Middle and high school athletes find running outlet in Summit Distance Project
DILLON — Dozens of members of Summit County’s local distance-running community have come together this summer to pass time and train during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The Summit Distance Project has met up on local trails three days a week since mid-June, providing an outlet for the county’s middle and high school athletes amid uncertainty with school and sports. Led by championship high school and collegiate running coaches Eva and Mike Hagen, the Summit Distance Project is a free program for cross-country runners, skiers and other athletes to spend time with friends and prep for possible fall sports.
The program has increased in popularity in its third year, Eva Hagen said, and has expanded to include more high school athletes as well as a post-graduate junior coach in Jeremiah Vaille. After working with Summit High School Director of Athletics Travis Avery regarding COVID-19 clearance and health protocols, the Hagens started up the program June 18. Since then, as many as 39 runners have met at 8:30 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at locations such as the Little Red Schoolhouse in Breckenridge and the Dickey Day Use Area in Frisco to go trail running.
In recent weeks, Summit Distance Project athletes have entered the town of Frisco and Breckenridge’s virtual Strava-based trail running series. Taking part in the virtual races as a group, the young athletes have a chance at the closest thing to sporting camaraderie they’ll find this summer.
“It’s working out really well and is super motivating for the kids,” Eva Hagen said. “They are racing each other, and even on a Strava format, it’s super motivating for them to get out and actually race. … I think it’s something to look forward to for them. They can see where their training is taking them. Right now, we are not certain if they will have a cross-country season, but the races are fun.”
Ahead of the start of Vaille’s college running career at Colorado School of Mines in a few weeks, the Hagens’ program has given him a chance to continue training locally while trying his hand at coaching. He described his role as kind of an understudy to the Hagens.
Vaille said it feels like he’s back in his captain’s role for the Summit High cross-country team because he knows many of the young athletes well, including up-and-coming Tigers running stars Dom Remeikis, Zach McBride and Alice Wescott.
“I try to be someone the youth look up to, as I’m a few years older than them, because I know they can do just as great as me,” Vaille said. “… It’s also helpful to have an extra person who knows the trails, to lead people, to pace, to do whatever else they ask of me.”
Vaille and other cross-country athletes aren’t the only youngsters running with the Hagens. Eva Hagen said multiple swimmers and skiers are using the program for summer conditioning. She said the community has learned about the weekly program through word of mouth, and she hopes to keep it going through mid- to late August depending on when school resumes. She said the plan is to conclude the summer with a minicamp that will include specifics on training and nutrition while also factoring in time for fun, like group bonfires with s’mores.
“It’s great to have a little bit more of a normal part of summer thanks to the program,” Vaille said.
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