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10th Nike Indoor Nationals

March 15-16, 2008 at Prince George's County Sportsplex, Landover MD

DyeStat on-site

NIN 2 Mile: The Faster, The Better

Winning is great, but fast times are at least as important for top contenders

By SteveU

Along with his Boston win, Luke repeated in the Simplot 1600. Photo John Dye
It’s probably not fair, this affection for the 2-mile. Sprinters, jumpers, throwers and their proponents may roll their eyes, but in this sport – particularly among the DyeStat Nation and online community … and especially, it seems, at the Nike meets – we love the deuce. Every year, we are pumping up the NIN, NON, and Arcadia 2-miles (or 3200s), speculating on how many sub-9s we can squeeze out of this year’s field. Last spring certainly did nothing to alter that trend. With the weather gods blessing Greensboro with 60-degree temperatures in mid-June, Matt Centrowitz and Craig Forys led the greatest mass 2-mile finish in US history.

Now this weekend, the hype is at a fever pitch again, this time for 16 laps around the PG Sportsplex oval. Is it justified?

Yes, it appears so.

An intriguing mix of top distance titans are going to gather Sunday to chase the sub-9 and the top spots on the medal stand, and maybe it’s a tribute to just how strong and deep boys prep distance running is becoming that the excitement can be at this level without three distance runners who are arguably the nation’s best – Chris Derrick, Mike Fout, and German Fernandez.

Yes, even without those dudes, this is one kickin field. Check it out:
  • Luke Puskedra and Colby Lowe – These two don’t have an indoor deuce between them this winter. But the only 2-mile races Matt Centrowitz ran last year were the two Nike races and it didn’t hurt him any. Besides, we all saw Luke and Colby redline everyone in Boston over the mile and dual to the finish in 4:08.77 and 4:08.99. And that’s not even their best event. The best thing about these guys is they avoid slow, kickers’ paces like the plague.
  • Brian Leung, Brandon Jarrett, and Doug Smith – New Jersey has been the US epicenter of quality deucing this winter, thanks to these three. The race of the year so far has been Leung’s epic win over Smith at the NJ MOC 3200 a few weeks back, 8:59.77-9:01.86, while Jarrett glided to a 9:05.35 2M a few weeks earlier. Props has to go to the NSSF for bringing these three together, because – guess what – the only time they’ve all three raced each other all year is at Foot Locker Northeast.
  • And many more – Four more Foot Locker Finalists (in addition to Puskedra, Lowe, Leung, and Jarrett) are in the field: Patrick Campbell NC, Mark Dennin PA, Luke Lovelace SC, and Maverick Darling MI. But these guys below, each of whom missed making it to San Diego, may have a better chance of infiltrating the Fab Five above.
    • Pete Dorrell VA – Has run 9:06 3200, 4:14 1600, 2:28 1k this winter, the latter two in a superlative VA state meet double.
    • Bobby Aprill MI – Showed great form with a solo 9:10 3200 several weeks ago
    • Sean Keveren TN – Just 9:15 2M so far this year, but 8:55.16 2M outdoors last year.
Colby was unbeaten in XC until NTN, including this Foot Locker South victory.
Photo Ken Charnock.

The excitement comes from the number of fast kids in the race; the intrigue from … well, let’s call it the “Team Front Runners” vs. “Team New Jersey” angle.

Puskedra’s impulse for front-running is deeper and more pronounced than most people know. “When he was a freshman and sophomore, and no one knew who he was, what he would do is go out in 60 seconds for the first lap of every race and die,” said his coach at Judge Memorial UT, Dan Quinn. “When he first came out, he told me he wanted to run a mile in four minutes, and he knew that was 60 seconds a lap.”

While a lot has happened to temper that impulse, at least a little, Puskedra has also been at the effect of factors to help him reach that goal. The work ethic of former teammate Patrick Smythe helped – the current Notre Dame standout was a senior when Puskedra was a freshman – as did a growth spurt of 9 inches between his sophomore and junior year. Of course, it took a while for his running form to catch up with his new body, but through dedication to core drills and other strength training, Luke became a powerful runner. Coach Quinn knew they really had something special when his junior cut his 1600 PR by 11 seconds to win Simplot last year in 4:13.

Still, despite a fantastic fall that saw Puskedra go unbeaten until Foot Locker West and place 5th at FL Finals, it was really the Boston Mile race in January that really made it clear that he was developing a finish to match his start. It didn’t hurt that Colby Lowe stepped in to challenge and lead some of the race, giving Luke someone to work off, and, lo and behold, outrun at the finish. “People know now that they have to respect Luke’s ability to kick,” said Coach Quinn.

“I did find a gear in that race I didn’t know I had,” Puskedra admitted. But don’t expect to find him changing his strategy any time soon. “I know championship races are sometimes won by someone who sits and kicks, but I’d rather finish last with a great time than first with a poor time … I’m going to make sure and hit my pace.”

Brandon impressed a lot of people with his Foot Locker 6th. Photo John Nepolitan
Lowe, the Southlake Carroll TX senior who executed a 9:04/4:14 outdoor double for 3200/1600 in cold conditions last week, has similar sentiments. “I like to run fast. Whenever I go out there, I like to give 100 percent, no matter what the day is like.

“The best way to get the most out of something is to go out fast and push your body to the limit.”

Brian Leung, Brandon Jarrett, Doug Smith and their coaches all know they’re going to have to push their bodies to the limit, too, to stay in the race. But they wouldn’t have it any other way … and they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to compete in such a great field.

“We’re excited,” said Jarrett’s coach at St. Benedict’s NJ, Marty Hannon. “We were debating early on about running the 5k in The Armory. But when this opportunity came along, how could we pass it up? This will be an awesome experience.”

“We hope it’s fast,” said Smith’s coach at Gill St. Bernard’s NJ, Ryan Grote. “Doug just has to stay in there and stay relaxed. I think all three of them can be up there.”

One of many highlights for Brian this winter was his Eastern States DMR anchor. Photo John Nepolitan
The three of them have already made this a season for the ages in New Jersey. Through Feb. 16, Smith had a US#1 8:24.3 3k and a 9:06.05 3200 to his credit, Jarrett a 9:05.35 2M, and Leung a 9:02.61 3200. But the highlight was unquestionably the NJ MOC 3200 a week later.

“There was a lot of hype on that race,” said Kurt Wayton, Leung’s coach at West Windsor-Plainsboro South. “If you could have been there … All of the anxiety came out in the second mile (4:24, after 4:35 opener for Leung). There were no losers between those guys in that race.”

The NJ trio are all friends and have either trained with each other at times or corresponded with each other. “It’s just amazing to have us so close together like this,” said Jarrett.

“As much as they want to beat each other, their goals are bigger than that,” added Coach Wayton. “They want to see themselves evolve into the top five in the US.”

Coach Grote acknowledged how exciting it would be for New Jersey running to sweep the first three places, but also knows the magnitude of that challenge. For now, “It’s nice to have the three fastest times in the country right now from New Jersey,” he said.

Though he's more of a long distance runner, Doug got an invite to Millrose, where he made a bid for the win before Kyle Merber triumphed. Photo John Nepolitan
Another goal that’s out there for one of this trio is the fastest time in Jersey history. That would be the 8:59.7 for the full deuce, authored by Kevin Byrne in 1977. Byrne, according to Coach Hannon, is thrilled about the success of all three standouts and rooting for one or more of them to lower his 31-year-old standard.

So, it looks like all of the top dogs in the field want to run fast. Winning almost seems secondary.

In a race like this, in fact, with so many runners with PRs this close to each other, putting pressure on an athlete to win can be counterproductive, said Coach Wayton. “We work on themes,” he said, “to work on getting out where the race is, being tough in the middle, and giving yourself a shot at the end of the race.”

And in the larger picture, that’s what it is, a race of themes. The hard-pace, front-running theme, the New Jersey theme, and the darkhorse theme, too, with Dorrell, Aprill, Keveren and others having a shot to make some noise.

Someone will win at the end, but if three or more runners break 9:00, the race may be remembered as much for that. Only once in history - the L.A. Times 2-mile in 1976 - have more than two preps broken 9:00 for an indoor 2M, and never at NIN.

“We have 6-8 really, really strong kids in the race,” said AJ Holzherr of the NSSF. “The most sub-9s we’ve had in our meet is two, but there’s certainly a chance to top that this weekend. Colby and Luke bring an honesty factor into the race. Of course, we don’t know for sure, but prior history indicates these guys will go out hard. That’s the way they race.”

Well, then. Let the racing begin.

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