* Caroline Wells leads during the girls championship 3,200m
Photo Credit: Spencer Cox/MileSplit
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Fast times and state records went down on Day 1 of the RunningLane Track Championships
MADISON, ALABAMA -- Two runners experienced moments of elation on Friday in the championship divisions of the 3,200m at the RunningLane Track Championships, albeit in different ways.
Winters Springs (FL) junior Caroline Wells ran for a purpose much greater than herself.
A-D-M graduate Nathaniel Mueller, meanwhile, felt a jolt of electricity in the closing moments that ultimately powered him to one of the biggest victories of his career.
In similar ways, though, each athlete found a resolve that engineered them through the most difficult of challenges and ultimately led to wins in the elite sections of those races at James Clemens High School.
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Wells, the fast-rising distance standout from Florida, let positive emotion carry her through a race that culminated with a re-setting of the Florida state outdoor record in the 3,200m and a winning time of 10:08.77. It was one of five efforts under 10:25 on the night.
Mueller, in turn, capped off his night with a 13-second PR and his best moment to date in a national field, finishing in 8:56.31 as six runners broke nine minutes and a total of 10 came through the finish in under 9:04.
"When I get competition like this, I thrive on competition," he said. "When there's guys around me, I run to my potential."
By late Friday, though, the girls race took off.
The performance from Wells, which came deep into the night as the stickiness of the Alabama heat was fading, marked her third effort under 10:11 and was a three-second improvement from her previous record of 10:10.39 from March.
But ultimately, the time was of little importance. She had dedicated the race to her late grandfather, who had died from pancreatic cancer in recent weeks.
"I really just wanted to run a good race," She said. "I raced with a little more purpose today with my grandpa."
Perhaps the memory of his support ran through her mind as she captured one of the strongest performances of her career. A strong opening lap led to a 1,600m split of 5:00.53, and then a final 800m surge of 2:31.66 closed things off, leading to a new PR.
Fellow Florida native Caroline Lehman finished second in 10:16.48, while West Chester Henderson junior Jenna Mulhern was third in 10:17.47. Oakwood's Grace Hartman was fourth in a new PR of 10:21.54, while Petoskey graduate Emma Squires landed an 8-second improvement from her top time in 2021, finishing in 10:22.09.
Mueller, meanwhile, was the breakout star of the boys' race.
The Iowa native, a Class of 2021 signee to Iowa State, started off with a bang and opened with a 69-second first lap. He had wanted to get to the rail first.
"I knew I was ready to run under nine," he said. "I just wanted to come down here and mix it up with some guys who could pull me."
But that first lap lead didn't last long. Feeling a minor stage of panic, he deferred to the field from there, blending into a massive pack of runners that ultimately ran nearly lock-and-step for 3,200m.
A constant jostling took place over the next four laps, with scores of runners making intermediary moves amid the boxing of runners in lanes 1 and 2. Catawba Ridge's Sam Rich was front and center for the majority of the contest, heeding confidence from two South Carolina state championships and a handful of big-time racing efforts over the indoor season.
A total of 12 athletes covered the first 1,600m within a second of another. A relatively modest pace of 4:31 was the halfway split. By the fifth lap, though, Cheyenne Mountain's Erik Le Roux surged out front and began to shift gears. The field followed.
Mueller, though, never lost composure. With 800 meters remaining, he shot back up to second. Then he re-took the lead with 600 meters left.
"Being in a race where there are a bunch of guys around me," he said. "These last two races, those are the most competition I've ever had."
Photo Credit: Spencer Cox/Milesplit
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A host of athletes came through the 2,800 split at 7:55, which prompted Rich to make his final move at 350. The gap stretched to 10 meters in the final 200 meters, and then divided in half just 100 meters later.
Mueller and Co. had just enough left.
A final sprint with 50 meters remaining kept Hartland's Riley Hough at bay. Mueller, just three weeks removed from his distance triple at the Iowa State Championships, earned a hallmark win in a national field.
"Overall, I'm happy with how it went," Mueller said.
Hough was second overall in 8:56.46 while Rich followed in third in 8:57.10. Le Roux, who was the instigator with the pacing shift in the second half, was fourth in 8:57.44. Arkansan Reuben Reina, who entered with a 9:09 best, shattered his PR with a time of 8:58.82. The final athlete under nine minutes was Green Mountain's Grahm Tuohy-Gaydos, who finished in 8:59.26.
Boys' athletes from 14 different states ultimately ran in the elite boys section, while girls from 13 different states competed overall.