COLORADO SPRINGS — When Nell Taylor and her teammates jumped on the bus in Pagosa Springs, they knew they were in for a long journey. Over 250 miles and a trek over Wolf Creek Pass separate the Pirates from the Norris-Penrose Event Center. But the trip is worth it for so many reasons.
Pagosa is just one of many teams that come from far and wide to compete at the Cheyenne Mountain Stampede cross country meet. There are several reasons that each team makes it a point to cross a finish line at the same site of the annual Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo.
Chief among them is that this is where they want to be racing on the last day of the season. That's when the state cross country meet takes place and the same site that hosts the Stampede houses the final race that kid is willing to sell out their bodies to try and win.
And while the layout of the course isn't exactly the same as state, it gives the competitors an idea of what to expect in October.
"That definitely helps a lot," Taylor said. "And just getting a head start on everyone, because this is, this is not a flat course. It's not an easy course. And once we get through with the rest of the season we can say this is hard, but it's not as hard as the state course with all the hills."
But that's not the only reason that teams have for going. For a team like Pagosa, it's a chance to get the team bonding early in the season which can have benefits later in the year.
When it comes to high school athletics, there is no better way to bond than with a long bus ride with a handful of teammates.
"I think it's just a big part of spending time with the team and just being all together," Taylor said. "That really helps when you run Running is my passion and I've been running since a very young age and Just getting together to compete and to see how far you can push yourself, I think that's definitely worth the car ride. Just to be with the team and suffer together, that just brings me really close to them."
Taylor finished ninth in the Class 3A girls race with a time of 21 minutes, 49.1 seconds. Between the bonding experience and the atmosphere that comes with racing at Norris-Penrose, she's hoping for a little better finish when the Pirates return in two months.
The same can be said for Rocky Ford's Noel Lopez. The Meloneer took second in the 2A boys race with a time of 16:51.6, but on top of a team bonding experience and the chance to race at the site of the state meet, coming to Colorado Springs had an additional benefit for those residing in eastern Colorado.
"I think it's a good workout cause of the high elevation, we're used to training at a low altitude," Lopez said. "The air is definitely a lot thinner. It's a dirt course that has good hills and everything, so really prepares us well for the the state meet."
Each time Lopez or Taylor or any running hits this course they try to apply lessons from previous races. That has helped build the right mentality to take into even a regular season race or a race at state.
The trick is that each time the gun fires and the runners swarm out onto the course, they're all trying to balance the competitive nature of the race with utilizing the experience they need to attain the desired finish.
"The first time I ran this course, I went way too hard in the first mile and nearly died during the rest of it," Lopez said. "I'm not used to running on so many hills like this and at such a high altitude."
Taylor, Lopez and all the runners who competed on Friday will do what they can so they can get one more crack at the course on Oct. 26 for the state cross country meet.