By Paul Hayes
It had been a normal afternoon in West Chester, PA, an area known well for high school distance running, but had never come up on the map for any professional races. However, that night at the Henderson High School J. Oscar Dicks Stadium, a new event was lining up for history. This wasn’t the typical scene of Kevin Kelly working his magic with his high school runners, or the large high school invites that happen every year. This was professionals racing a mile with over $4,000 on the line.
Thanks to the twittersphere, I managed to catch wind of this a few hours before it happened, enough time to alter plans and swing over to the stadium in time to catch the men’s and women’s elite heats. I’ll say that it was well worth it to see professionals run for a big prize, much larger than one would expect for a small, local race. But what really made the event awesome was to see hundreds of fans line up on the track to cheer the runners through the home stretch as they battled each other out for the both the prize, and their pride.
The women’s race went rather tactical, with the opening laps going 1:09/1:12, for a 2:21 opening half. But then the tactics wore off as 3 women emerged clear front runners, hitting the 1200 in 3:28, and continuing to drop the pace as the crowd started to roar. When the dust settled, Rachel Schnieder walked away with the top prize in a time of 4:31.04, running a very impressive 2:21/2:10 negative split mile.
As soon as the women finished, the men’s field was announced. The field features some rather impressive names that I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know about prior to the race. English Steeplechase champion Rob Mullet was across the pond for this race, sporting a 3:59.18 mile PR. 2014 Sir Walter Miler champ and clear winner for coolest name in the field was Ford Palmer, and next to him was Wisconsin alum and 3:35 1500m runner Jack Bolas.
The gun went off with Steve Thompson (Henderson ’14) doing the pacing at his alma mater. The opening couldn’t have been better, with Thompson pulling the field through in :29/:59/1:28 before dropping out. By 800m the race was established between the top three moving in a line at 1:58-1:59, with the rest of the field shortly behind. The lead traded hands a few times as the top three battled through the 3rd lap, and at the sound of the bell it was still the same 3, this time at 2:59. The men flew around the curve, racing for well over $4,000 from sponsors, and as they came through to the back stretch, the crowd erupted as Bolas put on a great finishing kick to cross the line in 3:58.63, followed by Palmer barely edging out Mullet, 3:59.30 to 3:59.47.
Overall it was a great race to watch, and an event that I hope grows even bigger, as it was evident that the West Chester running community was out in full support of the event, with a large crowd cheering every runner on as they battled for a prize. Some of the fellow writers speculate that it could be as big as the Sir Walter Miler race that happened a few weeks ago, which would be pretty cool, and really put West Chester on the professional running radar.
Overall it was a great event, and I can’t thank the organizers, sponsors, and amazing community that showed up. A link to the full results is below.