On Sunday, July 20, 2014, the 11th annual North American Central American Caribbean (NACAC) Mountain Running Championships was hosted by the Chupinaya Mountain Race in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico with teams from Mexico and USA competing. There was also an open race as the event was celebrating its eighteenth running. There were more than 500 competitors in the open division and another 240 in the companion six-kilometer event.
In the men’s division for the NACAC Championships, 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.”
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, TX, 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.”
Check out a race recap on Twitter @usmrt and learn more about the Chupinaya Mountain Race at this link. The women’s finish will be featured in a separate story.