lake City Tad and I went.  I have been traveling back and forth to races the past 6 weeks so I have got into the mechanical pattern of coming home, washing my clothes and then putting them right back into my suitcase. Luggage has become a permanent fixture in the hallway. We drove to Park City Friday morning to stun the lungs with a little shake out run on the course. As seems to be the norm lately, we serendipitously ran into Megan Deakins and David Roche at a café for lunch. We must share the same eating patterns as we see them every time we go out for a meal at races. Megan and David have had busy summers racing as well and will be traveling to Italy for the World Mountain Running Championship this September. After a long chat we parted ways to nap and continue preparation for the next day.

Sarah and I scramblin'.
For dinner we met Sarah Kjorstad, her husband and adorable little boy for an Italian dinner and a glass of red wine to, you know, quiet the nerves. There is such a calming effect to be around someone who is about to go through the same experience and shares the same pre-race fears. They may not be the same fears (Sarah fears coming in last whereas I fear getting lost, falling down the mountain, getting stuck in a crevasse and not having a tourniquet for when I have to sever my leg off), but they are concerns nonetheless.

LOVE this animal-like pic of Megan Deakins!
We came to the starting line, calm in each other’s presence and at the count of one, two, three, were off. An immediate start up a steep service road had us going a blistering 9ish minute pace. Megan Deakins led the way for the women, with Megan Kimmel close behind, followed by local Salomon tri-athlete and Xterra National Champion Emma Garrard, myself and Sarah. I worked together with the men around me to stick as close to Emma as I could until I reached the clearing to begin the battle up Jupiter Peak. I took a moment to look up at what I was about to ascend and it was truly remarkable. A line of racers studded the path ahead of me with hands on knees. At the point when I had to start using my hands to pull me up the final lip of the peak, Sarah came by with an encouraging word and took off to the second “steeple.” When I reached the climb to the top of Tri-Peak, I saw the Megans, Emma and Sarah all right there. This was a race! Unfortunately, by the time I got up and over the peak, their head start on the downhill was enough to gap me to the end. Fortunately though, I had a guardian angel with me the whole way down. Mark Christopherson, where ever you are, thank you for your encouragement, support, offers of food and water and cheers. You are one of the reason I love trail running. Never will you meet more genuine, kind people. I stuck with Mark as we came down the final 7 miles at 6:20 pace until the last mile.

Last Km to the finish.

I crossed the line 5th woman, 19th overall in a time of 2:08:33… 10 minutes faster than last year. What an incredible race for the ladies! The top 5 woman were within a 5 minute and 35 second spread! The 6th place woman was La Sportiva teammate and ultrarunner Jennilyn Eaton. You can read her humorous account on her experience as to how a “short fast distance” differs from a 100-miler on her blog. Full results here

150Megan DEAKINSSUNNYVALE CAF 20 to 24002:02:58.100:00:00.0007:41.1
2108Sarah KJORSTADJACKSON WYF 35 to 39002:05:11.400:02:13.3007:49.5
3107Megan KIMMELSILVERTON COF 30 to 34002:05:58.900:03:00.8007:52.4
469Emma GARRARDPARK CITY UTF 30 to 34002:06:19.000:03:20.9007:53.7
547Maria DALZOTF 25 to 29002:08:33.900:05:35.8008:02.1
655Jennilyn EATONSANDY UTF 25 to 29002:27:37.100:24:39.0009:13.6

Congratulations to Megan Kimmel for winning the 2014 La Sportiva Mountain Cup. This makes the 6th year in a row that Megan has been victorious. She is truly one of the best on and off the course. Cheers to Ryan Woods, La Sportiva teammate for taking home the stein mug on the men’s side. I ended up 4th in the series by one point. While that is disheartening, it is hard to be disappointed in a good performance and 10 minute improvement from last year. With such a competitive field this year I needed that 5th race to score more points, but it is what it is. Final Mountain Cup results here

Thank you La Sportiva, Everett and Ian for the support you have given me this year and for being such a prominent figure in the growing niche of trail running. Thank you to the Mountain Trails Foundation of Park City, Utah for allowing us to play on your trails and appreciate the beauty of the Wasatch Mountains. Much love and gratitude goes to my support in the Northwest- Bogg’sTrail Butter, Terrain Gym and Align Chiropractic.

Top men and women finishers in the La Sportiva Mountain Cup.

I am going to take some time now to reflect on the past 3 races; determine what I did right, what I can do to improve my physical and mental training and write down the many lessons I have learned so that I can continue to grow as an athlete and a person. It is time to put the luggage away and pack the cooler for some mountain adventures in my own backyard. Let me know if you want to join the fun. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Weekend in Ajijic

As I sit here in a sleepy haze, it is hard to believe that I woke up in the Hotel Danza Del Sol yesterday morning. But then I try to get up from my chair and my throbbing quads remind me that it wasn’t a dream. This weekend I had the opportunity to re-visit a very special place and re-run what was one of the best races of my mountain running career.

Ajijic at a glance. Photo Richard Bolt.

Just as I was ready to embark on my adventure to Ajijic, Mexico for the 2014 NACAC Mountain Running Championships, I received a phone call from a very talented reporter from the Bellingham Herald. Thanks to my very sweet BDP (Bellingham Distance Project) teammates, he was interested in doing a write-up on the pending race. You can find his article here

Only in Ajijic are there dogs on the roof.
Ajijic is exactly what comes to mind when you think of a small Mexican town in the mountains. Nestled between Lake Chapala and Mountain Chupinaya at just over 5,000 feet above sea level, it is home to over 10,000 natives and American and Canadian ex-patriots. After spending now two occasions there, it is easy to see why so many ex-pats call Ajijic home. The weather is mild, the people are genuine and the landscape is beautiful.

Tad and I met Richard and Nancy in the Houston Airport on Friday afternoon. After an hour delay and a 2 hour flight, we landed in Guadalajara getting dumped with buckets of rain. A local American volunteered to pick us up and drive us 45 minutes south to Ajijic. Our team all arrived safely and we convened at a pizza shop at about 9:00pm with our hosts and race directors, Ivan, Ricardo and Karla. Pizza and cerveza came out of the kitchen one after the other. It was delicious.

Surprised with 1200 pesos from setting the C.R. 3 years ago.

Me and my friend, Jambo.
I woke up Saturday morning with a stiff back and tight calves so I headed out for a jog to regain some sense of normalcy. I jogged down the cobblestone streets to Lake Chapala where locals were setting up shop, walking their dogs and swimming. There is such a calm presence in this town that makes it hard to be stressed out or anxious. I need to come here more often.

Karla picked us up for breakfast and drove us to a spa resort just outside of town. We toured the grounds which featured exotic flowers, serene massage houses and the most enticing steam baths you can imagine. Our appetites were ready for breakfast. Fruit, yogurt, granola, croissants, bread, scrambled eggs, beans, tortilla chips, fresh squeezed orange juice… So. Good.  After checking out the first kilometer of the course, the rest of the day was all about resting, stretching and preparing for the colossal effort that was to come in the morning.

View from the breakfast table.
Sleeping wasn't always easy as there constantly seems to be something going on. Loud random noises interrupted my naps and piqued my curiosity. During the day loud bomb-like noises would go off that sounded like the canons in the Hunger Games that signal a fallen tribute. They were dropping like flies on Saturday. At night rave-like chants could be heard into the wee hours of the night with the beat of club music.

Me and Amber hydrating after the race.
The race can be divided into four parts: the ascent, the ridge, the descent and the cobblestones.  Ivan announced the Mexican and American team members and with the blast of a flare, we were off. I wanted to start out more aggressive than I did 3 years ago because I remember the course being so bottlenecked as we funneled into the tight single-track, that I had to stand and wait my turn to get up and over some of the rock barriers. I managed to dodge all of the congestion and started the 3.6 mile climb up Chupinaya. Brandy passed me at 1.5 miles and continued to power her way up and over the massive boulders. I worked together with the Mexican men surrounding me to keep pushing the pace and grind it out. There were many water stops with little plastic water pouches that you had to bust open like water balloons. I don’t think I actually got any water in my mouth, but the men behind me got a surprising splash every time. Hopefully they found it refreshing rather than annoying. At mile 3 there was a low hanging branch that I ran right into and knocked me in the head, pulling out my hair pins. I was stunned for a second, but marched on once the birdies stopped flying around.

Leading Brandy up the first big climb
As I climbed my way into the clouds (there is very little "running" going on at this point), the ridge line appeared. The next 1.3 was up and down across the mountain, hugging the steep drop-offs. At one point the man I was following chose to go right when the flagging indicated to go left. I hesitated and questioned my safety, but all the men behind me followed so I sent up a quick prayer and hugged my way around a boulder that was nervously close to the edge.

The descent is a dive back down the mountain. Sliding, hanging on branches, many screams and obscenities is what it takes to get down. The Mexican men were amazing to watch as they gracefully danced down the switchbacks and loose dirt. My feet burned. Despite how hard it is to run on cobblestone streets, I think everyone on the U.S. team agreed that it was so good to see the cobblestone after what we were dealing with. As Ryan said, once you hit the cobblestones and could get a semblance of a stride going, it felt like a road race.

The kilometer back to the finish was just as hard for me as any part. I was exhausted as I made the turn for the town square and it took a lot of effort to not lose composure and keep my legs from tying up. I crossed the finish a couple minutes behind Brandy and a couple minutes ahead of Chris. All three of us broke my course record from three years ago. Go U.S.A.! Amber had a tough day after a car accident two weeks before the race, but still battled through lead legs to conquer the course and meet us with a smile. Full results here.

2014 NACAC Mountain Running Champions

Interview with Foro Runner. See below!
Celebrity activity pursued. Pictures, selfies, interviews, more pictures. The most fun chaos after any race. All of the locals wanted pictures with the “fast Americans.” I've never gotten so close to so many sweaty strangers in my life. Cheers and congratulations were shouted from the crowds as we were recognized on the awards podium. I can’t say enough what an amazing experience it was, and to be able to do it again – I am so blessed!

Me and Tad post race and my arm splashed with paint.

I am embarrassed to confess that Tad and I took a taxi to the town square for dinner rather than walking another mile on the cobblestones. My ankles called uncle. A group of us went out for margaritas, burritos and some of the best guacamole ever. Ironically, the restaurant had run out of tortilla chips and we had to eat it with saltines. Too funny.
After dinner, there was more eating, drinking and celebrating with our hosts at a taco joint that was open late.

I woke up at 2:45am the next morning. I couldn't sleep, but had to be ready to go for when Ivan came at 3:25am to take Tad, Danny, Rich and myself to the Guadalajara Airport. It was sad to say goodbye, not only to my teammates, but to Ajijic. Once again I was charmed by its authenticity and character. 

I could go on and on about how much fun I had this weekend. I am so thankful for this experience and couldn't have asked for a better group of people to share it with. I want to thank Nancy and Richard for the opportunity to be a part of this family.

Shrimp ceviche toastada at the finish.
Ivan, Ricardo, Karla and sweet Mom – you were so good to us and we truly appreciate your hospitality. Hopefully one day you can visit the States and we’ll take turns sharing you.

Viva Sportiva!
La Sportiva was one of the main sponsors of the race so it was neat to be representing not only my country, but a company that is so passionate about mountain running. My Helios got me safely up and down the mountain and I saw many people sporting the Vertical K’s and Bushidos.

As always thank you to Trail Butter, Terrain Gym and Align Chiropractic for fueling me, making me strong and tough and for keeping me healthy. You help me every day to reach my full potential and for that I am truly grateful.

Until next time, Ajijic. 

In my happy place.
Experimenting with some exotic fruit.

Three cheers for Chupinaya and good margaritas!

Thank you to our friends at Foro Runner for the awesome video of the race. They really capture the spirit! That's me at 3:32 and at the closing. I think I'm a natural. Maybe I should go into news broadcasting?

Hurry up and wait. Photo Richard Bolt.