It was about thirteen years ago that I coached at my first high school track meet. I remember feeling surprise when our top runner at Francis Parker High School ran 2:20 or so for 800 meters; it had never really occurred to me, even after a few weeks of practice, that the boys I coached would not be as fast as the boys I ran with in high school.
I coached a long time, in fact, before I had an athlete run faster than I had run during my serious running days.
I now coach two athletes who beat those standards easily. Patrick Santino ran 9:17.94 for 3200-meters indoors at the Illinois Prep Top Times meet two weeks ago for second place at the unofficial state indoor championship meet.
Last night junior Jack Keelan topped that in a big way, running 8:55.86 for 3200 meters to place 12th at the Arcadia Invitational outside of Los Angeles. Back in March Keelan had run 4:17.07 for 1600 meters, which at the time was the fastest 1600 by an Illinois runner this year.
At Arcadia Keelan was narrowly beaten by two Illinois runners. Michael Clevenger of MacArthur in Decatur, Il , the Illinois Class 2A cross country champion back in November and defending 2A champion at 3200-meters, finished fifth in 8:54.12; Leland Later of New Trier, the Class 3A cross country champion, was 11th in front of Keelan, running 8:55.61.
Keelan’s performance was the big surprise. That 12th place finish is also the 12th fastest time in the country this year; it marks him as one of the top junior distance runners in the country. His previous best was 9:14.38 at the Midwest Gala meet last June. We expected him to run fast, but 8:55.86 was even better than expected.
He and his father had begun talking about running Arcadia, a meet famous for its sub-9:00 3200 meter races, last August; they planned a college visit trip to California during our Ignatius spring break, and then we began conversations with the Arcadia meet organizers and the Illinois High School Association, which must approve participation in this kind of out of state meet. Arcadia organizers gave the Keelans the word that he would run the “invitational” section of the 3200 a couple weeks ago. Training had gone well the last few weeks, and it had been uninterrupted by competition. After the Chicago Catholic League indoor meet in which he had extended himself to run three races, he had skipped the Illinois Prep Top Times meet and our first Ignatius outdoor meet.
A remarkable aspect of the race: Keelan’s coach, teammates, and other fans watched the California race live in Chicago on a webcast of the meet, 8:45 p.m. Pacific time, 10:45 in Chicago. Emails from his father’s smart phone gave me word that Keelan had been delivered to the site and then to the meet check in. I got a late night cell phone call from the happy runner after an email of congratulations sent to his father. I was still up at midnight, watching the race again on a web video replay.
Keelan had stuck gamely to his pre-meet plan, even as the early pace in the race was a little bit slower than had been expected. Last May at the Illinois state meet, Keelan had moved around in the big pack in the early stages of the race, running wide at times to add distance and wasting energy; he had faded a little bit at the end of the race, finally finishing 10th in the state. At the Midwest Gala in June, he had simply settled into the pack, running in lane one and conserving energy; he was strong at the end of the race. Keelan had also had success this winter running the second half of races much faster than the first half of races, letting others do at least some of the early work.
The Arcadia race favorite Futsum Zeinasellassie of North Central School in Indianapolis did not push the early pace after the first lap of 64.5 seconds. The second lap was slow, as the leaders passed the half mile in 2:17—a second lap jog of 73 seconds. Two different runners then took hold of the pace, but even so the race was 4:31 or so at 1600 meters, and the meet announcer seemed concerned that the race would not deliver its promised 9:00 times.
Keelan’s coach was a little bit concerned to see the runner at virtually the back of the 30-runner pack going through that half-way point. But Keelan had carefully run in lane one for almost the entire race.
The leaders reached the 2400 mark still slogging a little bit —6:47. Keelan had moved up a bit in the pack, which had begun to string out, probably going through in 6:50 or so.
Zeinasellassie finally took over the race lead at that point, and the pace quickened dramatically. Back in the pack, there was clearly a selection, but a big pack still followed the leader, with ten runners falling off the back as the pace quickened. Keelan had managed to be in position to hold on to the front group of 20 or so.
As the leaders passed the finish line to start the bell lap, the announcer happily told the crowd that it would take only a 70-second last lap for the leaders to break 9:00. In fact, 16 runners would do so; they were all flying the last two laps. Keelan made his own big move with 200 to go, passing a number of runners and nearly catching New Trier’s Later. His last 800 was 2:05, and his last lap must have been around 60. He ran the last mile in 4:21, which is probably the second fastest mile of his life.
On the phone after the race, Keelan said, “I guess I have a kick now.” His conversation turned quickly to his training plans for the next week. “I think I’m going to just go out for some easy 8-mile runs the next couple days,” he told his coach, who just laughed in agreement.
The Keelans have their first college visits planned for around the Los Angeles area—at a variety of different schools like Pomona, UCLA, USC, and Loyola -Marymount, just a chance to visit some places, nothing very serious. But they also have a more serious visit scheduled at Stanford. They return home from California at mid-week.
The Ignatius team runs at Homewood Flossmoor next Saturday. Keelan will likely run a race or two that day, reuniting with his teammates and running races as a workout. He’s tentatively entered in the 4×800, 800, and possibly the 4×400.
It will be hard for him to match his Arcadia 3200 anytime in the near future, and it seems likely that we will give that race a rest for a few weeks.
Post Blog Post: Patrick McHugh’s comment below reminded me of something else I wanted to add. Keelan’s Arcadia race puts him close to a Saint Ignatius school record that I had always considered virtually untouchable–Mike Patton’s 8:52.1 for 3200 meters. It is my understanding that Patton ran that race outside the IHSA season, but I now have to follow up to get more details. The IHSA list that McHugh refers to is pasted below. Adding Clevenger, Later, and Keelan to the list, it puts him at number 14. Incidentally, like many others I witnessed Donald Sage’s attempt to break Craig Virgin’s high school record in 2000 at the state meet, and Evan Jager’s state meet effort in 2007. Initially I thought that Jager’s time was what he ran at the Nalley Invite in Lisle that year, which we had attended. But I also witnessed and Eric Mactaggert’s race at Glenbard South in 2004; he followed that 3200, I think, with a sub 4:20 for 1600. Jack Keelan will run at the same Glenbard South Raider Invite this year on April 20, 2012.
[1.] 8:38.7*, Craig Virgin, Lebanon, 1973
[2.] 8:42.89, Donald Sage, Elmhurst (York), 2000
[3.] 8:46.7*, Dave Merrick, New Lenox (Lincoln-Way), 1971
[4.] 8:49.6*, Ron Craker, Elmhurst (York), 1976
[5.] 8:49.7*, Tom Graves, Orland Park (Sandburg), 1977
[6.] 8:52.1, Mike Patton, Chicago (St. Ignatius), 1981
[7.] 8:52.33, Evan Jager, Algonquin (Jacobs), 2007
[8.] 8:54.6*, Rich Elliott, Hillside (Proviso West), 1968
[9.] 8:54.64, Chris Derrick, Naperville (Neuqua Valley), 2007
[10.] 8:54.79, Steve Miller, Elk Grove Village (E.G.), 1985
[11.] 8:55.4, Eric MacTaggert, Glen Ellyn (Glenbard South), 2004
[12.] 8:56.1, Jim Westphal, Oak Park (O.P.-River Forest), 1987
[13.] 8:56.2, Len Stiko, Niles (Notre Dame), 1987
[14.] 8:56.24, Tim Keller, West Chicago (H.S.), 2000
[15.] 8:56.6, Matt Nolan, Naperville (Central), 1980
[16.] 8:57.27, Da n Chenoweth, Geneseo, 2007
[17.] 8:57.5, Marius Baaken, Elmhurst (York), 1996
[18.] 8:57.7, Ralph Caron, Chicago (Marist), 1980
[19.] 8:57.8*, Don Ellis, Glen Ellyn (Glenbard West), 1971
[20.] 8:59.7, Mike Kirk, Dolton (Thornridge), 1980
Another post post-blog post: More things that have come my way since posting. Here are links to the Arcadia Invite web feed video and another video of the race from Flotrack:
Splits for the race:
And a link to the official FAT photo of the race finish, with the 9:00 barrier clearly marked. Thanks to Bob Geiger of Dyestat ESPN High School Illinois for the link http://www.episports.com/timing/TrackResults/2012/Arcadia/034-1-01.jpg\: