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 1:39:01 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 led the women’s team to a gold medal with her fellow teammates, Dalzot, Bellingham, WA, Christine Lundy, Sausalito, CA, 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.”
Check out a race recap on Twitter @usmrt and learn more about the Chupinaya Mountain Race at this link. The men’s finish will be featured in a separate story.