By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
Prep Thomas Ratcliffe Goes 4:01.5 On Home Track
CONCORD, MA, USA (02-June) -- A pair of scintillating miles capped off a busy evening of racing here at the Hoka One One Adrian Martinez Classic held in somewhat chilly and windy conditions. Sam Penzenstadler and Brie Felnagle claimed victories with times of 3:57.80 and 4:32.72, respectively, though it was local high school senior Thomas Ratcliffe who stole the headlines with a drama-filled 4:01.50 state record mile.
PHOTO: Brie Felnagle (r) leads Brook Handler, Emily Lipari and Lianne Farber in the mile at the Hoka One One Adrian Martinez Classic (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)
"This was an incredible meet, probably the most incredible meet I've ever been to," said Penzenstadler, looking back over the track and fans. "It's just a great atmosphere, people all around cheering, and a high schooler racing 4:01. Incredible race by him -- he made me go faster!"
Nestled amid ball fields and a quaint New England neighborhood, Emerson Field was abuzz with anticipation. Some of America's best had descended upon the suburb of Boston seeking season-best marks and possibly qualifying times for next month's USA Olympic Trials. Penzenstadler, a Loyola (Ill.) alum now running for Matt Centrowitz's District Track Club in Washington, D.C., had never broken four minutes outdoors (he'd run 3:57.29 indoors).
Through 800m on pace for a sub-four clocking and through 1200 meters in 3:00.3, the crowd's attention was divided between Penzenstadler and Ratcliffe. At the front, Penzenstadler was subtly being reeled in by the field, all the while Ratcliffe was injecting a fierce move down the backstretch gaining three spots.
"Four minutes was the goal," said Ratcliffe, a student athlete at nearby Concord Carlisle High School whose father, Tom, is a well known runners' agent. "The last lap was a little bit tough."
At the line, Penzenstadler was able to edge Hoka One One's Eric Avila 3:57.80 to 3:58.23, before Syracuse and Providence collegians Joel Hubbard (3:59.18) and Julian Oakley (3:59.33) rounded out the top four. Ratcliffe came barreling down the stretch, drawing a roaring ovation from his hometown crowd for eighth spot. Yet no one at first knew whether his final time was under four minutes.
As soon as Ratcliffe finished, a brief power surge knocked out the timing displays that were on the infield. As the crowd went silent for ten seconds, 4:01.50 suddenly flashed on the board. Though it wasn't a sub-four time, the crowd still appreciated the 18-year-old's effort. His time was good enough to break the Massachusetts prep state record, previously owned by Garrett O'Toole's 4:01.89 from this same meet two years ago.
"It was a big adjustment. Getting pulled along was really nice," said Ratcliffe, whose time ranks as the fourth best prep mark this season. As for the fan support, Ratcliffe was taken a back. "Honestly, unbelievable. I've never really seen anything like that before for track and field, let alone just a high schooler like me. That was honestly the best moment of the night, seeing those guys [friends, family, and teammates] all supporting me."
Ratcliffe may attempt another four-minute mile in the coming weeks, but that is still to be determined. He will run for Stanford University next year.
Felnagle Sets Usa-Leading Mark With 4:32.72 Win
The women's mile saw a USA-leading mark thrown down by North Carolina alum Brie Felnagle. The 2007 NCAA champion at 1500m dueled with a fellow former NCAA champ --2014 indoor mile winner Emily Lipari, now running for the B.A.A. High Performance Team-- as well as Michigan alum Brook Handler.
A blanket could have covered a majority of the field up front through the bell lap before Felnagle turned to another gear with her sprint.
"I just wanted to put myself in it and be competitive and I kind of found myself in the lead which I wasn't planning, but I felt good and went with it and it was awesome," said Felnagle, whose winning time was 4:32.72. Felnagle still needs the 1500m Olympic Trials automatic standard (4:09.50), and will focus on that event rather than the 5000m.
Lipari (4:33.83) and Angela Bizzarri, an NCAA Cross Country champion herself while at Illinois, rounded out the podium in 4:34.01. Handler faded to eighth in 4:36.98.
"I think I'm right there with my fitness, and competing well was a good indication about that," said Felnagle. "I'm definitely feeling good about it."
Grunewald, Santana Kick To 5000M Wins
Once the pace makers stepped off the track roughly three kilometers (9:15) into the women's 5000m, it became the Kim Smith show. The Kiwi mother of one pounded lap after lap in roughly 75 seconds, leading Gabe Grunewald, Sarah Pagano, and Rachel Cliff away from the peloton.
With the wind dashing any hopes of super fast times, the quartet labored on at a decent clip hoping to make the most of the evening.
It was at the bell that Grunewald came up on Smith's shoulder and then swiftly went by as soon as she reached 300 meters to go. Using her supreme 1500m speed, Grunewald increased her lead over the final circuit, towing the B.A.A.'s Pagano a few steps behind.
Coming up on lapped traffic, Grunewald crossed the post first with 15:25.40 showing on the clock, followed by Pagano in 15:26.79 (a personal best by 14 seconds). Cliff (15:29.23), Smith (15:32.10), and Kaitlin Gregg Goodman (15:37.51) rounded out the top five. Grunewald just missed the USA Olympic Trials automatic qualifying time of 15:25.00
"It was a great race, great competition," said Grunewald. "I think we did our best. I would have liked to have been a little bit stronger in the last K or K-and-a-half to maybe help keep the pace going, but I just wasn't sure what I had left. I tried to save it and have a strong finish."
Grunewald said she'll race the 5000m again in Portland on June 12, aiming for the 15:25.00 qualifying mark.
Back in a distant seventh was 2015 NCAA 5000m champion Emily Sisson, running 16:01.21.
Alfredo Santana, a Puerto Rican national who runs for the adidas Garden State Track Club, ran to a lifetime best in the men's 5000m, breaking away from Lex Williams and Tim Ritchie in the final 800 meters. Finishing in 13:48.10, Santana set a PB by 12 seconds. Williams and Ritchie's times were 13:51.49 and 13:56.20. All three fell well short of the USA Olympic Trials automatic qualifying time of 13:28.00.
Fricker, Johnson Take 800M Titles As Prep Watson Runs 2:03.06
Like in the men's mile, a prep star was the talk of the crowd in the women's 800m. Sammy Watson, 16, the New York junior who won the high school 400m at the Prefontaine Classic last week, toed the line for the first time against professionals here.
More nervous here than last week at historic Hayward Field, Watson kept pace with Brooks Sports' McKayla Fricker for two laps, though didn't quite have enough left in the tank to overtake her elder rival.
Fricker won going away in 2:02.77 to Watson's 2:03.06, a personal best. Bethany Praska was third in 2:03.31.
"I think having the right mindset and not letting the competition get in your head has helped me," said Watson. She's now just 6/100ths of a second shy of the Olympic Trials automatic qualifying standard. "It was a great race and I'm really happy with the new PR... I was really nervous, shaking, but I'm glad it went well."
Watson will now travel six-plus hours back home in the morning to race at her New York State meet on Friday afternoon. She's slated to run the 400m and 1500m.
For the men, Brandon Johnson and Drew Windle were a step up on the field, running first and second in 1:46.72 and 1:46.81, respectively. Finally healthy after a painful year of foot injuries in 2015 (a torn plantar and stress fractures in his heel), Johnson was thankful to come away with another victory this evening. He's now won four races this outdoor season, and will not race again until the Olympic Trials.
"Anytime I can go to a race and come out with the victory, especially in cold and windy conditions, it's really good," he said. "Coming back after injuries and just building and getting strong, things have been going good... Things are looking up and I'm excited going into the Trials."
Olympian and New England native Andrew Wheating placed fourth in the 800m in 1:47.33.