Red Lining At The National HS Trail Championships

Madeleine Burns and Joslin Blair took this race down to the final strides.

For a moment the world stood still. 

Mt. Antero and Mt. Princeton hid in the distance behind threatening clouds. The sun shed its warm rays between the pockets, lighting the rocky landscape below in a golden glow. The trails were silent, but only for a brief moment. 

Echoes of light footsteps and heavy breathing grew as the once-calm moment exploded with an anxiety that can only be felt when you're watching a race unfold in tiny pockets - like the sun peeking between clouds, curious of the progress going on below, but unable to see the entire race unfold. 

In a flash the the world began to spin at a much faster clip. 

Madeleine Burns came storming around the bend with Joslin Blair hot on her heels. The two leaned into the mountain that led them gradually down, zig-zagging down its face, while Samantha Blair gave chase from 30 meters back. 

With 2,000 meters remaining in the girl's National High School Trail Championships, it still looked like it was anyone's race. 

Anyone as in Burns, or Joslin or Samantha Blair. 

While there were still many strides between the sides of Spiral Drive and the finish to separate Burns and Joslin Blair, this race wasn't decided until the very final stride.

And that one stride would determine who etched their name into the record books, because this race was destined to torch the former course record of 38:53, which was owned by Joslin Blair.

For the first time ever the race went into a kick, and the defending champ - Joslin Blair - timed hers just right. 

Video compliments of Steve Blair.

The recent Eagle Valley grad who is headed to Vanderbilt in the fall powered up the grassy hill to the finish in a jaw-dropping 37:29.3. Durango's Burns, who is headed to Princeton, finished a tenth of a second back in 37:29.4.

The thrilling sprint-finish wasn't the only one of the day - the boy's race came down to the wire as well. It was clear that nearly everyone who toed the line was more than excited to do so. The mud couldn't slow this race down, or deter anyone's excitement - smiles and blood-pumping performances were aplenty. 

What was additionally interesting and exciting to see was the staggered starts - which definitely played a roll in strategy. For some, it worked out perfectly - as in the boy's race. 

Competitors were placed into "Waves" based on 5k personal bests, and separated by 30 seconds. 

Editor's Note: We'll have another look at the staggered starts - which could be the format we see cross country run - later this week.

One athlete who turned the 30 second stagger into a strategical tool was Ella Johnson, who eyed the gap  and moved up through the field gradually. 

If Burns and Blair weren't blazing hard against each other up front, Johnson may have stolen the race out of the second wave, because she ran 37:34 - just six seconds back.

Samantha Blair was the only other runner under 38 minutes in the stellar girl's race. The younger Blair, while third to cross to the finish line, finished fourth overall in 37:46.

While the race showed some incredible mid-summer fitness, it also gave us another glimpse as to what we could see on the course this fall.

Incoming Niwot freshman Mia Prok went head-to-head with the deepest field in the race's history to finish fifth - despite a fall. Prok ran 38:55, which was just two-seconds over the previous course record. 

All in all, 11 broke 40 minutes.

Some of the best teams thrashed it out on the course, and the victor was Valor Christian, who tallied 29 points across three runners. Niwot took the runner-up spot with 41 points, while Eagle Valley was third with 52. 

Among the two major storylines of the boy's race were the staggered starts (as mentioned above), and Battle Mountain's Sullivan MiddaughAnd these two storylines intertwined.

But let's start with the race up front...

Green Mountain's Grahm Tuohy-Gaydos pushed for an honest pace throughout the race. He led a train that included Bismark, North Dakota's Sean Korsmo, and Erik Le Roux into the final 2,000 meters. 

By the time the trio reached the valley floor several hundred feet below Tuohy-Gaydos and Korsmo had shaken Le Roux off the train. 

Korsmo tracked Tuohy-Gaydos from a few feet back as the two hit the street before taking a left onwards to the grass and up the gradual hill to the finish. 

And then Korsmo pounced. 

Tuohy-Gaydos gave chase, but Korsmo was the first to cross the finish line, running 31:54, just ahead of Tuohy-Gaydos' 31:55. 

Little did anyone know then that the race for the title would go down to the mere seconds...

While most of the eyes watching the race assumed they may had seen a champion crowned, quite a few runners still on the course were seeking an upset out of the second - and third wave.

Colby Schultz was the first to nearly steal the show. 

The Palmer Ridge junior had the leading trio from the first wave within sights with 2,000 meter to go (in the photo above, he's the runner in pink singlet chasing.)

Schultz nearly held on for the upset, though mere seconds would be the decider here. Schultz wasn't the fourth to cross the finish line, but he was fourth overall in 31:56.

Oh, so close!

The upset would be saved for Middaugh. 

Raging out of the third wave, the Battle Mountain junior clearly has made some serious gains over the spring and the summer - Middaugh finished 34th at the Colorado State Cross Country Championships last fall, and owns a PR of 16:06. But he's clearly flown out from under the radar. 

Middaugh topped the field, running 31:52 - two seconds agead of Korsmo.

Again, mere seconds...

The team race wasn't nearly as close. 

Niwot ran away with the title, tallying 28 points. Cheyenne Mountain was second with 48 points, while Battle Mountain was third with 82.