Hayden’s Zirkle running to state glory | SteamboatToday.com

Hayden’s Zirkle running to state glory

Hayden senior, other local track teams to compete close to home

Hayden High School senior Chris Zirkle leads the way in the 3

Hayden High School senior Chris Zirkle leads the way in the 3,200-meter race last weekend at a meet in Rifle. He went on to win the race easily. Zirkle is the top-ranked 3,200-meter runner in Colorado's Class 2A and is a favorite in the event at next month's state track meet.
Joel Reichenberger

— Track meets today in Craig and Saturday in Kremmling will represent the closest-to-home meets for local high school teams this season.

Steamboat, Hayden and Sor­­oco high schools are scheduled to compete in the Clint Wells Invitational at 1 p.m. today at Moffat County High School, while Hayden and Soroco will travel Saturday to West Grand High School and Steamboat will head to Battle Mountain.

For Tigers runner Chris Zirkle, today’s meet in Craig is more than close to home. For half of his competitive season each year, it is home.

Zirkle, a senior who has starred on the talented Moffat County cross-country team every fall for the past four years, runs for Hayden in spring. This year, he's on a dominating course in his two signature events, the 3,200- and 1,600-meter runs.

"I just want to win," he said. "That's my only goal."

Zirkle entered this school year intent on making it the best of his career, thanks in part to motivation provided by a miserable — by his definition, anyway — performance at last year's Class 2A state track meet in Lakewood.

He finished a distant third in the 3,200-meter run. A ninth-place finish in the 1,600-meter run sticks with him the most.

Zirkle has the easy laugh of a high school senior weeks away from graduation, but track always has served to tweak his outlook, creating almost a second personality. He was angry last year at state and he pounded the gravel all winter with a newfound focus.

"I ran a terrible (1,600) at state," he said Tuesday. "That really motivated me to work hard this summer and winter because I want to do a lot better than I did last year."

He said he averaged about four miles a week in winter of his junior season but upped it to 45 miles a week as a senior.

It's made a difference on the track.

"I've really worked hard on my form, and I've naturally gotten faster as far as sprinting speed is concerned," Zirkle said.

He put it all to work in his most recent race, blowing away the field Saturday at a meet in Rifle for an easy win in the 3,200-meter run. There was no smile to be found as he racked up the laps and built a big lead.

Still, he has hesitated before dedicating his next four years to running, well aware that everything may change in college. He has opted to accept a scholarship to compete next season for Garden City (Kan.) Community College rather than pursue a four-year institution straight out of high school.

"I really like the idea of two years," he said. "I'm not sure if I want to keep doing this, and I don't want to be locked in for four whole years."

While he remains unsure about where he wants his legs to take him in life, he knows where he wants them to take him this season.

Nothing but first will do.

So far, so good. He's recorded the fastest Class 2A time this season in the 3,200 — his mark of 9 minutes, 51.79 seconds is seven seconds faster than his nearest rival, Ty Williams, of Telluride.

Williams, meanwhile, holds a slight edge in the 1,600-meter run, with his season best of 4:32.46 edging Zirkle by four seconds.

The end of the story remains three full weeks away. Zirkle is a lock to make state in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs but is likely to opt out of the 800. He has the state's seventh best time in that event, easily good enough to include him in the state field, which is composed of the season's top 18 runners.

He'd likely be a part of a Hayden 3,200-meter relay team, though that squad has work to do if it's to make state. It's currently ranked No. 23.

He was unsure earlier this week how he'd split up his competitions between today’s races in Craig and Saturday's in Kremmling. Either way, he expects to hit the track both places with the intensity that has him on track for a state championship.

"I'm really happy with how I'm doing so far," he said. "This season is going really well."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com