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Titan runners open season in Leadville

Faust sets tone, Petersen leads charge

by Than Acuff

After three weeks of workouts, including honing the veteran runners and introducing the new runners to the reality of running for five kilometers, the Crested Butte Titans cross country team got their first test at the Lake County Invitational in Leadville on Saturday, September 2.

The Leadville race may well be the highest high school cross-country race in the nation. Yet, as if that wasn’t enough, the course also has its fair share of high-altitude hills and an additional “lollipop” section where runners actually pass the finish line on their way to a final stretch of running before returning to the finish. Suffice it to say, the course puts the wood to runners both mentally and physically. It’s baptism by fire.

The Titan coaches had seven of 12 runners, including three seniors, toe the line for the season opener with a handful still nursing some nagging pain and the coaches opting to err on the side of caution rather than risk additional injury.

The plan for all of the Titans was fairly straightforward. With Leadville being the first race of the season and a handful of Titans racing their first five-kilometer race, the coaches had them focused on one main goal.

“We wanted everyone to have good splits throughout the race and have a strong, but not too fast, first mile,” says coach Shari Sullivan-Marshall.

Initially the plan was to throw the entire team into the varsity race as the JV race had an early start and the coaches believed the benefit of a proper warm-up far outweighed the potential crushing reality of young runners battling with a varsity field.

“It’s already an early start to the day and we wanted to let everybody sleep a little longer because you never know how the drive to Leadville will unfold,” says Marshall.

With Bill Kastning at the wheel and the road relatively clear of the usual slow-moving conga line of RVs, the team managed to get to the venue in plenty of time, allowing the coaches the opportunity to change plans and throw three runners into the JV race.

The move had a rippling effect through the team as the JV runners posted solid results, led by Max Faust who finished ninth, posting a time six minutes faster than last year at Leadville.

“Max really set the tone for the day,” says Sullivan-Marshall.

The girls’ varsity then lined up with seniors Sydney Petersen and Maria O’Neal primed to open the season on a high note. Both runners had successful seasons, as juniors and the coaches were asking them to step up their game for Leadville.

“Their goal was to equal or run faster than they did at Leadville last year,” says Sullivan-Marshall.

Both runners took the goal to heart, with Petersen making the most of the first race. Petersen led the entire field up the first climb and held the lead until midway through the race. Once caught by another runner, Petersen latched on and stayed with her competition the rest of the race, finishing second place overall with a time of 21:23.40, just six seconds out of first place.

“It was good for Sydney to take that risk,” says Sullivan-Marshall.

O’Neal also met the pre-race goal as she settled into her spot in running in the 20’s and then spent the rest of the race picking off runners, finishing in 19th place with a time 23:22.70.

“She ran a smart race and ran close to what she ran last year,” says Sullivan-Marshall. “They both ran excellent races.”

The day finished with the sun beating down on the course for the boys’ race and senior Vincent Michel and junior Joe Coburn carrying the Titan colors.

The two looked solid throughout the first two and a half miles as they headed into the “lollipop” section of the course. But when they returned to finish out the five kilometers, they carried a different look.

“They ran incredible splits across the board and looked strong going into the ‘lollipop,’” says Sullivan-Marshall. “Coming out of it they looked like they’d run through hell’s fire. You could see it in their faces.”

In the end they both did what was asked of them, shaving time off their previous races in Leadville. Michel cut over a minute off his time from last year to finish in 34th place, while Coburn took two minutes off his previous time in Leadville to place 45th.

“Vincent has just gotten smarter and faster over the years,” says Sullivan-Marshall. “They both had super awesome first races.”

Overall the entire team stepped up to the challenge in Leadville with the veterans gaining speed and the rookies handling the distance.

“I think it was a great hard effort from everybody,” says Sullivan-Marshall. “It was really fun to get to know the runners and who they are when the gun goes off.”

The team heads to Hotchkiss for their next race on Saturday, September 9.

“I’ll be curious to see what the course is like,” says Sullivan-Marshall. “I hear it’s challenging, hard and hot. It’ll be another good experience for them.”

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