Harriers, Start Your Engines

Jake Erickson leads Grand Junction's Greg Eccher and Telluride's Jack Plantz through early stages of the Anna Banana boys varsity race. Photo by Michele Bisbee.

In continuing with Alan Versaw’s race preview metaphor from earlier this week, the Anna Banana (AB) Memorial Wildcat Invitational lived up to its expectation of Fast and Furious.  Alas, there were no checkered flags waving at the finish, but there was rubber hitting the pavement (and pealing up  some gravel) as the race provided a strong mid-season indication of where strengths and weaknesses lay and where the fine tuning needs to happen in the weeks to come.
In a slight change of most western slope meet patterns, the varsity boys hit the starting line first. 
The AB starting area is pretty cramped and after about 50 yards gets a whole lot narrower as the runners sprint to get through a gate expanse about the width of a single lane road. As it is in NASCAR, some contact is inevitable as runners charge and jockey for placement to get through the gate and the gravel surface makes it even trickier. Unfortunately, a few runners took a rough tumble.  
Because the course takes a couple quick sharp turns immediately out of the starting stretch, visual contact from the start is quickly lost and it took about a quarter mile before the lead group was able to get the word to stop and turn back for a restart. One of the runners who went down was not able to restart the race; we hop he will recover soon.
Once the runners were gathered back to the start, the race began anew and looked much more in control as they made their way around the first bend to loop around Duke Lake and the east end of the park.
The first mile runs fast.  After passing through the gate at the start it’s all asphalt road or concrete trail. Just before hitting the one mile mark, the runners make their way back through the starting area and then turn on the gravel path paralleling the Colorado River.  
Palisade’s Jake Erickson, Grand Junction’s Greg Eccher and Telluride’s Jack Plantz had broken from the rest of the runners and paced through the mile at a low 4:50’s split.  
The second mile is the punishing one for this course, if punishing is possible on a fast course. The path is dirt, covered decently with nickel to quarter sized gravel that simply does not stay put as you travel over it.  To win the AB speed is a requirement, but a strength, or at least an efficiency, component is necessary as well.  Often mile two is where the race is either won, or lost.  
For Erickson, stride efficiency was his advantage and he maintained a quick turnover to break away from Eccher as Plantz fell away to third.
Just as the second mile marker presents itself, the runners exit the off-road terrain.  The race then goes a bit into a Grand Prix racing style for about a quarter mile.  
The path becomes winding with short, tight curves and lots of trees and vegetation, making visibility between runners non-existent around the corners. Strategically, this is a great place to extend distances between runners and Erickson took full advantage of his opportunity.
Erickson went on to break the 16 minute barrier, finishing in 15:48.2.  This also breaks the AB course record previously set by Moffat County’s Chris Zirkle in 2010.  
Eccher would just miss the 16 minute barrier, running 16:02. Sophomore Plantz battled it out with Fruita Mounment’s Chuck Bisbee for the second half of the race, just edging Bisbee into the chute, 16:13 to 16:14.
The top ten runners all finished below the 17 minute barrier with Bayfield’s Trevor Gabbard (5th 16:25) and Luke Webb (9th 16:44), GJ’s Allen Adair (6th 16:38), Eagle Valley’s Gino Giovagnoli (7th 16:39), Fruita’s Keaton Brown (8th 16:41) and Greeley West’s Jose Parra Vega (10th 16:45) each scoring season best times.
Although the individuals at the front of the boys race were a bit spread out, the team race could scarcely have been any closer. Host Fruita Monument and Grand Junction went neck to neck. The scoring announced at the meet was based on all runners in the count with both FMHS and GJHS tallying a dead even 92 points and Fruita Monument breaking the tie with the 6th runner. Editor's note: Official meet results released later had Grand Junction winning by a single point over Fruita Monument--in the official results, runners from non-scoring teams were removed from the tally.
The showdown for the Western Slope girls title between Palisade’s Greta VanCalcar and Eva Lou Edwards of Bayfield did not materialize as hoped, as VanCalcar did not start.  
We trust she’s just taking a rest or nursing something minor.
Unlike last year when Edwards was pretty much in command from the starter’s horn she had a bit of company this rendition, at least for a little bit.  
At the one mile point, Edwards held a slight edge over the chase pack of Hotchkiss’s Natalie Anderson, Greeley West’s Katie Lyons, Grand Junction’s Clarissa Berry and Delta’s Mykayla Music.  
Like Erickson, Edwards would break free, and the pack would break apart in the second mile. Edward’s advantage was her strong stride. Once the third mile began, the damage was done and Edwards would end with a commanding 45 second lead.  
Though her time of 18:22.3 wasn’t quite as blistering as her course record performance of 17:41.30 last year, it was a significant season best.
Anderson knows this course well and has had much success running its loops.  She looked very strong sporting her team’s new uniform and pulling away from Lyons in the last mile to place 2nd in 19:07. Lyons would go on to match her third place performance from last year in 19:21. Clarissa Berry of Grand Junction would be the top placing freshman for 4th in 19:27.  
In all, 10 ladies would place under the 20 minute barrier, including Paonia’s Taylor Polson (6th 19:30), Moffat County’s Brenna Ciesco (7th 19:37), GJ’s Cassandra Grigware (8th 19:49) and Central Grand Junction’s Emily Stull (10th 19:59).
Anderson would be joined by her teammates Jenni Celis (5th 19:28), sister Mae (9th 19:52), Sophia Schelle (28th 20:56) and Katy Parsons (31st 21:00) to take home the team trophy over 5A’s Grand Junction. This is more amazing when considering 2A Hotchkiss only needs to score three come State time. Though they will lose Anderson and Celis to graduation, the next three on the roster are all sophomores.  
Grand Junction’s Andrea Liekoks would win the individual girls JV title and lead her team to the JV team win. Brock Curry would do the same for the Fruita’s boys.
The popularity of the Anna Banana has grown quite a bit over the years, much likely due to the media attention focused on it. The race would probably be even bigger as there were several teams clamoring to be a part of the race this year and had to be turned away.  
The limiting factor is one of population; of both people and vehicles. Colorado State Parks has a limit as to how many people and cars can be in the park, thus fixing a limit of 19 teams for the event.  It would be interesting to see how big it could grow to, but it’s a nice, personal type of meet as it is.      

Meet Results and Photos