Cross country innovation at Valmont Bike Park

Maggie Moline started her season with a statement, clocking the best girls time at the New Balance Valmont Cross Country Invitational. Photo by Renee Haip.

Special to Colorado Track XC by Levi Stone

This weekend provided some great cross country invitational openers. Only one, however, was run in a dirt bike park.* The New Balance XC Invitational took place at Valmont Bike Park here in good ol’ Boulder, Colorado. 
This invitational is the first of what is hoped to become an annual event. The meet hosted seven schools, making this a rather small gathering. There were many qualities which made this meet unique, that is, besides it being hosted in a bike park, but I’ll only highlight a couple. 
First, the boys and girls raced together in a multi-heat format. Up to two boys and two girls from each team were run in three varsity heats and raced against each other. There were separate starting lines for the boys and girls, which merged together after 30m into a long straightaway start. There were, no doubt, a few female athletes who raced a little harder knowing they had the opportunity to beat a fellow male teammate, or vice-versa for some of the boys who did not want to get “chicked.”
Second, the course was made up of a 1.3k loop that was run three times to reach the distance of 4k. Obviously, 4K is not the standard distance run in Colorado for cross country, but the difficulty of the course more than made up for the missing K. As previously mentioned, the course is in a bike park, and bike courses contain banked turns and table-top style dirt jumps. I ran the course loop seven times, and the banked turns and table top jumps made for some murderous climbs and frustrating PUDS (Pointless Ups & Downs). 
The course starts on a nice, flat 400m stretch with a hay bale jump around 300m in. Soon after, it narrows down into a snaking bike path that can squeeze two runners side by side. This snaking path is one of the two major climbs on the course. There are six switchbacks on this hilly climb that contain PUDS, ruining many a runner’s rhythm. Once at the top, there is some relief as the course flattens out before snaking back down to begin another climb. This is the second major climb on the course, which starts out gradual until you reach the stairs. There are about 25 wooden/dirt stairs to climb before another downhill section puts the runners back at the starting line to begin another loop.
The cloudy and slightly rainy afternoon made for some cooler weather than we’ve been used to lately and, as 3:30 rolled around, the racers for the first heat were ready to take on the course. As the first race went off to the sound of “GO!!!” (A starting gun was not used), to few people’s surprise, Paul Roberts of Lyons took the lead. Roberts never relinquished the lead and made short work of the course, clocking the fastest time of the day in 13:14. Next across the line was Jacob Mitchem of Broomfield, who stopped the clock at a very respectable 13:48, a time which held up as the day's second fastest. 
In the same heat, Maggie Moline of Centaurus was the first girl to cross the line, stopping the clock at 16:41. This would hold up as the best female time of the day, by 23 seconds. The second-fastest time of the day, 17:04, was actually run by two girls. The first, CeAnn Udovich of Lyons, was runner up to Moline in the first heat. Kara Skattum of Broomfield ran in the second heat and was the first female to cross the line in her section.
Joel Such recorded the second victory for Lyons in the 2nd heat by running 14:16. The second place runners in the second heat were Joshua Schoep of Broomfield (14:50) and Jenna Anderson of Lyons (17:32). The third heat winners were Sean Kilcullen of Longmont High (15:01) and Sierra Tucker of Lyons (17:43). Taking second place in the third heat were Jared Wells of Longmont (15:13) and Brittany Baldwin of Broomfield (19:11). Following the three varsity heats were two JV heats that contained a much larger amount of runners, making the tight turns even more crowded.
Since this was the first year this meet was hosted, it was determined not to have team scoring. This, however, is likely to change in years to come. 
As the boys teams went, Broomfield showed up to play. While they did not have a winner among the three Varsity heats, they did take 2nd, and 3rd in the first two heats, 3rd in heat three, and swept the final JV heat 1-4, with other runners close behind. 
As the girls go, the name Broomfield was once again showing up at the top of the heat results, but so was little Lyons. Excluding Maggie Moline’s first place finish from the first heat, the top three spots were fought over between Lyons and Broomfield. Lyons had two second places, and one first place in the three varsity heats, while Broomfield racked up one first, one second, three thirds, and swept 1-4 in the first JV heat. The Lyons Lions and Broomfield Eagles both look to have solid boys and girls teams heading into the season.
As my good friend Kevin Akers will always say, the team camaraderie in a sport such as cross country is higher than in any other sport. In the last race of the day, a young Dakota Ridge runner was finishing up the course to round out the race. However, he actually wasn’t finishing by himself… A great number of his teammates had gathered around him and were running with him to the finish line. I’ve seen this occur one or two other times in a cross country race before, and it will never get old. Dakota Ridge, like many other XC teams, is very tightly knit.
And of course, what’s a cross country meet without awards? The award ceremony was short and sweet, and New Balance backpacks were handed out to the first and second place male and female runners of the three varsity heats. 
With that, the first ever annual New Balance Valmont Cross Country Invitational came to a close. The course may be a distance most Colorado runners are not accustomed to. It may also be a tough and slow course, but the New Balance Valmont XC Invitational was a wonderful, fun meet to open the cross country season.
Also, special thanks to James Carney for putting this meet together and, of course, to the Durdens for doing another fantastic job of timing.
* - Editor's Note: Actually, the Central Warrior Invitational may dispute the claim to this being the only meet contested at a bike park, though perhaps the Valmont venue is more exclusively a bike park than the Grand Junction location.