Brunner wins National High School Trail Championships title
Middaugh takes second as Almonte grabs fourth in girls championship race
Battle Mountain’s Will Brunner claimed the National High School Trail Championships (NHSTC) title in Salida on July 30, covering the 5.4-mile course in 32 minutes and 13 seconds, 14 seconds ahead of second-place finisher — and his Husky teammate — Porter Middaugh. Benjamin Anderson (33:03) of Mountain Vista rounded out the podium, with Eagle Valley High School’s Jake Drever finishing fourth (33:24) in a stacked field that featured several of Colorado’s spring state track champions.
“It went really well for both of us,” Brunner said. “I think we really pushed each other and set a good tone for the season; racing against those good guys has given us confidence.”
Middaugh and Brunner separated from the 77-person field, including 4A 1600 and 3200-meter state champion Connor McCormick, on the course’s opening switchback climbs. Going from 7,083 feet to a high point of 7,500, professional trail runner and American Trail Running Association reporter Tayte Pollman described the course as “a lung burner from the very beginning,” with a mix of “punchy climbs and descents.”
“You’re in the pain cave right away,” Brunner laughed.
“Luckily Porter was with me the whole time. Being with him on a trail, in pain — I was pretty used to that,” he continued.
“Just having him there — I know we’re both in pain and so if he’s doing it, I feel like I can do it, you know? Being good friends and doing it together definitely made it a lot easier.”
The incoming juniors have been training together daily, often holding one another accountable for workouts and even checking each other’s training data when they don’t meet up.
“He’s one of the reasons running has been so fun,” said the consistently improving Brunner, who spent last spring quietly closing the gap on both Middaugh brothers — busy chasing down Battle Mountain’s 3200-meter record — at every meet.
“Some of the success I’ve had is honestly because of him,” Brunner said.
Brunner made his decisive move on the flat final mile.
“We knew if it stayed until the end, there would be a sprint,” he said of his strategy. “But, it’s the middle of summer — I don’t have too much of a kick — so I made my move at about a mile left.” Picking up his mile pace by about 15 seconds created a gap he sustained to the finish.
McCormick, whose 4:06 and 9:03 state-winning times set a new standard for elite spring performance, was a non-factor in the final standings, finishing in 20th.
“Of anyone in the field, he has the fastest track times, he is a crazy finisher,” Brunner said of McCormick. “I don’t think he had his best race.”
The Vail Valley’s lone female representative, Milaina Almonte, finished fourth in the girls championship race, running 39:13. Sophomore Keeghan Edwards, used her track pedigree to solo a 37:35 win.
Almonte and Rosie Mucharsky were expected to contend up front, especially considering their impressive results at last month’s International U18 Mountain Running Cup in Italy. The pair traded places throughout that race before Mucharsky eventually wound up in 18th, just two seconds ahead of the Husky harrier. Mucharsky wound up second on Saturday in 38:19, with Jade Allen (38:48) rounding out the podium.
In 2021’s championship, Porter was out-leaned at the line by his brother, Sullivan, who still has the event record (31:52) from his 2020 win. Despite their close friendship, Brunner joked that he can’t tease Porter about two straight second-places.
“I’m not going to push any boundaries yet,” he said, noting with an affectionate humor of a freshmen-year race where he beat Middaugh on his teammate’s birthday, “a sore subject.”
“I think down the road we’ll be able to crack some jokes about it.”
Both athletes are stoked about what the outcome means for fall and winter’s championship season.
“What Porter said to me after the race was, ‘that set the stage for the season,’” Brunner relayed.
Brunner said the pair’s training quantity has increased to a degree, but the more noticeable improvement has been in quality.
“For me personally, I’ve definitely taken a step forward,” he said. Attending two summer running camps — at Duke and Stanford — furthered his exposure to elite high school and college running. Brunner said he’s dreamed of being a collegiate athlete since he was 5, recalling stories of his NCAA-competing cousins extolling the benefits of “free stuff” and access to training amenities like a weight room, track and nutritionists.
“That’s always been cool to me — just being healthy, in shape — and the opportunities that college brings,” he said.
“I think the lifestyle sounds really cool. There’s something really appealing about it. I also just love the team culture; and we have that at Battle Mountain, too. There’s the intensity and we all feel like brothers.”
The Huskies first official practice starts in a week, and Brunner believes the entire team is chomping at the bit.
“We’re looking ahead, but it’s good to start the season with a little success, especially with a race like that — it was a good racing environment,” he said.
“The people were cool, the atmosphere was good — I think it was a good way to start the season.”