Michael Woolery Has Sub-1:50 On The Mind At RunningLane

* Michael Woolery has his sights on a personal best 800 meter time at the RunningLane Track Championships on May 27

Photo Credit: Submitted

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By Cory Mull - MileSplit

Michael Woolery has learned to accept the pressure that comes with a heavily-anticipated race. He knows it comes with the territory.

But when you travel nearly 1,000 miles to compete in your final race of the season at 800 meters? 

That's a different kind of anxiety, no? 

    "I think that some of the pressure builds up, which is also something I love about it," Woolery, 17, told MileSplit recently. "I think the more pressure I have, the more I expect myself to do better."

    What's clear is that Woolery isn't finished just yet. 

    The Episcopal Academy junior, who anchored his boys' squad to an indoor national title in the distance medley relay in March and finished second in both the 800m and 1,600m at the Inter-Ac Championships a few weeks ago, is eyeing up a career best time at the RunningLane Track Championships on May 27 in Huntsville, Alabama -- a trip nearly 1,000 miles south from Philadelphia. 

    "I wanted to get into a fast 800m," he said. 

    While Woolery, a Media, Pennsylvania native, ran an outdoor best of 1:54.14 at the beginning of the month, he ran 1:52.83 indoors at the PTFCA Indoor State Championships in March, clocking a career fast time and logging the kind of breakthrough that gave him a sense of what his true ceiling was. 

    That's the kind of moment, he says, he's chasing after again. 

    The first time he felt that breakthrough came in February when he broke 1:55 for the first time. The next, perhaps, may have come at Nike Indoor Nationals, when his Episcopal Academy team won the distance medley relay indoors. 

    "I feel like as those times drop, it becomes a mental thing," he said of 800 meters. "It's like breaking two. When you break two, you'll never go above two again. That was it for me. I told myself, 'I need this 1:55.' I went to the gun to that race. I was locked in to run as fast as I could. I ran 1:54.

    "That set up the rest of the season," he continued. " It was 1:54, 1:53 and then 1:52 at state. That was the race that stuck with me. It gave me confidence to pursue the rest of the 800m for the season." 

    What should help is the field.

    Woolery may find himself in the fastest individual race of his season.

    Nine athletes enter with times faster than his 1:52, including eight at 1:51 or faster: Justin Gottlieb, Max Armstrong, Kadan Allen, Brady Smith, Julian Carter, Keyshawn Garcia, Kaden Kingsmith and Marcus Gaitan. Dawson Welch, a state champion from Arkansas, is among a few athletes seeded at 1:52.

    Gottlieb, a Columbia recruit, is the fastest 800m runner in the state of West Virginia. He finished ninth at the Arcadia Invitational in April.  

    "The crowd is good," Woolery said. "The guys in the race will help me where I need to run. I want to run near that 1:50 mark. I want to push toward 1:49." 

    Woolery's chances aren't bad.

    If he were to break 1:51, he would enter into company that only 16 Pennsylvania athletes have ever achieved before him. Josh Hoey, an '18 Bishop Shanahan graduate who turned professional after high school, owns the state record at 1:48.07. 

    To get there, though, will take patience. 

    "That was the race that stuck with me. It gave me confidence to pursue the rest of the 800m for the season." 

    "If I'm with them and I push that third 200m," Woolery said, "I'm pretty confident and my goals should really be to go for the win. As long as I do that, the time will come." 

    He credits repeat 400s and 200s as a means toward his goal. "In practice, I try to work that last part of the race," he said.  

    Only Woolery can determine just where his story may go on race day. 

    But what's interesting is that his final race at 800m won't be his final marker on the track. 

    When an opportunity came up recently to pace the elite miles at the end of Saturday's action, he said he jumped at the chance. 

    "I thought it would be kind of cool to pace some of those guys," he said. 

    The high school junior says he had built up a little work of his own over the regular season, leading a couple of his teammates under two minutes for the distance. Woolery himself is a miler. Pacing is an art. 

    At RunningLane, a handful of athletes -- like Rhode Island star Devan Kipyego and Alabama all-time standout Alex Leath -- might chase after sub-4.

    Woolery wanted to pay it forward. 

    "I'm coming all the way out from Philadelphia," he said, "Might as well get two races in."

    What's better than chasing after a 1:50? Maybe it's leading a sub-4, too. 

    And helping out your fellow competitor? That comes with the territory, too.