It’s just four laps on the track. It’s nothing to fret about. It happens every year.
Like most cross-country coaches, Sandpoint’s Matt and Angie Brass use timed miles as a barometer of their team’s progress. For SHS cross-country runners, it’s their first opportunity to compete after building a mileage base over the summer — all with the added bonus of seeing how fast they can run a mile outside of track season.
Yet Sandpoint’s time trial carries more weight. The mile is one of two determinants for the varsity rosters. Aside from next Friday’s 5K, this is an opportunity for runners to make their cases for a top-seven spot.
Don’t try telling runners that a time trial isn’t a race.
Racing singlets from Utah State, Palos Verdes (California) and the Bulldogs’ Nike Cross Regionals stint dotted the shirtless throng on the starting line. An arcade’s worth of beeps and trills from the team’s running watches broke the nerve-wracking silence at the start line. Those who took the time trial lightly didn’t show it.
Then, 40 runners leapt at the word “go.” The front pack of the boys’ 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 didn’t last.
Midway through the race, Sandpoint’s 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.
“During warm-ups, I thought I didn’t have anything to lose. I was just going to stick with them,” Graham recalled afterwards. “If 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.”
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.
“Seth told me before the race that he didn’t want Nik and Jett to get away from him,” Sandpoint boys’ head coach Matt Brass said. “Track season has really given him a newfound confidence.”
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 — eight seconds off her track PR and the 13th fastest time of the day. Davidson and sophomore Megan Oulman rounded out the girls’ top three, who all finished under six minutes.
A workout awaited the runners at the finish line. Rest usually isn’t 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 Sandpoint’s sea of red looked a little different. Program alumni rolled out of bed — or in the case of Ephriam Weisz (‘19), a dentist office chair — 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 it’s 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 Brass’ 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 isn’t 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 it’s a start.