2nd annual National High School Trail Championships a success

This past weekend in Salida, Colorado, the 2nd Annual National High School Trail Running Championships (NHSTC) saw some fierce competition amongst some of the top young female and male high schoolers in the state. The 5+ mile course took runners up some of the tight switchbacks, lung-busting climbs and fast, single-track descents on the Salida Mountain Trails.

The July 28 trail race crowned recent Telluride High School graduate, and past US Junior Mountain Running Team member, Soleil Gaylord (41:15) and incoming junior at Fort Collins High School James Gregory (33:21) individual champions, while the Steamboat High School team tallied 20 points to win the girls team title. The boys team of Central High School took home the team title with 18 points, by barely edging out Fort Collins by one point.

In the boys’ race, James Gregory took a commanding lead from the start and just put distance on the rest of the field as the race progressed, crossing the line in 33:31, an impressive 6:10 per mile average pace on the challenging course. Gregory repeated his NHSTC title. He could be spotted from a distance with his purple and gold jersey and signature blond locks flowing in his wake. The home town Salida High School athlete, Camden Gillis, was a in a clear second position, 41 seconds back of Gregory. The exciting sprint finish was between two Central High School runners, David Cardenas and Tyman Smart, with Cardenas just out-leaning his teammate for the third spot in 34:14.57 vs. Smart’s 34:14:87.

The race was much more dramatic on the girls’ side as Alayna Szuch led Soleil Gaylord by a foot or two, almost the same distance as the two runners’ height difference. Several times in the last mile Gaylord tried to surge past Szuch but could not get by on the fast single-track descent of Frontside Trail. It wasn’t until 600 meters to go where the trail widened and Gaylord, a six-time High School State Champion, made her move and opened up her stride to take the lead and the title in 41:15, 28 seconds clear of Szuch. Recent Steamboat Springs High School 800m and 1,600m state champion, Maggi Congdon, followed closely in third in 41:59.

Gaylord has the experience and credentials, having also raced in international competitions as part of the US Junior Mountain Running Team, so it is no surprise she was able to run a tactically smart race and take the victory. Be on the lookout for Szuch as she will start her freshman year at Evergreen High School. She has already made a name for herself on the trails when, at the age of 11, she placed 7th at the 2015 USATF Mountain Running Championships amongst some of the best mountain runners in the nation.

NHSTC founder, Salida High School coach and competitive runner in his own right, Kenny Wilcox created the national event to allow high school athletes to showcase their abilities on the trails, as they do in cross country and track and field at the high school level. Wilcox stated, “There’re kids that have honed that skill and they need a place to be able to show it, we want to provide that and I think we’re doing that.” When asked about goals of the NHSTC, Wilcox responded, “We want to get the whole country involved, we don’t feel like Colorado is the only place that has great trail runners.”

As the author, I felt it was critical that I should know what a National High School Trail Championships course was all about…so I raced it myself, in the Beas Knees Citizens Race, which is named in recognition and honor of the late Brett Beasley. According to the NHSTC website “Brett, a U.S. Forest Service Ranger, was instrumental in connecting countless people to the outdoors and locally, his very fingerprints are literally all over Salida Mountain Trails. Brett, known as ‘The Beas’ by his friends, has left a lasting legacy with his family and in our community. By definition, ‘the bee’s knees,’ means ‘the height of excellence.’ We think that this definition appropriately fits Brett and it is our intention that the race will too.”

The fast and flat start of the 5.2-mile course seemed more like a high school cross country race, but it didn’t feel easy. That was probably due to the starting elevation of 7,057 feet. About a half mile later the feeling of a classic cross country course evaporated when we hit the first undulating and winding single-track of the Poblano Trail, where agility and fancy footwork are critical for a continued fast pace. That was quickly followed by a steady single-track climb with a large series of switchbacks on the Burn Pile Trail. Then some respite from the uphill on a long gradual-downhill of the jeep road, CR 176. That respite ended quickly when the single-track trail picks up again on the rocky and undulating climb of Rusty Lung Trail. This was the the longest and most taxing section of the race because the nearly 1 mile of climbing to reach the intersection of Lil’ Rattler and high point of 7,558 feet put the lactic acid into most runners legs. If the legs didn’t feel like jello from the steep climbs, one could fly down the fast, well-groomed and picturesque paths of Lil’ Rattler to the last mile of Frontside Trails.

Just when you think you are almost finished, you realize the switchbacks on Frontside are long and the circuitous lead-out to the bottom is extremely deceiving. Hitting the base of S Mountain, the kickers are chomping at the bit with 600 meters of flat running to the finish, over the railroad tracks and across the Arkansas River to the soft grass of Riverside Park. High school athlete or not, this is a tough and challenging trail race worthy of the title of the National High School Trail Championships distinction. I would have placed 12th in the high school boys race with my time of 37:11. With the competitive and impressive trail running show at the NHSTC, the future looks bright for our young trail runners.

The boys’ finisher numbers were 38 while the girls’ were 28. The next goal should be to increase the girls’ numbers to equal the boys’ because girls become women and women are still underrepresented in trail races in our country. The American Trail Running Association will work with UHSTC to make this a reality.

See even more race pictures on Google Photos.

Results to follow at www.nationalhighschooltrailchampionships.com

Criteria for qualifying for the Junior Mountain Running Teams can be found here: http://www.usmrt.com/

NHSTC is an American Trail Running Association corporate single-track member.

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