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Cross-country gains speed at annual Anna Banana race

“It was a great day”

by Than Acuff

The Crested Butte Titans cross country team continued to gain speed as they wrapped up their trip to Fruita for the annual Anna Banana Invitational on Saturday, September 23, posting six personal record (PR) times, and five season best times.

The Anna Banana racecourse is lower in elevation than most races the Titans compete in and offers the team an opportunity to set a faster pace. Yet, this year, the course was moved to a new venue, so the coaches had some homework to do prior to the race.

“I knew it would be fast but I was unsure of what the course would be like,” says coach Shari Sullivan-Marshall.

It tuned out the course was laid out in a manner that led to the potential for a “wicked fast” first mile, a hilly second mile and then another “wicked fast” third mile. To make matters better, a little cloud cover helped keep the course cooler than usual. Unfortunately, it being the Western Slope with winter on the way, fall winds kicked up on race day making the overall conditions less than ideal.

“There was a relentless wind and that can really destroy a runner,” explains Sullivan-Marshall. “There was definitely a lot of strategy going on.”

The boys’ varsity kicked off the day of racing with senior Vincent Michel and junior Joe Coburn toeing the line for the Titans.

The two Titans stayed together through the first mile but once they hit the second mile, Coburn started to pick up his pace as Michel started to fall off of his usual kick. Coburn continued to gain speed through the second mile and into the third and final mile to finish in 36th place, tying his PR time of 18:46.

“Joe ran a great second half of the race,” says Sullivan-Marshall. “He just started picking people off. It was awesome.”

Meanwhile, Sullivan-Marshall found out that Michel’s drop in his step was the result of a massive “stitch” that came on during the second mile. Remarkably, Michel pushed through the pain to stay focused, actually posting a faster split in the third mile than the second mile and kicking the final 100 yards to place 43rd with the third-fastest time of his career of 18:58.

“He was so uncomfortable but even in the final 100 meters he was able to dig deep,” says Sullivan-Marshall.

Seniors Sydney Petersen and Maria O’Neal then lined up for Crested Butte in the girls race. With a stiff wind and a stout field of runners including the defending 2A state champ, their coaches warned them about the effects of wind.

“We told them, just be careful if you take the lead,” says Sullivan-Marshall.

Petersen and O’Neal heeded their coaches’ advice, somewhat, as they jumped out with the lead pack in the opening stretch of the race. As the runners hit the two-mile mark, Petersen was in second place and O’Neal was embroiled in a battle for third with Petersen seven seconds ahead of the defending state champ and O’Neal hot on the heels of the state champ.

The two Titans pushed through the third and final mile with both leaving the 2A state champion behind as Petersen placed second with a season’s best time of 19:44 and O’Neal took fourth place with a time of 19:53, her fastest of the season and a minute faster than her race the week before.

“They both broke 20 minutes, which is a huge hurdle,” says Sullivan-Marshall.

The boys JV runners then lined up with the Titans posting some of their fastest times of the season as well, including four PRs.

“All of them are feeling more confident with the five-kilometer distance,” says Sullivan-Marshall.

The Titan girls JV finished the day off following suit, posting one PR and two season best times.

“It was the best I’ve seen them run,” says Sullivan-Marshall. “All three of them were focused and engaged. Everyone was super pumped. It was a great day.”

The Titans will stay in the valley this weekend to take part in the inaugural Emma Coburn Elk Run 5k on Saturday, September 30. They return to race action next week in Delta.

“Their effort will send us into October with confidence and zest to keep training hard and stay positive,” says Sullivan-Marshall.

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