This past Saturday, the 4th annual National High School Trail Championships, held in Salida, Colorado, drew some of the nation’s top high school trail runners and doubled total participant numbers from last year, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The race drew familiar names in youth trail running circles including Colorado standouts Colin Szuch and the Blair sisters, Joslin and Samantha, who have represented the United States at international mountain running competitions. The race also attracted a strong contingent of talented cross country runners from around the state, many of whom were new to trail running.
With uncertain cross country seasons on the horizon for many high school runners, this race was an opportunity for high school runners to race again and try their hand at trail running.
Here’s what race director Kenny Wilcox had to say about putting on a trail running event during the coronavirus pandemic.
“As a smaller event, we could hold out longer than most to decide whether or not we’d be able to host our event safely. We hit a critical point five weeks ago where we had to make a decision to put the wheels in motion if we were going to do it. Ideally, sponsorships, park rentals, things like that would have been done months ahead, but that wasn’t an option this year. We had to go from 0 to 100 miles an hour to put this event together and make it happen in a short amount of time.”
This year the event welcomed more participants than the previous three years of the trail championships. In the weeks before the race, Wilcox released a survey to past participants to see how many would consider racing this year. The results revealed 67% in the “yes” column , and 21% ticking the “maybe” box, which led Wilcox to reason that he had enough participants to host the event.
“In the past three years, the registrations have grown slowly each year. For this year, I anticipated around 150 registrants and we had over 260. It was not the turnout I expected! We would have had many more entries, but I had to turn away athletes and teams to keep race sizes manageable during this pandemic.”
The 5.4-mile trail championship course started on a dirt road along the Arkansas River near downtown Salida — elevation 7,057 feet –and reached a high point of 7,558 feet. After less than a mile, the course continued on the Salida Mountain Trail System, with terrain comprised primarily of mountain-biking friendly single-track switchbacks. The race finished at Riverside Park in downtown Salida.
In addition to the girls’ and boys’ high school trail championships, participants of all ages could compete in The Beas Knees Citizen Race, which followed the same course. This year’s races introduced a slight course change to avoid congestion on single-track trail near the middle of the race.
Girl’s champion, Joslin Blair, shared her thoughts on this year’s race, “Going into this race, I felt like there were so many good runners it could be anyone’s race. The hardest part was the second set of uphills and there were some rocky sections on the downhills, so you definitely had to watch your footing.”
8th place finisher in the boys’ trail championships, Colin Szuch, said, “It was a great course. The uphill was tough. It seemed like there were a lot of people really pushing the pace to the top.”
Full race results can be found here.
Trail Running vs Cross Country
With so many participants this year new to trail running, many runners experienced firsthand the differences between the trail championship course and cross country running that most high school distance runners are more familiar with.
“We don’t do hills like that in cross country!” said Joslin Blair after the race.
Bryce Reeburgh, Colorado runner who has participated in several trail races including the 2020 Dynafit Vail HillClimb, said of trail running, “It’s more technical. You have to plan your passes and be aware of what’s happening around you and not just your speed and pace. I feel like pace doesn’t matter at all in trail racing and you just have to go by effort.”
Are you looking international competition opportunities in youth mountain, trail and skyrunning? Check out the following article.
Tayte Pollmann’s articles are supported by American Trail Running Association corporate member Nike Trail Running. You can follow Tayte’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you liked this article, read even more of Tayte’s articles on our website.