Setting the Pace

By Kelly Young '12 Photo by Kirby Lee

Anna Dalton ’12 traded the tracks for the trails and is climbing the ranks of competitive technical runners

Montana’s Rut Mountain Run is a challenging 50k race with steep ascents, rugged ridgelines, and demanding descents. This race is so technical, there is a disclaimer on the website highlighting the extreme nature of the course that warns, “The result of a fall in these sections could be injury or death.” The average person would be unable to hike this, let alone run for time. Put another way, the 10,500 feet vertical gain/loss over the 31 miles is double the elevation gain and distance of Mount Wilson, a popular hiking spot for Los Angeles locals.

Anna Dalton '12 running the Mount Marathon Race in July 2017,
Running the Mount Marathon Race (the “toughest 5K on the planet”) in July 2017, Dalton finished fourth among all women with a time of 59:13.

On September 15, Anna Dalton ’12 placed fourth among women and 20th overall in the Rut Mountain Run with a time of 6:08:38. It’s her latest standout performance in a string of extremely challenging races and national competitions. Dalton earned a national title when she won the 2022 USATF Trail Running Championship with a time of 1:30.17. The year before, she ran in the USATF Mountain Running Championships, finishing ninth with a time of 48:28.

As an urban and environmental policy major (with minors in biology and sociology) at Oxy, Dalton ran both cross country and track and field for the Tigers, serving as a team captain for two out of her four years. After graduation, she went to La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica with Professor of Biology Beth Braker for research and did the occasional jog. Upon returning to her native Alaska a few months later, however, “I was burned out, anemic, and had no plans of continuing to compete in running,” she recalls.

It wasn’t until a friend got Dalton involved in an informal trail race series that she rekindled her competitive drive. She later joined a running group, and “that was the foundation for my introduction to a whole new type of running as an adult,” Dalton says. “I trained for a marathon that winter with new friends, and was hooked.”

Coming from a traditional running background, Dalton has competed in the Rut twice with soaring success. Her first time on the mountain course at Big Sky was in 2017, which also was her first real mountain run. She finished fourth among the women and 23rd overall with a time of 6:43.02. (Her efforts in September showed an improvement of 35 minutes.) What makes her 2023 time even more impressive is that up until five weeks prior to the Rut, Dalton had planned on running the Berlin Marathon in late September. She made the last-minute pivot because she was enjoying running in the mountains with friends and was unable to commit to the rigorous training schedule for a road marathon.

Although Dalton has been able to avoid the stereotypical runner maladies, she has not been immune to injury. Following her venture into technical running, she had an unfortunate fall that resulted in her needing surgery for a torn patellar tendon a few years ago. After recovering, Dalton got back to work, which has obviously paid off. 

Away from the trails and mountains, Dalton works to protect Alaska’s land, waters, wildlife, and ways of life as director of grants and programs for the Alaska Conservation Foundation in Anchorage, which she joined in 2014. Her efforts help secure the necessary funding and connections to sustain Alaska’s wildlife, coastlines, and mountains from the effects of climate change.

“The most fulfilling part of my role is leading a network that’s collectively focused on the issue of hard-rock mining in Alaska and its impact on frontline and Indigenous communities,” she says. “Part of my job is helping to ensure that people in those communities have a voice in the decision-making process through free, prior, and informed consent, so that those communities have the power to say no to a mining project that is not wanted.”

Having a fondness for both road and mountain running, Dalton is mindful of her training routine and knows how to find the right balance. “At this point in my life, I know what a good tempo workout is and what a good speedwork looks like, and not every day can be a good day,” she says. “Mountain running provides freedom from those same metrics, and is a chance to explore beautiful places and appreciate the scenery and the adventure more than the time and the pace. That being said, I still don’t think there’s anything more satisfying than absolutely nailing a hard track workout.”

Top photo: Anna Dalton '12 competing for Oxy in 2011.