The chance to run a competitive race had alluded Madeleine Burns for months. Saturday, she was finally back on a start line.
Burns, a 2020 graduate of Durango High School, had her spring track season canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of that, the indoor track and field national championships also were canceled, leaving her only days away from an event she had prepared for all winter.
Without a chance to defend her Class 4A state title in the 3,200-meter run, Burns began to prepare for the fall cross-country season, as she had signed to study and compete at Princeton University. But in early July, the Ivy League canceled all fall sports, and Burns was again without a race or a season to look forward to.
She looked all over for an event that had not been canceled by the coronavirus and the corresponding health guidelines, and she was pleased to learn the National High School Trail Championships would be held in Salida.
“I wanted a chance to stretch my legs and see how my training is going. This had been on my radar in years past, but I had always been out of town or something like that,” Burns said. “It had always intrigued me, so I signed up. It was a lot of fun, and I think there was a much more competitive field than in previous years because of the track season getting canceled. There were some of the best girls from Colorado there, and it was a lot of fun to get to race against them.”
Burns, daughter of Andy and Emily Burns, led much of the race Saturday, but defending champion Joselin Burns of Eagle Valley High School in Gypsum narrowly edged her at the finish line by one-tenth of a second.
Blair crossed the line of the nearly 5½-mile race in 37 minutes, 29.29 seconds. Burns was second in 37:29.41. Ella Johnson of Glenwood Springs took third in 37:34.60. Joslin Blair’s sister, Samantha, was fourth in 37:46.58.
“I led from about a mile into the race on,” Burns said. “It was mostly singletrack, so it wasn’t like you could trade off the lead a lot or anything. Halfway, about three miles in, the nearly 600 feet of climbing stopped, and it was all downhill from there. I was kind of trying to push the downhill and trying to drop Joselin and her sister, who was still with us at that point, as well. Never quite managed to shake her on the downhill.
“The finish, you come around a corner and into a park with people cheering. I wasn’t quite sure where she was behind me. Next thing I know, she came flying past. It was a good race.”
There were 71 runners in Saturday’s girls race. The boys race had 102, and Battle Mountain’s Sullivan Middaugh won in 31:52.60. He was 1.6 seconds faster than Sean Korsmo of Bismarck, North Dakota, who ran in a different wave. Green Mountain’s Grahm Tuohy-Gaydos was third in 31:55.34.
To adhere to COVID-19 guidelines, runners wore a mask at the start and ran in groups of 10. The start was held in waves separated by 30 seconds. Burns felt the race was held in a safe manner.
Burns, who was a member of Team USA at the 2019 World Mountain Running Association’s Under-18 Mountain Running Youth Cup in Italy, admitted she was heartbroken when her senior season of track was canceled. She had finished fourth at the state cross-country meet in the fall, and she had hoped to repeat her victory from a year earlier in the 3,200 while also contending in the 1,600.
“It was super disappointing. Everything started getting canceled before Luke Tichi and I were planning to head to indoor nationals,” Burns said. “That was something I had been dreaming about and looking forward to my whole high school career. It was going to be the spring where everything was going to come together for me.”
Burns doubled down on her training around Durango and was joined by former DHS teammate Abby Scott, who competes at Williams College in Massachusetts. Scott called Burns an inspiring and loving teammate and running partner, and she was happy to be back home to share the trails once more.
“I stepped back and appreciated the details of racing and why I like to run aside from the racing,” Burns said. “It’s been good to focus on that and focus on the joys of being out on the trail.”
The addition of a lost fall season at Princeton also was difficult for Burns, as it had even larger implications for her entire freshman year. Princeton is splitting up its enrollment so half of the students are on campus in the fall and the other half in the spring. Burns will attend in the fall when there is no cross-country season, and she will do her course work online from home in the spring during track season.
But Burns looked on the bright side of having an extra year of NCAA eligibility if she decides to go to graduate school.
After Saturday’s success of the trail running championships, Burns said she’d like to do more events that feature similar singletrack trails in the future. Still, she’s not sure when she will get to race again.
“It has been kind of fun training without the stress of racing, and I’ve gotten to run on a lot more trails and enjoying going to new places in Durango I hadn’t been able to run at before,” she said. “I’m not entirely sure what my goals are for college yet since I haven’t gotten my feet wet in that arena. But I want to keep pushing myself, and I feel like I have a lot left.”