Itís just four laps on the track. Itís nothing to fret about. It happens every year.
Like most cross-country coaches, Sandpointís Matt and Angie Brass use timed miles as a barometer of their teamís progress. For SHS cross-country runners, itís their first opportunity to compete after building a mileage base over the summer ≠ó all with the added bonus of seeing how fast they can run a mile outside of track season.
Yet Sandpointís time trial carries more weight. The mile is one of two determinants for the varsity rosters. Aside from next Fridayís 5K, this is an opportunity for runners to make their cases for a top-seven spot.
Donít try telling runners that a time trial isnít a race.
Racing singlets from Utah State, Palos Verdes (California) and the Bulldogsí Nike Cross Regionals stint dotted the shirtless throng on the starting line. An arcadeís worth of beeps and trills from the teamís running watches broke the nerve-wracking silence at the start line. Those who took the time trial lightly didnít show it.
Then, 40 runners leapt at the word ďgo.Ē The front pack of the boysí team separated early. Once the boys reached the 200 meter mark, they bunched together and leaned into the curve before unfurling in the straightaway. Everything from their breathing, to their cadences to even their blank, mouth-agape stares matched. The pack looked cohesive, endless.
This didnít last.
Midway through the race, Sandpointís leaders asserted themselves. Seniors Bionce Vincent and Paige Davidson climbed the ladder, moving past the junior varsity boys and newcomers who were a bit too antsy in the first lap. Rising juniors Nikolai Braedt and Lucas broke off from the team, humming along at around 70 seconds per lap; this was on pace for their goal time of 4:40.
Meanwhile Seth Graham lurked a stride behind them, inching closer and closer until he committed to taking the lead on the last lap.
ďDuring warm-ups, I thought I didnít have anything to lose. I was just going to stick with them,Ē Graham recalled afterwards. ďIf I was there on the last lap, I kind of felt like I could out-kick them. But during the race I had the mentality that I was going to fall back until I made up my mind on the third lap.Ē
He and Lucas fought stride-for-stride until Graham unleashed his finishing kick with 200 meters to go, holding on to win with a 4:37.85.
ďSeth told me before the race that he didnít want Nik and Jett to get away from him,Ē Sandpoint boysí head coach Matt Brass said. ďTrack season has really given him a newfound confidence.Ē
The time trial was a victory for 800 meter specialists. Vincent, who qualified for state in the 800 in May, outkicked Davidson to lead the girls in a 5:49.38 ó eight seconds off her track PR and the 13th fastest time of the day. Davidson and sophomore Megan Oulman rounded out the girlsí top three, who all finished under six minutes.
A workout awaited the runners at the finish line. Rest usually isnít an option with this group.
Every spring, all but eight Sandpoint track and field athletes participate in one event, regardless of specialty.
As the 4x400 meter relay teams barrel around the track for the grand finale, the Bulldogs run from straightaway to straightaway, yelling encouragement to their teammates.
This time Sandpointís sea of red looked a little different. Program alumni rolled out of bed ó or in the case of Ephriam Weisz (Ď19), a dentist office chair ó at 7 a.m. to cheer on their former teammates for what ultimately amounted to a glorified workout.
When senior Gabe Christman (4:48.91) says itís a family, he really means it. When Oulman (5:55.97) gushes upon hearing her captains were expecting great things out of her, the reaction is genuine. And, as shown by Brassí daughters Saydee and Niah present for photography and encouragement, respectively, Sandpoint cross-country is a family affair. Love in this program is close to unconditional.
Under a cloud of humming insects and with trap beats from the football practice stuttering in the distance, the time trial isnít the most glamorous first step of the season. Then again, nothing about running is.
The 40-person team will surely look different by the time its top 14 runners toe the line at the IHSAA XC Championships in Pocatello.
But itís a start.