Cain wasn't in it for the record, she was racing to win! (Photo by Jack Prior)
BOSTON, Mass. – Records are made to be broken.
For Mary Cain, it’s something that's starting to become a habit.
The 16-year-old phenom out of Bronxville, N.Y., etched her name in the books for the third time in less than a month Saturday night at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix. Cain’s latest assault came in the women’s two-mile run where she finished third overall with a national high school record of 9 minutes, 38.68 seconds.
Cain was far from winning the race outright at the Reggie Lewis Athletic Center. Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba, the defending Olympic 10,000-meter champion and 5K world record-holder, turned the event into her own personal speed workout with a winning time of 9:13.17.
Cain was the first American, finishing less than a second behind second-place finisher Sheila Reid of Canada. The gifted teen, who last week set the mile and 1,500 HS record at the New Balance Games in N.Y., and on Jan. 12 took down the 3K mark on an oversized track in Washington, shaved more than 17 seconds off Melody Fairchild’s 9:55.92 indoor best.
She was within striking distance of knocking off the world junior best of 9:34.03 by Ethiopia’s Meseret Defar, a two-time Olympic 5K gold-medalist and multiple world record-holder.
“I definitely felt really strong,” Cain said. “I was trying to stay in the race as much as I could. I was relaxed.”
Former world-class marathoner and Cain’s coach Alberto Salazar felt his star athlete followed their mapped-out plan to near perfection. She rattled off consistent 200 splits in the 36- to 37-second range.
Cain’s final 200, which came after passing the 3K mark just three seconds from her HS record of 9:01, was 31 seconds.
“I had her run this race because I want her to compete with the other girls in the 8:55 range (for 3,000 meters),” Salazar stated. “I said, ‘Mary, I don’t care what your time is today. I just want you to compete and do the best that you can do and don’t worry about time.’”
Looking smooth and relaxed, Cain was already five seconds under record pace when she hit the 1,200 mark, passed in 3:38. She went through the mile in 4:51, a time that would have placed her second overall in the Girls’ Junior Mile that was held less than two-hours earlier.
“I don’t know pacing-wise what we were supposed to be going through,” she said. “I didn’t worry about it. I was just in it to run.”
Cain moved into sixth at 2,400 meters (7:17) and was fifth with two laps remaining, passing through in 8:32. She demolished the record of Fairchild, set in 1991, by running her last 400 in 66 seconds.
“I wasn’t really keeping track of laps,” Cain said. “It just kept going and going. When I heard three laps to go I said, ‘Oh gosh, just three more!’ By then, I was feeling good and it was kicking time.”
“I think she did great,” Salazar said. “I told her to forget about the first couple of girls and just make believe that the race wasn’t happening. Your job is to compete with the second race; not necessarily to win but compete with these girls, and just one girl beat her.”
The happy-go-lucky Cain was thrilled with where she was placed on the starting line. Near her right shoulder on the outside lane was Dibaba.
“It was cool having her next to me on the line and everything. I was kind of laughing at myself when I went out. I competed with an Olympian for like two seconds,” she quipped. “It was really an honor to run with her. It was amazing to be in the same race.”
Cain’s next time on the track will be on Feb. 16 when she competes in the women’s mile at the Millrose Games. That’s a distance that Salazar feels best suits his runner.
Last week, Cain broke a 41-year-old record for the mile by six seconds with her incredible 4:32.78 clocking at the New Balance meet. She also set the national mark in the 1,500 with a 4:16.11 en route to her finish.
“This one is long for her,” said Salazar, making reference to Saturday’s two-mile race. “She tends to lose a little bit of focus there. The 1,500, that’s her sweet spot.”
Cain is looking forward to Millrose where she’ll be matched against the 23-year-old Reid again.
“I am excited for the race,” she said. “I know there is going to be good competition. I know Sheila is going to be in it. She had a great race. I am just really excited to see what I can do. I think from my last mile I have done a lot of working on getting better with my starts and my race plan.”