On Saturday, July 27, 2019, the third annual National High School Trail Championships (NHSTC) were held in Salida, CO. The event was organized by Kenny Wilcox, local Salida resident and head cross country coach at Salida High School. The 5.4-mile 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 championship races, participants of all ages could compete in The Beas Knees Citizen Race, which followed the same course.
Both the boys’ and girls’ championship races featured record times and strong competition. Joslin Blair and Samantha Blair, sisters from Eagle Valley HS, Gypsum, CO, finished first and second respectively in 38:53 and 39:03. Joslin Blair was a member of the 2017 and 2018 US Youth Mountain Running Teams and led the 2018 squad to bronze at the 2018 WMRA International U18 Mountain Running Cup with her gold-medal finish. Lanie Szuch, Valor Christian HS, Highlands Ranch, CO, finished third in 40:02. The top three girls all finished under last year’s winning time of 41:15.
For the boys’ race, Tyman Smart, Central HS, Grand Junction, CO, won in a record time of 32:50. James Gregory, Fort Collins HS, Fort Collins, CO, and two-time NHSTC defending champion, bested his own winning time from last year by 3 seconds to finish runner-up in 33:18. Colin Szuch, Evergreen HS, Evergreen, CO, placed third in 33:32.
Both James Gregory and Samantha Blair will represent Team USA at the WMRA International U18 Mountain Running Cup in Susa, Italy, next month.
My Experience as a First-Timer at the NHSTC
Prior to this event, my only experiences at national high school running events were the Footlocker Cross Country Championships and Nike Cross Nationals. These events attract hundreds of cross country teams across the country, including nearly all of the best US high school runners. Exceptional performances at these races can boost runners’ resumes and help them obtain collegiate running scholarships by attracting the attention of college scouts.
In comparison, this year’s National High School Trail Championships may seem small (54 boys and 25 girls), but coming to this event has many unique benefits not offered by any other championship. I highly recommend all high school runners attend this event, whether they have experience running trails or not.
Race Trails to Improve Cross Country and Track Times
Cross country and track runners can benefit from trail running in the summers between track and cross country seasons. Trail running helps runners stay aerobically fit, prepare for longer distances, strengthen different muscle groups and makes cross country hills seem easier.
The NHSTC offers a great introduction into trail running for high school cross country and track athletes. Rugged single-track trails, high elevation, steep grades, sharp turns and fast descents are just some challenges runners encounter in this race. Teams coming to next year’s NHSTC should consider organizing a team camp in Salida in conjunction with the race to further hone their trail running skills.
Highlight High School Trail Running Talent
The NHSTC provides an opportunity for some of the best high school trail runners to shine. Compared to the top high school track and cross country runners, the best high school trail runners do not have many opportunities to gain visibility. Trail running teams or races are not offered by most high schools. One goal of the NHSTC is to bring attention to the sport of trail running and to give high school trail runners the chance to showcase their amazing ability talent for running trails.
Resume Building for US Junior and Youth Mountain Running Candidates
Runners looking to earn a spot on US Junior Mountain Running or US Youth Skyrunning teams should consider coming to the NHSTC to boost their resumes. Some of the best high school trail runners in the country come to this event, which can help runners see where they stack up against the competition and what they may need to work on. Competing on a US national teams is an incredible experience and shows college coaches you are a diverse runner with many assets.
Enjoy a Small Mountain Town Feel
The homegrown mountain-town feel of the NHSTC is one of the most rewarding parts of the whole experience. Many of Salida’s residents come to cheer on runners and local businesses provide support for the race. This creates a much more intimate feel than a large corporate sponsored event such as the Footlocker and Nike national cross country events. Participants and spectators can also enjoy many of Salida’s mountain activities such as spending time in the Arkansas River or hiking further in the surrounding mountain trails.
Full results found on milesplit.com.
Special recognition should be given to the exceptional performances at the NHSTC by the Peak Performance Running group based in Golden, CO. I had the opportunity to run with many of these athletes at the Peak Performance High Altitude Summer Training Camp. Boys results include Colin Szuch, third, Bryce Reeburgh, eighth, Graham Tuohy, tenth, and Michael Dudzic, twelfth. Girls results include Lanie Szuch, third, and Lily Mourer, 10th.
Criteria for qualifying for the US Junior Mountain Running Teams can be found here: http://www.usmrt.com/
NHSTC is an American Trail Running Association corporate single-track member.