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Erholtz Leads US Women success

Brandy Erholtz

AJIJIC, Mexico – On the grueling Chupinaya Mountain Race course in Ajijic, Mexico, which boasts nearly 3,800 feet of climbing and equal descent over the 13.8-kilometer route, Coloradoan Brandy Erholtz blazed the trail to set what race organizer Ivan Romero Garnica, a.k.a. El Chupinayo referred to as “an amazing time.” Her course-record performance of 1 hour, 39 minutes, 1 second bested the previous record, which was set in 2011 by American Maria Dalzot, by more than seven minutes. For the record, Erholtz earned 1200 pesos.

The event, celebrating its 18th running this year hosted not only the open race with more than 500 competitors, but also the 11th annual North American Central American Caribbean (NACAC) Mountain Running Championships with teams from Mexico and USA competing.

Erholtz (pictured, right) led the women’s team to a gold medal with her fellow teammates, Dalzot (Bellingham, Wash.), Christine Lundy (Sausalito, Calif.), and Amber Reece-Young (Asheville, NC), finishing second, third, and sixth place respectively. With the top three scoring, Team USA finished with a perfect performance of six points, followed by Team Mexico with 16 points.

Erholtz spoke of her training and racing post-birth of her first child Asher, in September 2013. “This whole year has been fun and with each race my fitness has improved. Today was really the fist day I’ve felt like I’m back to where I was. Since this is the only time I’m wearing USA across my chest (this year), I wanted to race well. Every time you put USA on, it elevates your performance. Everyone counts on you, so you don’t want to let anyone down.”

Of the race course Erholtz said, “It is one of the most challenging courses I have done. I don’t think I’d want to do it again, but I’m glad I did it today.”

Her favorite part of the course was her specialty…climbing. “Mountain courses should all be that steep,” Erholtz said. “Once I got to the top, there was still more climbing, plus I got to take in some views and that’s always a good part of a race.”

The views from the top, which crested at nearly 8,000 feet, showcased Lake Chapala and the town of Ajijic below. The course followed the ridge line of Chupinaya, and then ended with nearly four miles of gnarly descending over single-track trail, rocks, switchbacks and grassy sections. The course started and finished in the town square with the first and final kilometer on uneven cobblestone streets.

“I was never so happy to see cobblestone,” said Erholtz “And I didn’t even like them at first.” She confirmed that the cobbles were much easier to navigate than much of the downhill which preceded it.

Dalzot, second for Team USA in 1:42:05, compared her race to that of 2011. “Last time I didn’t have any expectation because it was my first NACAC team. This time, I had expectations. I felt more pressure this time. Last time was a dream – everything went perfectly and I knew that would be hard to recreate.

“I felt at Loon (Loon Mountain Race on July 6, the USA Mountain Running Championships) I ran cowardly,” reflected Dalzot. “I’d been talking to myself the last few days to put myself in a position I’m comfortable with. Today I started hurting one and a half miles into the race going into oxygen debt – which living at sea level, was not surprising. I was just keeping it moving. Pushing it. I felt that I did that today giving it my all. I felt like I ran brave.”

She continued “I wanted to make it to the finish line without completely falling apart. My legs were shot when we hit the cobblestones. I know we ran hard — we were under the course record.”

Dalzot agreed the race was more difficult this year. “Any time you’re leading the race, (like she was in 2011 at this event), I feel like you get an extra super power – a sense of adrenaline. This year I knew Brandy was ahead and Chris was behind me. I wanted to maintain my position and didn’t want to let up so I really pushed.

“It’s such an honor to be on this team. You never take that for granted,” said Dalzot who was very happy with her finish position and time. “I get emotional about it, the whole experience.”

Lundy, who bested her finish time from 2011 by nearly five minutes, finished in 1:43:34. Asked to describe the course in one word Lundy thoughtfully responded, “Boulders.” Her reason, “Because we had to climb a lot of them.”

Comparing her experience to that of 2011, Lundy said, “My time was five minutes faster. I think it was all in the descent. The traction was much better this year, not as slick.

“I was also in better shape for this race than last time. I’ve been doing a lot of training on steep climbs at home and I felt like I’d be stronger on the uphill. I think I just felt the altitude on the climb and I didn’t feel that great until I got to the ridge. I’m happy with my time and place.”

After the race, Lundy was taking a four-day vacation which would include surfing in Sayulita. “I’m here and it’s a great place to surf,” said Lundy, “When in Mexico you shouldn’t go home without enjoying the countryside.”

Like Lundy and Dalzot, the final women’s team member Reece-Young also ran the course in 2011. However, unlike her teammates, it wasn’t her best day. “My legs were flat,” said Reece-Young. “It was a faster course today, but my legs just didn’t respond. They felt heavy and the climb didn’t go as well today.

“The course was a fun adventure though,” Reece-Young said with an upbeat smile. “There were a lot of spectators out on the course cheering us on.”

That cheering certainly helped Team USA to victory. “I’m happy with the experience and I’m really proud of the team,” added Reece-Young. “All (three went) under the course record. It’s awesome to be on a gold-medal team.”

Erholtz summed it all up for the team in her final comment, “The organizers and everyone here has been so great and made us feel so special.”

Men’s Race Recap

In the men’s division, Mexico fielded an “A” team and a “B” team finishing in gold and silver-medal position with eight and sixteen points respectively. Team USA finished with a bronze medal amassing 21 points.

The grueling 13.8-kilometer course boasting nearly 3,800 feet of climbing and equal descent was described by Danny Martinez, one of the youngest members of Team USA, as “brutal.”

The 20-year-old Californian said of the longest race he’d done to date, “I know for sure it’s absolutely the toughest race I’ve ever done. I thought Poland was tough (Martinez represented Team USA as a junior last year at the World Mountain Running Championships in Poland), this made Poland feel easier. Obviously that was a tough course, but if I went back to Poland I wouldn’t be worried after doing this race.”

Martinez struggled on the course after rolling his ankle, but soldiered on to finish fourth for Team USA with a time of 1:47:55.

First for Team USA was Eric Blake, West Hartford, CT, who finished in seventh position overall, fifth in the NACAC division with a time of 1:27:39.

“In a way it went as I expected,” said Blake. “I would have liked to place better. I lost about five spots on the downhill and I lost a little bit of time going up by the waterfall when Jordan (Blake’s teammate Jordan Chavez) and I took a route which wasn’t the quickest way.

“I knew the downhills would be tough. I felt good climbing. I felt within myself and I felt strong. I wanted to get through safe. I grabbed a few trees going around the switchbacks on the descent. I took a few tumbles — missteps really — no falls. A couple times I lost control a bit, but managed to stay upright.

“From the waterfall (on the way down), to the finish I didn’t lose any places. It’s a great finish – a great race,” continued Blake. “Downhill is not my strength. I thought a great day would be getting in the top three, but I guess top 10 is not bad. It’s my first up/down course since 2009 (Blake was on Team USA at the Cranmore Mountain Race which hosted the NACAC Championships).”

As a mountain race, Blake said this course was “different.” The only true up/down course Blake had run on the World level besides Cranmore was in New Zealand in 2005 when he competed at the World Mountain Running Championships for Team USA. “The downhills (today) were extremely tough. It was hard to keep a decent pace. I know at this point in my career I’m an uphill runner.”

Next up for Blake is the Pikes Peak Ascent on August 16, where he will again represent Team USA as the race is hosting the WMRA World Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge.

Ryan Woods, second for Team USA, finished seventh in the NACAC competition timed in 1:29:43. Asked to describe the course in one word, Woods said, “You want to get the steepness and the rockiness in one word…challenging. Wait, let’s go a little more extreme – how about monster…yep, it’s a monster.

“It kind of lived up to my expectations,” continued Woods who hails from North Carolina. “I knew the climb would be steeper than it looked on the profile. I was a little disappointed in my climbing – I did decent. I was in the top ten when I reached the downhill.”

As for the descent, Woods said, ““The downhill was relentless – you expected the uphill to be relentless. I felt that I was putting the brakes on, but the Mexicans were flying by on the downhill. I’ve never been passed by so many people on a downhill. They were aggressive and out of control. Those guys were so impressive.”

His favorite part of the course turned out to be the cobblestones which were part of the course for the first and last kilometers of the keyhole a.k.a. lollipop-type course. “My first mile was about six minute pace, much of my last mile was under five minute pace. I was flying at the end. Yesterday I thought the cobblestones would be tough, but I could really run that. It was awesome. I was so happy (after the descent) to be on it.”

Jordan Chavez (South Lake, Texas), rounded out the team scoring with a ninth-place NACAC finish timed in 1:35:51. This was Chavez’s second appearance on Team USA having been on the junior team with Martinez last year in Poland.

“It wasn’t an insanely fast start,” said Chavez. “Everyone was cautious on the cobblestones. I was in the front of the pack. Once we got on the trail, I was leading a group of people and I kind of went the wrong way. I had to bushwhack back on the trail.

“I was third basically the whole time and about ten minutes before the end of the climb, Eric passed me and we were in third and fourth place. I was pretty exhausted at the top,” recalled Chavez. “I was fifth to the ridge line. By the time the very steep downhill started to come, I could feel my hip, knee and ankle tighten up. My whole left side was hurting. I wanted to be as cautious as I could going down. I honestly couldn’t believe how fast they were going. They were flying down the hill.

“I tried to keep it together to the finish. At the end of the lollipop, I just tried to stay on my feet. I didn’t want to risk anything on the way down,” he continued. “The cobbles were pretty rough.”

As to making his first senior team, Chavez said, “I’m super excited. I hope this is one of many Team USA races I do. I definitely see a good career in mountain running. I feel I’ve had a good few weeks here and at Loon (Loon Mountain Race hosted the USA Mountain Running Championships on July 6 where Chavez finished seventh). I’m looking toward a successful mountain running career.”

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