The crunch of gravel underneath runner’s shoes and athletes warming up in mud captures the image of the start of cross-country season.
Harrison, Sierra and Mitchell high schools participated in the Cheyenne Mountain Stampede on Sept. 3, at Norris Penrose Event Center.
Harrison’s Jake Coleson finished 12th out of 76 runners and clocked in at 18 minutes, 52.1 seconds. Sierra’s Delzie Gamez placed 26th out of 62 girls with a time of 25:04.50 in the Class 3A races.
Mitchell's Caleb Gunn clocked in at 21:16.40 for 131st out of 157 in the Class 4A boys race and Madalyn Youngbird finished 58th out of 146 at 23:18.10 in the Class 4A girls race.
The meet served as a sample of the state race, which takes place at the venue in October. The trail resembles the state course but navigated through different areas and excluded the downhill-uphill water hazard in the final 600 meters of the race.
Coleson just missed a top-10 finish but earned the best race among District Two competitors.
“For the first race of my season, I really enjoyed this,” Coleson said. “We had strong competition out here. There was a part at the beginning where I was a little scared and stopped and let everyone else go.”
Before judging Coleson’s momentary fright to open the race, note the benefit of the sophomore’s decision.
Through the first half mile he saw the backs of competitor’s singlets. By the first mile, Coleson eased into the middle of the pack and when the sophomore hit the two-mile marker, he hovered around the top eight.
Despite running just one race as a freshman due to the coronavirus pandemic, Harrison coach Molly McCann, said Coleson ran like a savvy veteran.
“He didn’t go out too quick and he was able to pick people off throughout the race,” McCann said. “He didn’t get sucked into the crowd at the beginning and was able to run his own race and his focus on the latter half of the race was impressive.”
McCann also praised Coleson for knowing to perch behind the pack, to wait for his moment to strike.
“Some of the smartest runners don’t get stuck in the crowd early on if they know what they’re capable of,” McCann said. “He was able to negative split the whole race and kept a level head, which is something you don’t see frequently with young runners. The fact that he was able to do that was huge.”
As smooth as the first 2.5 miles went for Coleson, he hit a mental hurdle near the finish.
Not the hills on the course; Coleson said, “I actually loved the hills. Those were fun.” But trees obscuring his view made the last 1,000 meters challenging.
“When I would turn a corner, I would look up and see another person turning a corner,” he said. “I could here people saying, ‘you’re there’ but it felt like I focused on it too much. I ran and felt like I didn’t make progress, but it all worked out.”
As it did for Gamez, who couldn’t compete at Norris Penrose for state in 2020 after being led astray at regionals, disqualifying her from the qualifying race.
“I was in the third heat and myself and another girl started to catch up to the second heat,” Gamez said. “The guy who was directing us thought we were the end of the second heat, not the beginning of the third heat. We took the wrong turn, didn’t run the full race and got disqualified. Although it wasn’t our fault, the judges said we didn’t run the full race.”
Gamez said she’s not bitter about the result and recognized the silver lining in the mishap.
“It sucked but at the same time everything happens for a reason,” Gamez said. “My [right] knee was hurting and I was going to physical therapy for it. What if I made it to state but something happened and I couldn’t do anything else for the rest of the year? I wanted to have an optimistic view and know that if something happened it was for a reason.”
Gamez did have minor issues dealing with hills in the race as it drained her stamina, but she compensated on the backend.
“But we had an uphill and downhill so I used the downhill to my advantage and that’s when I past a whole bunch of girls,” Gamez said.
Gamez was the only girls competitor for the Stallions team in the varsity race. Despite that, she still battled on the course. Her coach, Eduardo Vargas, said her confidence stems from within.
“She was confident going in and she looked confident on the way back,” Vargas said. “She’s a team player and she always sees it as running with the team.”
Harrison's Hayden Smith placed 61st at 22:33.10 and Taze Abila placed 67th at 23:07.70. Sierra's Edward Limon finished 71st at 25:12.30 and Sebastian Szalay finished 73rd at 25:39.90 in the boys race.
For the girls, Harrison's Allie Gragg checked in 54th at 28:56.10, Linda McGoff placed 56th at 30:58.30 and Elizabeth Gomez placed 62 at 38:12.20.
Mitchell's Christopher Horyczun placed 150 with a time of 23:49.40 and Orlando Sisneros finished 156th at 21:31.40. Fernanada Castillo rounded out the girls racers at 146 and a time of 33:59.20.