By Jim McElhatton
The 800-meter run is two laps around a track. A little more than 15-feet short of a half-mile, the event requires speed and endurance. It is too far for most sprinters who lack the endurance, but too fast for most distance runners who lack the speed.
Because it demands competitors run both fast and far, the race is frequently mentioned as perhaps the most grueling event in track and field.
In the final hours of the Draper Invitational Saturday, a big two-day meet at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes, two 800-meter runners turned in record setting performances. One shattered a 15-year old meet record. The other came in last.
The first runner was Megan Wilson, a junior at Sidwell Friends. Her best time in the 800 entering the race was 2:16, though she hadn’t run an outdoor race yet this year.
By the 100-meter mark, she had grabbed the lead and never gave it back.
Of 36 competitors, she finished first in 2:12, which was five seconds ahead of her nearest competitor, four seconds faster than her previous personal record and one second quicker than the Draper record set by Good Counsel’s Erin Sicher in 1998.
“I was just trying get out front and stay strong through the third 200 [meters] and keep it going until the finish,” she said. “I felt good so I just went with it.”
Records are hard to come at the Draper. For more than three decades, the Saints have hosted dozens of high school track and field teams at the yearly invitational, where a quick glance at the record books reveals just how tough the competition is each spring.
The U.S. record-holder in the mile, Alan Webb, for instance, ran at the Draper more than a decade ago and still holds the 800-meter and 1600-meter records.
Former Olympic hurdler Lynda Tolbert’s record long jump in 1983 still stands, and Darius Heyward Bey, now a star receiver for the Indianapolis Colts, set the 100-meter record in 2004 in 10.2 seconds.
Perhaps the clearest example of the heightened competition was the fact that Saints senior standout Lizzie Zulauf broke a new school record for the home team in the 3,200 meter run, finishing with a time of 12:26. At the Draper, though, that placed her 13th out of 29 runners.
Zulauf said competing in a faster field no doubt made her faster, too. It was no coincidence that the school record she broke was the one she’d set at last year’s Draper, which is named for Major Gen. Philip H. Draper, Jr., who donated the track to the school in 1981.
“I knew they were running the kind of times that I wanted to run and so I just tried to stick with them,” she said.
By the end of the meet, the McDonogh School in Baltimore took both the boys and girls titles, while the home team Saints and local squads Bishop Ireton and Episcopal turned in strong individual performances.
Among other top finishers for local teams, Zulauf’s teammate Alison Lindsay finished second overall the girls 1,600-meter run. Episcopal senior Austin Wiles won the high jump while Daniel Abebiyi took silver in the discus throw. Saints senior Aires Reyes placed third in the 400-meter run.
For Ireton, Hershey Grace, a freshman, finished third in the 100-meter just ahead of teammate Nicole Bond in fourth.
Meanwhile, across town, the T.C. Williams boys squad won the Titans’ home invitational, as Noah Lyles placed first in the 100-meter and 400-meter dashes. The girls placed fourth with wins in the shot put and discus throw by sophomore Iye Massaquoi.
One of the last races of the Draper was the boys 800-meter run. Matthew Huerta, a sophomore* at St. Anselm’s Abbey School, was excited just to be in the race. Last year, his time wasn’t fast enough to qualify.
As he lined up against some of the fastest runners in the region, he kept his coach’s advice in mind: “Get out there, let them go out really fast and just try to hang on.”
Huerta ran cross country in the fall, which is a distance of just over 3 miles, or six times longer than the 800-meter run. Still, he found this shorter race much tougher.
“From a runner’s standpoint it’s harder,” Huerta said, citing the faster pace.
Huerta finished last in his heat, but the pained look on his face as he crossed the finish suggested that if there was a medal in pushing one’s self, his name probably would be in a record book, too.
“I was proud of the fact I was running against some of the best athletes in the D.C. area, and that gave me the confidence to push myself,” he said after the race.
“In the end, while I finished last, I did get a [personal record], and I’m very pleased about that.”
Like Wilson’s record setting performance, Huerta shaved four seconds off of his best time.