Written by Nancy Hobbs, Chairperson, USATF Mountain Ultra Trail Council and Executive Director of the American Trail Running Association. Photos by USA Team Leader Richard Bolt can be found here.
Vancouver, BC, Canada —– At today’s NACAC Mountain Running Championships at Cypress Mountain, host country Canada swept the top four places in the men’s race and also placed their top woman in gold-medal position. However, the U.S. women kept their streak alive to win team gold for the eleventh time in the 12-year history of the competition (in 2006 Team USA did not compete).
First across the line in 54:09, was 31-year-old Nick Elson from Squamish, Canada who just last week paid a visit to Cypress Mountain to run parts of the 11-kilometer course that he was unfamiliar with. He had run some sections of the course in the past during the Knee Knacker Trail Race so had some experience with the terrain. But Elson, in spite of winning the 2014 Squamish 50 miler, and placing a solid fifth at the recent Mount Marathon in Seward, Alaska, had never represented Team Canada in international mountain racing.
“I raced for Team Canada as a ski mountaineer this past season and finished 37th at the World Cup in Verbier, Switzerland. I think ski mountaineering is helpful in transitioning to mountain racing,” said Elson. “For ski mountaineering, you’re basically trained to go uphill fast.”
At today’s race, Elson showed equal prowess on the downhill. “I was in fourth until the top of Black Mountain. Chris Swanson (teammate) was really strong climbing up Black Mountain. It was in full sun and I was really struggling to keep those guys in sight. On the other side of the climb, it was much more technical and on the downhill I was able to take the lead. On the final descent, I think that is where I increased my lead. I think today my downhill was stronger than my uphill.”
Asked whether he considered himself an uphill or downhill specialist, Elson said, “On a good day, hopefully I’m somewhat equal.”
The Canadian men finished all four of their team members, before the first U.S. runner crossed the line therefore creating a sweep of the podium and gold for Team Canada. Second for Team Canada was Kristopher Swanson in 55:32, and in third Shaun Stephens-Whale in 56:30.
Josh Eberly was first for Team USA in fifth overall timed in 57:29. Close behind was fellow team member Ryan Woods in 57:42, and Jordan Chavez in 1:00:08 to round out the scoring.
“I was leading for a couple miles, feeling good,” said Eberly. “The terrain was perfect. Then it got technical and I fell apart. It was more technical than I thought it would be.
“Right after the big climb, about mid-way through the course, I was in second place,” continued Eberly. “At the out and back, two more guys caught me and the fourth guy caught me with about a mile to go on the technical, gravel downhill…he flew by me.”
Asked how he felt about the effort, Eberly said, “I felt pleased with it. It was more of a learning experience. On the technical side – a great learning experience on what to work on, but at the end, I hate losing to anyone. Italy (at World Champs in 2014 where he finished as the final scoring member for Team USA) was one of the hardest, most technical courses I had ever run and this one was right below it.”
And as a team, Eberly said, “I thought we did great. The Canadians had a stellar team. We had two young guys that really stepped it up and Ryan…he really surprised me. He did awesome.”
For local Vancouverite, 32-year-old Chessa Adsit-Morris, the women’s victory was unexpected. “I was not prepared for that – winning. The U.S. ladies kicked my ass last year at Worlds and I just assumed they would do the same here. I’m very pleased with my result – an unexpected surprise.”
Adsit-Morris led from the start. “My plan was to take it out from the gun and push as hard as I could to the top of the climb and then hopefully have enough of a lead for the downhill. I had a bit of an ankle injury last month and wasn’t sure how much I could push the downhill.”
Having never been on the course, Adsit-Morris acknowledged, “The course was a bit more technical than I was expecting. I think it was a bit more technical that most people were expecting. Sometimes I find that it’s better for me (not to preview the course), so I just take it as it comes. I decided not to pre run it and just go run hard.”
Adsit-Morris clocked a 1:06:56 and was followed 16 seconds later by top U.S. runner Megan Roche who led her team to gold.
“The American women got out fast,” said Roche. “I held second for most of the race. At the end I gained a good bit of time on the lead and maybe with an extra 400 meters, I could have caught her. But, she was a strong racer.”
In third was second U.S. runner and 2013 World Mountain Running junior champion Mandy Ortiz in 1:08:16, followed by Canada’s Sarah Bergeron-Larouche in fourth in 1:09:01. Megan Lizotte finished fifth for Team USA timed in 1:09:51, to round out the top three scoring members of Team USA with 10 points, just one point ahead of Team Canada.
As for the course, Roche said it was, “Really unique. I was impressed with the course. It was technical – there were steep ups and downs and it reflected all the values of trail running in one race. On the out and back, it was good to see the team and see how we were doing. I really enjoyed the last kilometer of downhill. It gave me an opportunity to open up and to hear the crowd and know we were coming down to that was great. It was also fun to run a shorter race after Switzerland (at the World Long Distance Championships held July 4).”
Roche confirmed her confidence in gold for the team. “I saw how well they were all doing. I knew we had a streak and wanted to keep that going. Mandy and Megan were running solid.
“I’m really happy with how our team did,” continued Roche. “And, it was really great to see Mandy step up from the junior level and race with such confidence at the senior level.”
Canada’s team leader Adrian Lambert, who was also the NACAC organizer this year, said, “It was a very competitive race. The women’s race was great and I’m obviously very pleased with how our men did. And what a day for it too. Simply beautiful.”
USA team leader Richard Bolt echoed Lambert’s thoughts on the weather, “The sunny, warm weather was a big improvement over 2012 when we had cold, rain, and foggy conditions at the same location at the same time of year.
“The overall festive atmosphere of the 5 Peaks Race (which hosted the race along with its 6k sport race, 11k enduro, and kids races) is a really good environment to have the NACAC Championships. The course was very technical and challenging at Cypress Mountain and more technical than many World Mountain Champs or U.S. Mountain Champs courses. I think our U.S. athletes raced well overall. Some athletes may not have raced as fast as they hoped, but nobody had a bad race.
“Special thanks to our hosts Adrian and Tony Lambert for making the event possible and providing the $3000 prize purse,” added Bolt.
This is the fourth time for Canada to serve as NACAC host, having been the venue for the championships in 2007, 2010, (at Canmore, Alberta), and 2012 at Cypress Mountain. The event rotates between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. A host has not yet been named for 2016.
Most of the U.S. team members will race again next Saturday, July 25, at the USATF Mountain Running Championships in Bend, Oregon. The event will also serve as the selection race for the U.S. team that will compete in the World Mountain Running Championships on September 19, in Wales.
Nick Elson, (CAN) 54:09, $500
Kristopher Swanson, (CAN) 55:32, $400
Shaun Stephens-Whale, (CAN) 56:30, $300
Olivier Babineau, (CAN) 56:48, $200
Josh Eberly, (USA) 57:29, $100
Chessa Adsit-Morris, (CAN) 1:06:56, $500
Megan Roche, (USA), 1:07:12, $400
Mandy Ortiz, (USA), 1:08:16, $300
Sarah Bergeron-Larouche (CAN), 1:09:01, $200
Jessica Kaiser, (CAN – open runner), 1:09:48, $100
Complete results at: