READFIELD — Fifty-two seconds.

For most of us, it’s barely enough time to brush your teeth or feed a parking meter. But for a certain segment of the population, it’s more than enough time to experience virtually every human emotion in rapid succession.

Fifty-two seconds.

Thursday afternoon on the track surrounding Maranacook Community High School’s Ricky Gibson Field of Dreams, there were plenty of words to describe what 52 seconds feels like.

“Dying.” “Will.” “Character.” “Hurt.”

And when Messalonskee High School senior Zach Hoyle won the boys 400-meter run in a personal-record time of 51.32 seconds during a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference track and field meet, he was better qualified than most to describe an event that is equal parts brute athleticism and pure torture.

“You’ve got to know when you step on that line, it’s going to hurt,” Hoyle said. “It’s going to hurt if you go fast, and it’s also going to hurt if you don’t go that fast. You have to make that decision: I’m going to hurt and win, or I’m going to hurt and just do a good job.”

The 400 is neither a sprint nor a middle-distance event. It exists somewhere in the ether between the two disciplines as a cross-section of the best long sprinters and short distance runners.

Hoyle and Winslow High School’s Ben Smith — who finished second to Hoyle on Thursday in 52.12 seconds — say the event is definitely a sprint, but it doesn’t break down the way a 100 or a 200 does.

Both said you can’t exactly pace yourself in a race that takes less than 55 seconds to complete, but at the same time it’s important to implement enough of a game plan for the first 200 meters so that you’ve got something left in the tank for the second turn and the stretch run.

“There’s a lot of tactics involved,” said Smith, a senior who finished fourth in the 400 in Class B during the indoor season. “You’ve got to be smart about it. If you use all your energy at the beginning, you’re going to be toast on the backstretch. There’s really a mental game that goes with it.”

That mental aspect to the 400 is what Messalonskee coach Matt Holman said differentiates 400 runners, who typically engage in vigorous workouts between trying meet runs.

“It takes a certain mentality to be able to consistently work that hard in practices and then put yourself through that kind of pain on the track,” Holman said. “It takes the right individual to be able to do that day in and day out. You need to have the desire to do it. It’s not one of those events you can go into half-heartedly.”

If you do, those 52 seconds will feel like 52 hours. And, Smith said, there’s one secret to being good at one of the most specialized events on the track.

“You always die on the backstretch. You just hope you die less than everyone else,” Smith said. “That’s all it is, I guess.”

The 400’s less-talked about cousin, the 800, is similar though it does lead itself a bit more to athletes who excel in the 1,600 or 3,200 runs.

“There’s a little more strategy in the 800, just because it’s a longer race, but it’s still about having the gift of having speed and endurance,” Holman said. “A lot of people have the ability to run forever or to run fast, but they don’t all have the ability to do both.”

Hoyle, who finished fifth at the Class A state meet last spring in the 400, won the state championship at 800 meters during the indoor season over the winter. He believes that his training as a distance runner early in his career helped him better prepare to make the move to the 400.

“I realized last year, ‘Man, I can be pretty OK with this,'” Hoyle said. “It was a little easier for me than most, because I was going from a (longer) race to a lower race, whereas a lot of times it’s sprinters going up to a higher race in the 400. It’s difficult for them.”

But Hoyle also stopped himself and realized it’s not quite as simple as that.

“It’s also difficult for me,” Hoyle said, cracking a wide smile. “It’s speed and it’s the strength, and you’ve got to get used to that.”

Fifty-two seconds has a way of separating the pack.

“You’re going all out. You’re pushing the pedal to the medal there,” Hoyle said. “You can’t think about the end of the race. You’ve just got to know how you feel at the beginning of the race and hope you have something left at the end.”

Which, as far off as it might appear to be, is less than 52 seconds away.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC