Moffat County High School cross-country runners Alfredo Lebron, left, and Chris Zirkle shake hands before warming up for a recent practice. The two have finished their last six races 1-2, with Zirkle in first and Lebron in second. They will join the rest of the MCHS team today at the regional meet hosted by Montezuma-Cortez.

Photo by Andy Bockelman

Moffat County High School cross-country runners Alfredo Lebron, left, and Chris Zirkle shake hands before warming up for a recent practice. The two have finished their last six races 1-2, with Zirkle in first and Lebron in second. They will join the rest of the MCHS team today at the regional meet hosted by Montezuma-Cortez.

Moffat County runners making a habit of leading the pack

Six consecutive first-place finishes isn’t enough for Moffat County High School cross-country runner Chris Zirkle. He wants lucky number seven.

At each of the last six meets, the senior homeschool student from Hayden who runs for MCHS has not only finished at the front of the pack, but he’s also had a friendly face behind him each time — MCHS junior Alfredo Lebron.

Zirkle and Lebron are among the team of runners who will represent Moffat County today at the regional cross-country meet at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds.

Statistically, the two are the Bulldogs’ strongest competitors.

Zirkle said the friendly rivalry with his teammate has been an inspiration for him to power through every race.

“It’s tough because he’s always right there behind me, and I don’t want him to beat me, but I know that if he does, it’s not that big a deal,” he said.

Since the start of their streak at Grand Junction Central’s Warrior Invitational, Zirkle and Lebron have been within seconds of each other every race, with their personal bests coming at Fruita Monument’s Anna Banana Memorial Invitational.

In that race, Zirkle clocked in at 15 minutes and 52 seconds, and Lebron at 15 minutes and 53 seconds.

Lebron said the two runners remain in close proximity throughout most of each race, but Zirkle has pulled ahead in the final minutes every time.

“He really has that kick and he goes all out,” Lebron said. “I’d say that’s my weakness, trying to keep up instead of catch up.”

Lebron said his own strong point on the course is usually in the first mile, after which he focuses on keeping his stride rather than pulling out in front. For Zirkle, it’s the opposite, as he prefers finishing strong the last mile.

“As a long-distance guy, the further I run, the better I get, so I think the last mile really helps me out,” he said.

Zirkle and Lebron started on the cross-country team about the same time — Zirkle was a sophomore and Lebron a freshman.

Zirkle got involved with the MCHS team because Hayden High School doesn’t have a cross-country team. His older sister, Laura, was a senior on the MCHS cross-country team in his first year.

“It would’ve been kind of scary going over to Craig and not knowing anybody, but since she was there, she helped me get to know everyone and made it a lot easier for me,” he said.

In the spring, Zirkle runs on the Hayden track team, which pits him against some of his cross-country teammates.

“It’s kind of hard because they’re still running together and I wish I was running with them, but it’s cool to run for my own town,” he said.

Zirkle placed third in the 3,200-meter run at the 2A state track and field championships this spring.

He also took home a first-place finish in the 2009 cross-country regionals, and finished sixth at state. Last year, Lebron came in 16th in both regionals and state.

Lebron said he hopes to do his best in today’s competition. He doesn’t plan to make it easy for Zirkle to win, though.

“I’ll keep trying to pull ahead,” Lebron said.

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