We look here at a record from back in 2014. Enjoy!- - -
It's June 21, 2014 at the Brooks PR Invitational, and a special boutique made-for-the-moment 4xMile race is about to wrap up. There is absolutely no drama to be milked out of who is going to win -- but no one from NY at least will be crying over any of that spillage or nonspillage since the New Balance Outdoor National champ Northport has turned back all challengers. Ever since Mikey Brannigan was given a two second lead for the anchor leg there has been no doubt about which team will win.
There are still two big questions about this race to be answered as Northport begins its last lap, however. The Tigers have to run a 17:18 or better time to beat the state record, and with only a 75-second lap needed from Brannigan in the final 400m, only a severe leg cramp can keep the state record from going down. But he needs a 63 second lap to break the 38-year-old national HS record of 17:06.6, and that will be tougher because Brannigan pumped out a 59-second first lap and was at an average of less than 62 for the first three. That's tough to maintain on a day where temperatures are close to 80 and humidity is at a soupy 73%. This is Seattle, after all, and in June that's close to normal, so Brannigan has a lot to fight through here.
That this race is happening at all a week after NBON is unusual. For the three previous years, the Brooks Running company sponsored a true invite during February with a select group of athletes pulled in from around the country to compete in a sprint (60m), 400m, 800m, Mile, 2 Mile, and high hurdles. A meet held two weeks before New Balance Indoor Nationals allowed some of the top talent from both the west and east to compete in high-level individual races, as the Nationals meets mainly include athletes from east of the Mississippi. At the NBON 4xMile race that Northport won that June, only one squad from Bismarck ND was from further west than Indiana.
In 2014 Brooks decided to move its PR Invitational to June and keep basically the same events except that the sprints and HH distance was changed to 100m, or 110m for boys HH. For the first year outdoors, Brooks added one marquee relay event to the meet, the 4xMile just for the boys, and it would be the only time during the meet's nine-year history that a relay would be included among the standard slate of individual events. The 4xMile made sense since it is not a frequently held event and the top four times in the 4x1600m (about six seconds shorter tha 4xMile for conversion time) distance rankings were by West Coast teams at the Arcadia or Mt. Sac meets in CA.
As of early June, the only four entrants to the race were WA teams, three from around Seattle and one from Spokane, and none were among the top finishers at those 4x1600m meets in CA. But they were still a very select group that included 2013 NXN champ Gig Harbor and the perennial NXN high finisher North Central of Spokane which captured a title in 2008 and that in 2014 included star Tanner Anderson who was 3rd at the 2013 NXN and later won in the fall of 2014. Two other top schools included Nathan Hale and Garfield.
If you added up the top 1600m times for all of the squads' four runners and added that 6 second conversion factor, they all had better seed marks than the 17:21.16 time that Northport posted while winning NBON. The race commentary would note that all of the WA teams had at least three guys who could do "in the 4:15 to 4:16 range" or better, and though that was not strictly true for the Garfield team, it was a pretty good summary of the talent that any team from the east would be facing here if it did get an invite. In addition, Gig Harbor had gone east to the Armory back in March and placed 2nd in the NBIN's 4xMile to CBA Lincroft NJ, and they were a little over a second behind the Colts' winning time of 17:07.17.
The Tigers team of seniors Tim McGowan and Jack McGowan, Justin Leopold, and junior Mikey Brannigan were still celebrating their win at NBON when they landed back home and got the news that they had one more race to run, one that would give them a clear shot at a state record. At NBON, Brannigan had won the 2 Mile and Tim and Jack McGowan had finished 3rd and 4th late on Saturday before having to get up early on Sunday morning to win the 4xMile. Last minute arrangements had been made to get the Tigers entered at Brooks after winning at NBON, and they flew west carrying a planeload of drama and excitement with them for a matchup of the best of the east versus the best of the west.
The Northport quartet was a veteran group that had been running together for three years, because top star Brannigan had been already hitting times around 4:19 in the 1600m in his freshman year, not too far off the class state record. The 1600m season's bests for the top three guys were 4:07.84 for Brannigan, 4:10.84 for Tim McGowan, and 4:15.58 for Jack McGowan. But in a way the key guy for the Tigers was lead-off leg Leopold, the fifth guy on a Northport XC team that had finished 2nd at States and gone on to finish 11th out in Portland at NXN. Leopold's best time of 4:35.72 was by far the slowest mark for any of the 20 guys set to run in the 4xMile at Brooks. That time was misleading though, because Leopold was an 800m guy in his senior year who had clocked a 1:58 (projected to maybe 4:21 for the mile), and his only time for the 1600m was from a meet that also included an 800m race and an 800m relay leg. At NBON Leopold had run a 4:24.74, and factoring in that time, Northport looked to rate a 4xMile seed time of around 17:05, pretty close to the NXN champ and favorite Gig Harbor's 17:01. Of course, trying to get that great seed mark under humid conditions is another matter.
Five teams lined up on a hot steamy day at Brooks for the 4xMile, with Garfield (Central District) on the inside in white, Gig Harbor lined up second in navy, Nathan Hale (North Seattle) next in blue, North Central (North Spokane) standing fourth in red, and Northport on the outside in neon yellow. After the gun, the Tigers' Leopold settled into 4th for awhile before moving up to 3rd and 2nd before handing off 3rd after a 4:24.6 leg, almost identical to Leopold's time at NBON. Garfield (Central District)'s top guy Camryn Stanish was on the opening leg for his team and gave them a lead of about three seconds over Gig Harbor and Northport. North Central's star Tanner Anderson just did not have anything on his opening leg, and the team dropped from contention. The opening leg commentary had some strange ones about the 4xMile NBON champ Tigers such as "Northport's the squad with the 2 milers but does it equate? What have you done for me lately in the mile?" Well, one national title.
Tim McGowan (understandably misidentified as his twin Jack in the race video) showed what he could do in the mile lately by keeping everything in control on the second leg. Garfield's Aaron Schlossman blasted away early in the leg to widen the lead, but he began to tie up and McGowan zipped by him soon after the end of their third lap. The Tigers' second leg sprinted away at the finish for a 4:14.7 time to open up a four stride lead over Nathan Hale and Gig Harbor as Jack McGowan took over at around the 8:39 mark.
McGowan ran a similarly paced third leg as his twin had done on the second, as again the experienced Northport squad waited for a final surge while Gig Harbor came up to take the lead midway through the leg. By the end of the third lap, McGowan was back on the lead and blasting away to finish up a 4:18.7 leg and give anchor Mikey Brannigan a two second lead with about a 12:58 for three miles.
Though the junior Brannigan had won the 2 Mile at NBON, he clearly was not that well-known to even the commentators at the Brooks meet. To set a national record, he needed to run about 9 seconds faster than the 4:16.91 he recorded in the anchor at NBON. Though he was running all alone at Brooks, this time Brannigan had fresh legs and a stadium crowd cheering him home. The first lap was under a minute, the first three averaged 62, and he wrapped himself up in the winner's tape with a 4:08.9. Northport's 17:06.92 was the second fastest ever in US history, barely missing South Eugene's record of 17:06.6 from 1976 but ending up as an overall US 2014 best, a little ahead of CBA's time at NBIN. Nathan Hale was back in 2nd at 17:18.81, and Gig Harbor was a close 3rd at 17:19.03
In a victory celebration perhaps evoking the type of jubilation a group of guys feel when they are told they have each won a billion dollars and been granted youthful immortality by the T&F gods, the Tigers whooped it up after knocking about 11 1/2 seconds off the NY state record for the 4xMile. The trip to Seattle for the best of the east and now the best of the US was definitely worth it.
Coming off a 2013 XC season in which they finished 2nd to Fayetteville-Manlius in the States Class A race and also at the NXN-NY regional before taking 11th at Nationals, the Northport Tigers under Coach Jason Strom had to feel pretty good about their prospects for the 2014 track seasons. But gauging how well you might do in the 4xMile relay is a little harder to determine since it is so rarely run at any meet before Nationals. It was an event that they had to be thinking about though come March and June because in 2013 they had finished 5th at NBIN at 17:28.79 and then three months later moved up to 3rd at NBON with a time of 17:20.11 that was less than two seconds off the state record. Mikey Brannigan and Tim McGowan were on the 2013 4xMile and were back for the 2014 season.
Brannigan had finished the XC season tied with with Rush Henrietta's Mickey Burke with the top NY speed rating, and he had been impressing ever since his 8th grade season when he and James Burke of nearby Port Jefferson had spent 2011 eating up the NY record books for their grade class in the 1600m and mile. The top Tiger was autistic, which would lead to his qualification to win world championship titles in the years ahead in Paralympic competitions. Brannigan was unrivaled for the enthusiasm he put into his runs, but he did have a small weakness in his skills, the lack of a finish-line lean that would cost him the 2013 XC States title by .3 seconds, the 2014 indoor States 1000m title by .07, and the 2014 outdoor States 1600m title by .02. But if Brannigan was unlucky at the finish line, he was lucky in 2014 to have a lot of Tigers around him that could run really fast.
Tim and Jack McGowan had followed up strong sophomore seasons in 2012 with continued improvements in 2013, when Tim was 4th in the indoor States 3200m and 2nd at States outdoor. At the NXN-NY regionals in XC, the McGowans had combined with champ Brannigan to give the Tigers three guys in the top 16, and Justin Leopold had followed in his teammate Nick Termine in 57th to nail down Northport's first visit trip west to Nationals. Leopold concentrated on the 800m, and it was naturally the 4x800m relay that would be Northport's focus for most of the 2014 track seasons.
The indoor season got a big early boost in early January at the Hispanic Games when Brannigan won the mile in 4:17.04 and Tim McGowan was 5th in 4:21.63, earning them spots in the Millrose Games. At the Molloy Stanner Games the team captured the 4x800m relay in a strong 8:04.63 after the McGowans and Brannigan went 1-2-3 in the 3200m. The Millrose mile in mid February had a reversal as Brannigan had an off day and finished 12th while Tim McGowan ran a 4:10.28 to take 2nd behind Tappan Zee's Luke Gavigan.
The final stages of the indoor season had some successes, especially for Tim McGowan. He held off Saratoga's Aidan Tooker to capture the States 3200m title at 9:07.80, while Brannigan got nipped in the 1000m by North Rockland's Liam Purdy. The 4x800m squad that included Devin Sullivan instead of Leopold finished back at 8th. A week later at indoor Nationals, Brannigan finished 8th in the Mile at 4:14.68, while Tim McGowan took 4th in the 2 Mile at 9:00.20 and Jack was 8th in 9:09.58. The three guys then joined with Sullivan to take a 4th in the distance medley relay at 10:04.98 with Tim McGowan contributing a 4:12.88 for the 1600m anchor.
The 2014 outdoor season got going in a big way at Red Raider Relays when Brannigan set a meet record in the 1600m at 4:15.01 while Tim McGowan took 2nd at 4:17.77, and Jack McGowan captured the 3200m race. Brannigan was also 2nd in the 800m and Leopold 10th, and the four guys teamed up to win the DMR at 10:33.32. Two weeks later at Penn Relays they got the DMR time down to 10: 03.77 while placing 2nd to West Chester Henderson PA. At the St. Anthony's Invite in early May, Northport gave a nice audition for the Brooks PR meet as the swept the top three spots in the 1600m with Tim McGowan at 4:10.84, Brannigan at 4:11.09, and Jack McGowan at 4:15.58. At Loucks a week later, the Tigers put their top three guys in the 3200m and Tim McGowan in 3rd at 8:53.36 and Brannigan in 4th at 8:54.67 were two of the four guys running under the previous meet record, while Jack McGowan was 5th at 9:01.98. In 2015, Brannigan would return to Loucks to lead perhaps the most spectacular high school 3200m ever.
Outdoor States for the Tigers had some near misses. Tim McGowan bettered his indoor States championship time by running a 9:06.01 in the 3200, but it earned him a 3rd. Brannigan lost to Gavigan by .02 in the 1600m with a 4:07.84 in the 1600m. There wasn't a whole lot left over for the 4x800m as the Tigers placed 12th.
The schedule for NBON a week after States was a tight one for the Tigers, with Brannigan and the McGowans running in the 2 Mile on Saturday evening and then needing a quick turnaround for the 4xMile early on Sunday morning. Somehow they did it, as Brannigan won over Loudon Valley's Drew Hunter at 8:53.09, Tim McGowan was 3rd at 8:56.60, and Jack McGowan 4th at 8:57.57. Then they got a good night's sleep and were back first thing the next morning to capture the 4xMile at 17:21.16.
From there negotiations were quickly completed to get the East's champs out to Seattle for the Brooks PR Invite and the marquee matchup, especially with NXN champ and NBIN 4xMile runner-up Gig Harbor. The Northport guys did not disappoint, setting a new state record with a time of 17:06.92 was 2nd best nationally at the time and that in reality is now the 5th best ever in an outdoor season (see note below about records controversy).
Brannigan still had one more year left to go with Northport, which would include a win at Federations in XC, another agonizingly close loss by .03 at indoor States in the 3200m to Aidan Tooker, and a crushing of the state's outdoor 3200m record with a 8:42.92 when he led ten runners under the 9:00 mark. Two years later at the 2017 World Paralympics championship, he captured wins in the 800m and 1500m and was 2nd in the 5000m.
Tim McGowan went on to run for Penn State, Jack McGowan ran with Wake Forest, and Justin Leopold ran for Elon University.
The previous state record for the 4xMile was held by the 2006 Fayetteville-Manlius team that ran 17:18.33 at Nike Outdoor Nationals. That squad was part of a team that had finished 3rd the previous fall at NXN and included Geoff King, John Heron, Owen Kimple, and Tommy Gruenewald.
Note on the time controversy: Northport's time of 17:06.92 at the Brooks PR Invite in 2014 is the time that was certified by meet officials, and should be the only one listed. However, for reasons known only to the RunnerSpace--DyeStat-Track and Field News T&F associations, they have added 3.28 seconds to the time and changed it to a 17:10.2 mark in their records, even making it look like it was a handheld time. Back in 2014, a mention of insufficient cone markers on the curve were cited as an excuse for the change, though the race video shows that claim to be false. I can find no other times at the meet that the group reported with the 3.28 second alteration. Changing the ascertained times for a meet should never be done and is a flagrant violation of track and field standard practices. We strongly urge the RS-DS-T&FN associations to correct their records and finally do right by the Northport athletes. After six years, it is about time.
Interview with Northport 4xMile squad on the day before the meet.