Hayden runner Chris Zirkle hungry to return to nationals after 1st trip Saturday

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— Competing at a national meet is a different monster than the weekly races that make up a season.

Running at his first National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics national championship, Chris Zirkle didn’t have his best race but came away with plenty to look forward to when the next cross-country season starts.

Zirkle, a Hayden High School graduate who won a state cross-country title for Moffat County and state track titles for Hayden, qualified for the 2013 men’s NAIA Cross Country Championship from Northwest Christian College in Eugene, Ore., after placing 14th in his conference meet.

He raced at the nationals in Lawrence, Kan., on Saturday and finished in 26 minutes, 11.27 seconds for 131st place in the race of more than 300 runners. It wasn’t the finishing position he would have chosen or an especially fast time for Zirkle, but nagging injuries had him happy to be racing at nationals at all.

“I’m happy with it. It definitely wasn’t one of my better performances,” he said after the race. “I was really happy to be there, though. I didn’t think I was going to get to run at it.”

Zirkle has dealt with plantar fasciitis and arch issues in his feet since last track season, he said. After taking time off during the summer, his foot felt refreshed for cross-country, but the wear and tear of a long season had him dealing with pain once again and slowed him down.

The junior was hoping to finish higher than 131st but admitted there were some aspects of the race he wasn’t quite prepared for going in, including the size of the race.

“I got really lost in the crowd,” he said. “It was really packed, and there was a lot of good competition. I’ve taken a lot from that. I’ve ran in some big races, but it was in high school and stuff. It seemed like all the big races I’ve been in I was near the front, and this time I got shoved back.

“It’s different because you don’t know what to do and don’t know who to run with.”

Still, he said, it was a fun experience and one he plans on duplicating and improving on in 2014.

“All things considered, with the season the way it went, I’m happy with it,” he said. “It was definitely a cool experience, and I was glad to be there.”

Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 970-875-1795 or nwaggenspack@craigdailypress.com.

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