When Reheem Hayles stepped up to the line for the running of the 600 meters at The MLK Relays on Jan. 20, it marked just the third time he would be competing at that distance and only the second time this winter.
Yet, by the time the Springfield Gardens senior had crossed the finish line, he had blistered the field and established himself as the event's top runner nationally with a time of 1:19.10. Hayles, a Jamaican native, had previously run the 600 on Dec. 8 at The Jim McKay Games (1:22.39) and in the MLK Relays (1:27.77) in January 2019.
So while he was still relatively new to the event, he wasn't surprised by the outcome. He had his sights set on the national record (1:17.58), which is held by Christopher Columbus' Strymar Livingston at the 2012 New Balance Collegiate Invitational, going in and is more determined than ever to shatter that mark.
"I was just trying to do better than I did the first time [I ran the 600]," said Hayles, 18, whose time was the sixth-best in New York State history. "I knew what I had to do and I knew I was going to PR. I was actually going for 1:18 or 1:17 but I got 1:19. I'm very close [to the record]. To be honest, when I do it again, I'm going to go out faster and harder and keep that pace. I knew I had the mindset; I just knew I had to work hard and everything would come after that.
"I'm trying to go 46 in the 400 and I'm trying to break the national record for the 600. That makes me do better all the time. I set really high goals for myself and if I reach a little bit lower than I can accept that."
Hayles' determination is one of the things that sets him apart from his competition. He came to the United States in March 2017 having had his sights set on running track since the time he was in his home country. He started off slowly but began to blossom during the outdoor season in 2019, setting the stage for his recent heroics at The Armory.
Springfield Gardens volunteer assistant Rashawn Simpson, who is also a Springfield Gardens grad, said he didn't see this kind of performance as being possible when Hayles showed up for the 2018 winter season. Hayles only ran in December that season and missed the rest of the year because of shin splints.
"Through the indoor season, I just didn't see it," Simpson said. "Outdoor, though, at the Borough Championships, I thought this could be the one. There wasn't a specific race or anything; it was his practice methods. He works himself very hard at practice and he's dedicated in the off-season. He puts 100 percent into work craft and that led me to know he was going to be good.
"We both set goals for him, sub-1:20 but he tells me he wants to go for the national record. I told him that if he wants to go for it, go for it. I think he is capable."
Hayles says he wants to turn pro someday and thinks that he could do so as early as next if he continues to work hard. Simpson also thinks he can turn pro and wouldn't "put it past him" to turn pro next year. But Simpson was also quick to point out that he thinks Hayles would benefit from a year or two of college where he can "get some seasoning when it comes to lifting" and he can spend time practicing against athletes of his own caliber.
The Southeast Conference or USC are two of Hayles' possible landing spots but he is nowhere close to making that decision. He's leaning toward studying architecture because he likes art, building things and showing his creative side.
Hayles' focus for now, though, is that record and perhaps setting another record or two in the spring. He says he prefers running outdoors because the tracks are bigger and that helps keep his times down. His PR in the outdoor 400 is 47.94 so that 46 for which he is looking remains within reach.
"Indoor tracks are too short in the turns," Hayles said. "The 200-meter track is too small the way it is shaped. I can't really go fast around the indoor corners because my strides are too long. I think I can do better indoor even though I am more comfortable outdoor."