Alayna Szuch leads Soleil Gaylord into the final mile.
Alayna Szuch cruised along the dusty trails with the Collegiate Peaks looming behind her. And that wasn't the only mountainous presence looming behind her - perhaps the most decorated runner in 2A history, Soleil Gaylord, was hot on her heels.
The two snaked along the sides of the mountain with Salida hundreds of feet below them. High above them, the Colorado sun beat down and gave a golden hue to the tiny bits of dust that raised in their wake. They ran on in a gentle rhythm that was almost soothing to the ear. A consistent pit-pat of foot meeting trail echoed between the crevasses of the mountain.
But for Gaylord and Szuch, the race was anything but gentle, or soothing.
Szuch led the duo, pumping her arms, willing herself forward. She ran like a prizefighter, unwilling to relent her lead, or the pace. Her eyes hid behind white sunglasses that reflected the sun, and any fatigue she may have had.
Behind her Gaylord cruised with the confidence of someone bidding their time. Her blonde hair swayed back and forth with her powerful stride. While she was running in second, she ran with the patience of someone who felt in control, someone waiting to strike.
Gaylord shifted through her many gears several times in attempts to pass, but Szuch responded each time. It was a battle that held the breath of anyone watching. It begged to be over, but was exciting to watch.
It wasn't just years or experience that separated them, it was maybe a foot worth of a height, and a few Colorado state titles. Regardless, heading into the final mile of the National High School Trail Championships, it was a six-time state champions verses someone who had yet to walk the hallow halls of high school as a freshmen.
But that didn't matter.
Because in competition, in running, the will to win means more than history. So the race waged on, and down the steep trails, down to Salida, down to the finish line.
Szuch was able to respond to each of Gaylord's powerful surges, but it was perhaps the abundance of surges that eventually wrote the final chapter of this race.
With nearly 600 meters remaining, and an open trail to pass, Gaylord threw down the hammer, like she's done so many times before, and surged on by Szuch, who couldn't respond this time. History, as it proved here, when mixed with the will to win, is a potent and lethal mix. There was no stopping Gaylord.
The Telluride senior sprinted on in her top gear, no longer playing the cat and mouse game. She powered towards the finish and took the National High School Trail Championships to Telluride with her.
Gaylord's victory was somewhat expected, given her multi-page running resume, though it was Szuch that was perhaps the surprise, (or not a surprise?) of the race.
If you haven't heard the name Alayna Szuch, you might want to make sure to remember it, because I'm sure I'll be writing it fairly consistently in the future. The incoming freshmen will be racing for Evergreen High School in the fall - that's 4A.
The battle of Salida was something to behold, and it wasn't just Gaylord and Szuch setting off late July fireworks, there were a slew of insightful performances that say one thing: we're going to see some great cross country races this fall...
Next Page: Steamboat steams to victory