The start of the Black Squirrel Trail Half Marathon begun at 6:00am and finished at 8:00am. Welcome to racing in 2020. Five waves and 221 runners later, and we had everybody off to the races for a fantastic morning of racing, aided by cooler-than-average temperatures and crisp, clean air.
Packing the start line in Wave 1 were a number of pre-race favorites, past winners and - dare we say - dark horses. While women's defending champion and course record holder, Rachel Rudel could not make it to the start line this year, her former CSU teammate and school steeplechase record holder Janelle Lincks was there to represent. She would be lining up against Kansas Jayhawk Track alum Grace Morgan, and former Black Squirrel winner Abby Depperschmidt.
The men's field was also host to previous winners with last year's champ Nathan Austin on the line looking to defend, alongside 2014 winner Kory Skattum and last year's third-place finisher Adrian McDonald. Also on the line was this year's Quad Rock 25 winner, Justin Ricks and former Pikes Peak Ascent champ Timmy Parr.
With light just beginning to emerge, we sent Wave 1 off to the races and charging up the Timber Trail in pursuit of our hero band of Timber aid station volunteers who had begun the climb over an hour earlier, hauling 16 gallons of water up on their backs after trucks had failed to navigate slick roads to the aid location.
The crew waited in anticipation at the top of the climb for our lead runners, before reporting with some excitement that the lead two men - Timmy Parr and Kory Skatum - had come in locked together, closely followed by the first lady - Janelle Lincks - in third overall!
The intermediate split times were fast and course records appeared to be in danger after just a half hour of racing. Meanwhile back at the start with the sun making its way above the East Valley hogbacks, Wave 2 had been sent off up the hill and we were busy getting ready to start Wave 3. As it would turn out, one of our dark horses for the overall placings would be laying in wait in that middle wave.
From the Arthurs West aid station at mile 8.3, the texts coming back to the start had Timmy Parr with a two-minute lead over Skattum and still on - or near - course record pace. Adrian MacDonald and Florida's Jacob Banta had moved to third and fourth with lead woman Lincks still blazing the course in fifth overall.
As we awaited the winner at the finish, Parr came into sight right on cue with Wave 4 lined up and ready for their 7:30 start. It was a fitting 2020 scene, and one of the highlights of a wonderful morning. The assembled runners erupted in rapturous cheers, witnessing the end of a journey they would begin in less than 20 seconds.
Ultimately, Parr would end up just 40 seconds off Stephen Pretak's 2016 course record, posting only the second ever sub-1:30 finish in race history. Skattum was unable to close the gap on Parr in the valley, but his second-place finish of 1:31:42 was still the fourth fastest time ever on the course and six seconds quicker than his 2014 winning time. The fight for third was a close-run thing between Macdonald and Banta, with Macdonald holding on for a repeat third-place finish (1:35:24), just 20 seconds ahead of his pursuer.
With four runners in, it was just another 40 seconds until the performance of the morning came blazing through the finish line. Not only had Janelle Lincks put a major gap between herself and the rest of this year's women's field, but also between herself and an eight-year history of women's finishers, besting Rachel Rudel's impressive 2019 record by over six minutes.
Janelle's time of 1:36:26 looks stout enough to having some staying power. It is especially impressive when you consider that the second place finish of Grace Morgan (1:47:43) was the fifth fastest of all time.
And that wave 3 dark horse we were talking about earlier? Well, Christine Cummings' coming-out party was equally as impressive. In her first competitive race in 10 years, Christine's third-place time of 1:48:21 was just 38 seconds off Morgan in second and good enough for sixth fastest all time.
The impressive performances did not end there. In our 50-59 age group, winner Craig Person (1:45:43) punched his way into the record books by lowering Tony Dragan's 2016 age group best by a minute (and besting his younger 2017 self by close to nine minutes!). On the women's side, Wyoming's Cinthy Carson (2:10:54) retained top honors in the 50-59 age bracket after winning in 2019.
In the masters (40-49) division, we saw wins for Anna Wickersham (2:10:53) and Justin Ricks (1:41:08). The 60+ division wins belonged to Teri Rylander (4:11:18) and Steve Wood (2:20:52), and in the Under 40 division, it was a win for Abby Depperschmidt (1:55:39) and Jacob Banta (1:35:44).
Gnar Slam Update:
- Nine runners have battled through the madness of the 2020 season with finishes at Never Summer 100km, Quad Rock 50, and Black Squirrel. They have just the Blue Sky Marathon left to complete for Gnar Slam glory.
- Meghan Spieker continues to lead in the overall standings, followed by Brandon Cooper and Derrick Searle.
- All finishers receive a special award at the end of the season, plus a free entry into Quad Rock 2021
Overall, we saw a total of 221 finishers (103 women and 118 men) and we congratulate each and every one of you for a job well done. Supporting our runners was a wonderful crew of 40+ race volunteers.
We thank you all - runners and volunteers alike - for making the morning a special one, and we hope to see you back in 2021 for the ninth running of the race.
Let's hope that in 2021 we can all share the same start line and breathe clean, smoke-free air!
And thank you also to our fantastic sponsors for sticking with us through a tough year. We appreciate the many years of tireless support you have all shown for the Northern Colorado trail running scene.
Thank you to our top tier sponsors:
Thank you also for contributing support from: