No. 2 - East Of Arcadia
There was no single race more unexpected, and more talked about, than the Loucks 3200m. It produced 9 State Records (NY overall, NY Senior, CT overall, CT senior, NH overall, NH senior, RI overall, RI-Jun,RI-Soph). Fourth place ran 8:46.10, and was still full meters behind the top trio. A sophomore almost broke 9, (9:00.31) which would have put three underclassmen from the same team under the barrier in the same race. The fastest ever times for 2nd or 3rd place. A thirty-five second personal best for the 3rd place finisher. New York has two underclassmen at 8:55 or better. The race was unbelievable, the aura indescribable. It was one of those, "You had to be there" moments. One of our contributing writers, Glen Hazelwood, was there, and he had this to say.
On Friday, May 8th 2015, at the Glenn D. Loucks Memorial Games in White Plains, NY, I was fortunate enough to witness what may have been the greatest high school 3200m race ever. I hope that someone with better resources and more time than me crunches the numbers and substantiates that this was, in fact, the fastest one. But for the sake of this article, suffice it to say that if it wasn't the best race of all time, it was right up there.
Looking at the line-up in the days leading up to the race, you had every reason to believe that this would be a great one. All the right players were in it and the facility is outstanding. The previous year's race put four runners under 9:00, and success tends to breed further success, so I'm certain that these young men came here knowing the potential for some incredibly fast times was there. But given all that, I don't think even the most optimistic trackie could've predicted what would ultimately transpire on the White Plains oval on this night.
I'm not going to attempt to fully recreate the race in this article, because that won't work. It's a highly over used cliché, but there are some things where you just genuinely “had to be there", and this was one of those. There's no way that my words could possibly convey the intensity of this race, or just the sheer joy of watching these superb young athletes take their sport very near to the limits of which it can be done. The video on Milesplit comes a lot closer to capturing it than I could here, and even if you take a one month subscription to the site just to watch this race, please trust me that it will be completely worth it and would be money well spent.
What I will say about this race is….they went fast. Really, really fast. Faster than any athlete, coach, official or fan had any reason to believe they could. I watched the race from the fence surrounding the track about 5 meters short of the finish line. I clicked my watch at the gun and these guys were just gone. They came through the first quarter at 62 seconds, which prompted me to literally do a double-take between my watch and the race clock to see if I'd blown the start. I didn't.
Then they settled down into an incredible set of 66-67 second quarters, coming through the mile at 4:22. I said to myself, “Man, there's just nobody in this race with a shred of common sense. There's no way they're keeping this up the whole way!"
I was wrong.
They kept on going relentlessly at this pace…no one backing down, no one giving a moments respite to their competitors. Just pushing and pushing and pushing toward the finish. Another 67…followed by another one…followed by a 66 and closing with a final lap of 59, with Mike Brannigan taking the lead from Alex Ostberg with about 200m to go and finishing out the win.
I want to point out one specific thing about this final lap. A 59 second bell lap at the end of two miles at this speed doesn't come from a kick at 200 to go. That kind of close is born back at the bell, with everyone near the front and still “in it" pulling out everything they've got and taking their best shot at grabbing the win at the end. These were some of the nation's finest high school distance runners, absolutely flying around this track with all guns blazing on that final 400m…and the way Mikey Brannigan muscled his way past Ostberg and put space between himself and the rest of this elite field, at the speed they were all going, was one of the most impressive athletic performances that I have ever witnessed in my life. It was absolutely stunning.
I clicked Brannigan coming through the finish at 8:42, spitting out the almost mandatory “Holy ####..." that human nature dictates that I say in situations such as these.
Then I clicked Ostberg at 8:43!
Then I clicked Moskowitz at 8:44!!
And over the 18 seconds between Branningan crossing the line, and my watch clicking David Principe Jr. coming in at 9:00, I escalated from that softly muttered epithet to literally laughing out loud and screaming at the top of my lungs at the same time over what I just saw. This was a group of the best high school runners you could ask for, executing their talents at an unheard of level, and it was simply beautiful to watch. I texted Kyle immediately…. "3200m. W…O…W!!!"
After the race, I headed down by the staging box to catch up with my son who had run in the first heat. I found him with a bunch of the guys who'd just come off the track, and I mostly just stood back and watched and listened to them. They were all still out of breath and sweating, and I'm sure the full impact of what they'd just done hadn't really set in all the way yet. But they knew. The looks on their faces were a unique blend of disbelief and accomplishment, and the smiles couldn't be beaten off of them with a baseball bat. And the coolest part was that Ostberg's smile was just as big as Branningan's, and Moskowitz's was as big as Ostberg's, and so on and so on down the line. If you want to get a little taste of this, watch the video when Jeremy Spiezio crosses the finish line as possibly the happiest 4th place finisher in Loucks Games history. It just didn't seem like it mattered that much who won the race to this exclusive little club. There was a thoroughly tangible air of respect and admiration for each other over what they'd all just done together, and that was the best part of the whole evening for me.
This race was a textbook example of synergy. No single runner made it happen on his own. They all did it together, and I genuinely believe that if any of the top 6-8 guys in the race weren't there, it may not have gone the way it did. They fed off of one another and pushed each other to find their best, and in doing so they earned the respect of everyone in attendance, and even more importantly, their peers.
The Case for No. 1
There was a lot of discussion and arguments as whether this, or the eventual moment No. 1 deserved the top spot. The race had been unprecedented, and unplanned. Heading into the race, only three athletes had ever broken 9-mins before. Alex Ostberg had a healthy lead on the field, displayed at New Balance Indoor Nationals, and was the heavy favorite for the race. Nobody expected the pace to go out like it did. Nobody expected the finish to be as strong as it was. The only comparison you could make would be to the annual Arcadia Invitational, where people go to specifically run the 3200m, in a fast environment. For Loucks, that wasn't the case. Nobody headed into the race knowing this would be the fastest race they would ever encounter. Nobody gave up the 1600m so they could try their hand at the 3200m. It was just a collection of guys unwilling to give in, and the outcome speaks for itself. This would be the race that Mikey Brannigan would solidify his status as an All-Star. With all the close calls in the past, Brannigan simply didn't let up. It will be forever known as the race which would summarize his high school career. He never let up. Simply put, the race was historic.