Dalzot Wins Mountain Event

  • By Daniel Whitehead
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  • July 22, 2011 03:40 PM
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One of the worst fears a cross country runner faces is the possibility of getting lost while running a course. The nightmare became a reality for former WVU cross country and track and field athlete Maria Dalzot, who incredibly turned the misfortune into a first-place finish amongst female runners at the eighth annual North American Central American & Caribbean (NACAC) Mountain Running Championships in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico last Sunday.

As a representative of the USA women’s mountain running team, the Morgantown native won for the first time in her mountain racing career, breaking a course record by 36 seconds as she paced the 13.8 km course in one hour, 47 minutes and four seconds (1:47:04).

“It was certainly the highlight of my running career so far,” Dalzot said. “The final stretch over the cobblestone and into the plaza with spectators lining both sides made for a finish I will never forget. Ajijic will always have a place in my heart.”

"Words cannot describe how happy I am for Maria,” said WVU coach Sean Cleary. “She showed tremendous potential early in her career and was a member of a BIG EAST championship team and numerous Top 10 national teams before suffering nagging foot injuries. This performance is a result of a young lady that never quits trying to be great. Two months ago, she couldn't take a step and today she is a NACAC mountain running champ. Pure guts!"

The event was held in conjunction with the 9th annual Carrera de La Chupinaya, a popular race the city of Ajijic puts together. This particular course is a technical singletrack done in one loop, starting at 5,020 feet and ascending to 7,875 feet at the 7-km mark before descending to the finish line.

Running up and down the side of Mount Chupinaya, the Morgantown High graduate felt lucky to simply survive the course.

“Some of the Mexican male racers had to position me back on the course because my balance teetered and I came close to sliding off several hundred-foot dropoffs,” she said. “I had to use my upper body to pull myself over some boulders. They also scared off a grazing horse that had blocked the trail, so they deserve my thanks for helping me through that section of the course.”

A bit dazed, Dalzot managed to lose sight of the course outlines and lost her path momentarily.

“The course was well-marked, but because I was so focused on racing, I didn’t pay enough attention to where I was going and got lost twice,” she said. “I backtracked until I saw the next runner so I could get back to the race. The last part of the race was tough as I descended back down the mountain, which required all means necessary to negotiate the rough rocks, boulders and stream crossings with fatigued legs.”

A dietetics graduate student at WVU, Dalzot knew what she was getting into.

“Prior to the race, all the competitors remarked how this was the most difficult and technical mountain race they had ever competed in,” she said. “Though I had not seen the course, the vast international experience of my fellow competitors was enough for me to appreciate just how difficult it would be. Even the cobblestone roads which made up the first and last kilometer of the race were not your typical postcard cobblestone roads, but instead were rough and uneven and difficult to walk, let alone run.”

The race in Mexico was not Dalzot’s first mountain running experience. In 2007, she participated with the Junior U.S. Mountain Running team in Switzerland, which took the silver medal at the World Championships as she finished in eighth place out of 53 runners. Since then, she’s stayed in contact with friends and trainers associated with the U.S. mountain running team having completed her eligibility at WVU this past spring.

Toward the end of April, Dalzot received word from team officials that a spot had become available to her and if she was interested in joining.

“I said ‘of course’ and was thrilled with the opportunity,” Dalzot said. “Mountain running has had a special place in my heart since the Switzerland race and it was a dream come true for me.”

The timing of the phone call wasn’t the best for Dalzot, who had just had a surgery done on her foot a month before. Despite the situation, she slowly trained the foot to get back into running condition to the point she could run miles of the Laurel Highlands near Ohiopyle, Pa., without noticing any pain.

“The training was flawless,” she said. “I had to be really smart about it and build up to a steady mileage my foot could handle.”

Joe Gray (Lakewood, WA) won the event for the USA men’s team as he finished the race in one hour and 16 minutes, breaking the course record by three minutes. The other runners for the USA women’s team are Chris Lundy (Sausalito, CA), Amber Moran (Arden, NC) and Gina Lucrezi (Newton, MA). Lundy and Moran took silver and bronze, respectively. Mexico and Canada also fielded teams at the race.

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