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.
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 – Mexico, Canada, United States, El Salvador and Costa Rica. 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 Blake, David Fuentes and Travis Fuller of team USA just behind the Mexico pack.
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.”
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.”
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.
Official results can be found HERE (PDF).
For additional event details visit: https://www.tepatitlan.gob.mx/comude/nacac
See event more photos and video of the race in our Google Photos album.
Check out our race recap video here: