Just a few days ago Bellingham’s own Maria Dalzot was yelled at by walkers for running along Lake Padden’s trails too fast. During the Lake Padden Trail Half Marathon USA Track and Field National Championships on Saturday, Oct. 18, her speed drew boisterous praises.
The words “hometown hero” were sent her way, as the 26 year old, who’s etched her named in the trail-running scene, captured the women’s title in what co-race organizer Al Coyle billed the most competitive race ever ran in Whatcom County. And that’s saying a lot in a town brimming with countless talented runners.
“I workout around this loop every Wednesday,” Dalzot said. “People probably think I’m a psycho. Last Wednesday I got yelled at for running too fast too close, and I had to apologize.”
Only congratulations and celebratory hugs greeted Dalzot Saturday, as she crossed the half marathon’s finish line in a time of 1 hour, 32 minutes, 13 seconds, topping a field that drew some of the top trail running athletes in the country after the Lake Padden Trail Half Marathon was awarded the national championship last January.
“There are no words right now,” Dalzot said when asked to describe the feeling of winning such a prominent race in essentially her own backyard. “I’ve been working so hard for a day like this. I’ve been running forever, and these days don’t come around very often, so when they do it’s truly special.”
Dalzot, who grew up in Morgantown, W.V., moved to Bellingham three years ago after falling in love with the area during a three-week stay while competing in high-profile races in both Vancouver, B.C. and Seattle. She needed to find a spot in between the two locations, choosing Bellingham and grew so fond of the town and what it offered her trail-running career she decided to move to the Pacific Northwest and has been using Lake Padden as one of her main training grounds.
How’s that for a hometown advantage?
“I train here everyday,” she said. “I know every rock, I know every branch across the way.”
Dalzot, who is sponsored by La Sportiva, expertly used her knowledge of the course to gain the upper hand during her national championship race. She stuck to her plan as the group went out fast, gained ground during the uphill climbs, took over the lead with roughly four miles to go and held off second-place finisher Andrija Barker, who finished 1:20 behind Dalzot.
The local runner called the win “a turning point” in her career, and the perfect ending to a season in which she stayed entirely healthy for the first time since she could remember. The victory also came on the heels of her runner-up finish during last year’s Lake Padden Trail Half Marathon.
While Dalzot supplied a major win for the Bellingham community, on the men’s side Nike-sponsored runner Patrick Smyth easily took down the course record with a winning time of 1:14:55.
Smyth, who was signed by one of the largest names in sports apparel after finishing up a strong running career at Notre Dame, led nearly the entire race, beating second-place finisher and last year’s champ, Mario Mendoza, by 2:55.
“It was a really good field assembled here for the national championship, obviously,” said Smyth, who calls Salt Lake City, Utah, home. “I just was feeling good today. There’s nothing better than having a good day crossing that finish line and having some room to spare.”
Unlike Dalzot, Smyth has recently taken to trail running following successful stints in cross country, track and field and road running. Trail running has reignited his passion for running, he said.
Smyth didn’t enter the race with a whole lot of familiarity with the course, but he certainly enjoyed covering the 13.1 miles.
“I loved it. I loved it,” he said. “It was a nice mix of flat open sections and then it was back to more the horse-trail system. It was phenomenal. It was the perfect amount of flowly up and down. ... I was able to just lock in get into flow.”
While cash prizes of $750 were awarded to the winners, the half marathon featured roughly 300 runners and not all were competing to win the event.
Coyle, a prominent figure in the Bellingham running community, was thrilled to be able to host such a high-profile race.
“This is a really big thing for Bellingham,” Coyle said. “We knew the past three races we did this perfectly and thought why not showcase it.”
Coyle also praised the many volunteers who put on the race, and all the registration proceeds went to benefit local non-profit Rebound of Whatcom County, which is a Bellingham-based organization that helps families living below the poverty line.
Rebound of Whatcom County Executive Director Sharon Aller said the Lake Padden Trail Half Marathon is one of the non-profit’s largest fundraiser and can bring in nearly $15,000 to benefit local kids and families.