A post-midseason New Hampshire track report, live from Utah
It's turning out to be a very special, very top-heavy season
Despite the site’s putative anti-corruption theme, I’m obligated to devote a modicum of attention to distance running’s competitive aspects, not that this is a chore. If I didn’t, my mind wouldn’t retain enough solidity to support that critical mission; Chronic overexposure to Wokish culture, as with long-term ethanol and country-music abuse, carries a high risk of profound and irreversible brain-rot. This only makes sense; were distance running a disposable sport, with no integral aspects worth emphasizing and defending where necessary, why lament the fact that its coverage now largely belongs to staunch propagandists? If I viewed running as having devolved into an athletic booby-prize, I’d leave the clucking hens to fight over the scraps of it, and quickly find something else to bitch about (scorn, like cinematic dinosaurs, always finds a way).
But distance running per se is as great as ever, and among the ways I continue to keep my focus where it needs to be, sometimes, is by following the New Hampshire high-school track season.
There are two compelling and overlapping narratives here: One is that the son of one of my classmates—someone I talked into running cross-country in 1984 because we were besties at the time and I didn’t want to be the lone ninth-grader on the team, the rest of which was at the high school up the road from the junior high—is inching ever closer to the 33-year-old school record in the 1,600 meters. The other narrative, encompassing the first, is that the state features at least four kids, two of them sophomore boys, who can already stake a claim to being once-in-a-generation talents—with the caveat that such talents are now emerging far more often than once every couple of decades or so.
I have to stress again that even for those with no ties to New Hampshire, the people in charge of promoting high-school running there make it very easy and fun to follow from afar. If you’re a basic distance-running fan with some time to burn, and you obviously have a little because duh, you should keep tabs on the season on NewHampshireTrackAndField.com and its YouTube channel, where you can find videos of every track and field event from the weekend elite mini-meets forming the backbone of the 2021 pre-championship season. Getting acquainted with the cast of male and female distance characters in a state with fewer people than Manhattan (and far fewer proudly obnoxious people) at is no more difficult than learning the names of every drooling goober on your favorite sitcom, and—thanks to the expertly pointed commentary of Jim MacKenzie and company, all of whom could do voices for Family Guy—is often far funnier.
I last visited this scene almost three weeks ago, after Eben Bragg ran 4:18.15 to come well within range of Chris Basha’s 33-year-old Concord High School record of 4:15.5, doing so with lopsided negative splits and in windy conditions. I now have to clarify that the only online evidence I can point to confirming Basha’s time, which he ran at the 1988 Meet of Champions to set a state record, comes from Kevin Beck himself.
If this were the New York Times, I could gleefully count this as “independent corroboration.” But the truth is that, while I watched Basha run the race and am certain that 4:15.5 is the correct mark, I don’t know whether it was recorded via fully automatic timing (FAT). That is, it might have been 4:15.50 (FAT), or it might have been a hand-timed 4:15.4x rounded up to the nearest tenth. My teammate at the time and soon-to-be co-author Troy Patoine has a DVD of the ‘88 Meet of Champs—which includes not just Basha’s zippy run but my own uninspired fifth-place 9:49 finish in the 3,200 meters an hour or so later—and that footage could serve to verify the kind of timing equipment used.
Regardless, I’m confident that the requirement for breaking the record at this precise moment in history is a mark of 4:15.49 or faster. While I think the record will be several seconds under that at season’s end, the technicalities became something of an issue after the boys’ 1,600 meters at the fourth elite mini-meet, held last Friday. That race, or at least the pre-event banter, starts 18:47 into the video below. (This was really the third mini-meet, as the first was canceled owing to weather. Labels stick, I guess.)
Bragg’s time in the official results, 4:15.61, is 0.11 seconds shy of Basha’s record. The splits tell a story almost identical to that of the 4:18.15 he ran two weeks earlier: He had a good three more seconds in there somewhere, but this wasn’t an opportunity to use it. Bragg is wise to continue learning how to beat the Coe-Brown fellows no matter the tale told by the watch. Or the FAT equipment.
After the race, there was some scuttle in the Concord camp that if Basha’s record was a hand-timed mark, then the corresponding FAT mark would be 4:15.74, giving Bragg the new record. This, however, incorporates the incorrect assumption that the conversion factor of 0.24 used for the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes applies to all track events, when in fact, for the 800 meters on up, no further conversion is needed after rounding up the hand-timed mark to the nearest tenth of a second. (For the 300-meter intermediate hurdles and the 400 meters, a conversion of 0.14 is used.)1
If you knock the time-bar back to 9:45 in the video, you can watch Coe-Brown senior Addison Cox run a personal-best 4:55.89 off an aggressive pace. That’s a nice complement to the 10:30.23 3,200 meters she ran on April 24 in an intrasquad meet. Addie, one of the true prodigies I mentioned above, is all the way back and then some from a case of Lyme disease that eroded some of the middle of her high-school career. I’m pretty sure that the fastest-ever time by a D2 New Hampshire girl is 10:27.06, set in 1997 by Monadnock Regional’s Erica Palmer. (Palmer, who went on to win an individual NCAA title as a Wisconsin Badger, might be the toughest, most relentless runner I ever watched compete at Derryfield Park. I wish I had video of her wearing half of the slop on the course after the 1997 Cross-Country Meet of Champions.)
Addie’s brother Aidan is one of the sophomores I mentioned, and already owns the fastest-ever cross-country times by New Hampshire boys at Derryfield Park and Mines Falls Park, the latter being the venue for the Meet of Champions since 2005. He ran 14:39 for 5,000 meters on the track in December. While Bragg has now beaten Cox decisively in two four-lap match-ups this spring, in the mini-meet a week and a half ago that I neglected to write about that was sandwiched between those 1,600-meter match-ups, Cox just as decisively ran away from Bragg in the middle of a gusty 3,200 meter race, beating him by ten seconds. Cox’s time was 9:30 after an opening 1,600 meters in the low to mid-4:50s, and I believe that he’ll join the sub-9:00 this spring unless weather intervenes on whatever meaningful attempts he gets.
Patrick Gandini, who finished fourth in last Friday’s 1,600 meters—0.01 behind Cox—is also a sophomore and has piled up a solid resume of his own despite having no freshman track season, indoors or out, and attending a high school that has graduated approximately thirty students in its woodsy yet posh history. As a freshman in 2019, Gandini, whose mother won five New Hampshire D3 cross-country titles for Gilford herself,2 finished 10th in the Cross-Country Meet of Champions. He was an even more impressive 28th at the New Englands, where he was the fifth New Hampshire runner and bested Cox by nine seconds (and twelve places; we* must never, ever forget how much more capacity for sadism cross-country has than track). Gandini will ensure that even after the likes of Bragg and Luke Tkaczyk have departed, Aidan Cox will not have it easy in terms of in-state competition.
Finally, I continue to mention Londonderry mid-distance threat Matthew Griffin of Londonderry, whose cosmic indoor season (1:20.32 600m, 1:55.07 800m, 2:29.35 1000m) suggests that he might be able to break Russell Brown’s state 800-meter record of 1:50.85 before he graduates in June. While he appears to have wisely eased into the spring campaign without testing himself early, on May 8, he executed a 50.15/1:57.17 double, winning the two-lapper by almost seven seconds and with negative splits (58.89, 58.28).
Bragg is not among those I consider a rare high-school talent. Yes, he’s got fantastic tools, but he has methodically worked year-round and across multiple disciplines to fashion himself into a really, really good high-school runner who may wind up being the fastest college runner of anyone mentioned in this post. Also, while I’m confident that he will run under 4:12 and 9:08 given fair playing conditions, he still has to actually achieve those times, and I’m as susceptible as anyone else to allowing emotional wants to mentally leapfrog ahead of present realities.
With the divisional meets a little over two weeks away, other runners to monitor, maybe to the point of genial stalking, can be found with ease in the “Battlenotes” section of NewHampshireTrackAndField.com. These are simply performance lists, and why they’ve been called “Battlenotes” since Jesus was in diapers is anyone’s guess, and may be a New Hampshire thing.
In Division 1, Keene’s Torin Kindopp ran 4:17.98 on May 8 in a race he won by over 100 meters. In Division 2, Tkaczyk’s 4:17.59 makes him the third New Hampshire boy under 4:18 this spring (I’m positive that’s never been done in the so-called regular season). And in Division 3, while it’s Total Gandini Productions on the boys’ side (4:21.14, 9:45.24 completely alone), Portsmouth Christian senior Liza Corso is filling that role for the girls (5:06.81, 11:28.45). Corso has overcome a lot to become as good as she has, and she has to do it every time out. 20/200 vision is about what I have in my bad eye, and if I had to navigate life with only that level of vision, it would be a monumental struggle to do almost anything.
I was going to dig into the folly of trying to figure out what are, might be, could be or should be the state and divisional records in the distance events, and chronicle the evolution of both those records and the guidelines concerning their ratification, but I’m tapped, and it’s late, and I’m in a motel in Ogden, Utah. If Mormons out carousing on a Wednesday night in this part of town look up at the window to see anyone burning midnight oil, they’re apt to throw a rock through it.
Gretchen Wernig’s five winning Division 3 Championships times at Derryfield Park, in order from 1991 through 1995: 19:48, 19:47, 19:54, 19:49, 19:56. Wernig’s personal best on the course was 18:58.