Four laps into the 3,200 meters at the Arcadia Invitational, Craig Nowak had a sinking feeling over what he saw on the clock: 4:33. He and the other runners at Arcadia’s signature event needed to pick up the pace if they wanted to dip under nine minutes.
“I was extremely nervous,” the senior from Cypress Woods (Texas) said. “I knew I was I great shape and I’d heard all the great things about the race at Arcadia. I was thinking ‘I can’t come all this way and not break nine.’”
Collectively, 31 runners went through the midpoint of the eight-lap race between 4:31 and 4:36. Twenty-three of them ran the second half of the race faster than the first. Winner Futsum Zeinasellassie of North Central (Indianapolis) ran 4:33.37 for the first half and 4:14.38 for the second, according to FAT split data compiled by EPI Sports.
And no one closed as hard as Nowak, who ran 27.25 seconds for his final 200 and 56.33 for his final 400.
“I was more excited than any race I’ve ever been in,” he said. “When I saw 7:52 on the clock with one lap to go, I thought if I ran like 63 I’d get my goal time.”
Nowak finished third – behind Zeinasellassie and Cibola (Arizona) junior Bernie Montoya – in 8:49.12. That’s the second-fastest 3,200 time ever by a Texas runner.
And in the wave of runners over the finish line ahead there were a total of six new state records: Indiana (Zeinasellassie), Arizona (Montoya 8:48.25), North Dakota (Jake Leingang 8:51.23), Montana (Zach Perrin 8:55.24), Idaho (Dallin Farnsworth 8:55.28) and Delaware (Sam Parsons 9:00.61).
The pace probably came off perfectly. Zeinasellassie ensured a fast first lap when he bolted out to a 64.77. Then, the entire field slowed down on Lap 2 to 72-73. The third lap picked up to 67-68 for most of the field and the fourth lap was slightly faster.
Jonah Diaz of Palos Verdes (Calif.) was in the lead at the midpoint (4:31.72). And Tony Smorgawiecz of Rapid City Central (S.D). edged into the lead on the fifth and sixth laps as the pace improved a bit more.
“It was a big group, but Jonah picked it up and so did Tony,” Nowak said. “They set up the middle of the race.”
Montoya asserted himself with a seventh lap in 61.54 and Zeinsellassie, back in the lead, ran 61.91. Montoya’s burst propelled him into the lead on the back stretch and he was the first to 3,000 meters (8:18.81), a half-second up on Zeinasellassie and three seconds ahead of Nowak.
Zeinasellassie caught Montoya with about 75 meters left and won it in 8:47.75 for an Indiana record. Montoya (previous PR: 9:22) was next in 8:48.25 for an Arizona record. And on it went.
Nowak feels he could have been in the hunt if he’d gone with the leaders from 600 out, instead of try to reel them back in from 400. It’s a recurring theme for him, because he has finished with similar late flourishes as Nike Cross Nationals and the Brooks PR Invite mile.
But three days later, the afterglow had not worn off.
“It’s boosted my confidence tremendously, in a big way,” Nowak said.
Futsum on college, Cheserek
Zeinasellassie is the one of the top recruits nationally who has not yet made a decision on which scholarship offer to accept.
He said Saturday that he is still weighing the pros and cons of the five schools he has visited: Indiana, Purdue, Butler, Northern Arizona and Oklahoma State. The first three schools are all close to home, in Indiana, and the fourth is where his older brother, Bahlbi Gebreyohanns, runs.