In just three years, Western’s Trail Running Team has grown from a small group of students competing in casual weekend events to a competitive collegiate team traveling to some of the largest trail and ultra-races in the country. The team is part of the Mountain Sports program, which offers every discipline of skiing, snowboarding and cycling—in addition to trail running.
The concept of a year-round mountain-oriented athletic program originated in 2008 when alumni Jason Holton and Eric Freson started the freeride ski team to supplement the already established mountain biking team. The collective teams were legitimized as a unique athletic program on campus and received the official umbrella name of Western State Colorado University Mountain Sports in 2013 and has since grown to include many more sports.
Little did anyone know then that mixing Western’s strong tradition of cross country running with the Gunnison Valley’s mountain culture would produce the most popular team on Mountain Sports with over 40 athletes and three coaches.
“Trail running is [so successful] because we give donuts to them after our long and hard efforts,” joked head coach Josh Eberly.
On a more serious note, Eberly sees the exceptional level of camaraderie, determination and intrinsic motivation in every athlete as a primary reason for the trail running team’s success.
“I really think the team builds this culture of awesomeness. Once they find they are enjoying what they do, the rest is history,” he said.
Photos by Brian Cole, Jeremy Wallace, Banks Kriz and Peter Noon .
Although the team attracts NCAA running talent, progress and encouragement are more important than results to athletes and coaches. Every runner has different goals, interests and abilities, ranging from completing their first half marathons to running 100-mile races.
“The progression of knowledge of trail running, of setting PRs, of running farther distances and most importantly of the friendships made is what makes the trail team so amazing,” said sophomore Kat Hebda, who joined the team this fall.
Senior Bryan Schlinkmann helped create the trail running team and is among a rare breed of runners who have finished multiple 100-mile races. He credits the team as an integral part in his success as an athlete.
“The sense of community that pulses through this program is astounding. With the help of our family of athletes, we've been there for each other through the highest of highs and lowest of lows,” Schlinkmann said.
With no foreseeable slowing of growth, the trail running team will continue to compete in larger trail and ultra-races across the country. By having the only collegiate trail running team in the nation, Western is redefining college athletics and having the most fun possible while doing so.
Story by Peter Noon