WATERVILLE — Nick Choate collapsed to the ground, hands on his head; Braden Rioux hunched over, gasping for air; James Mooney simply shook his head in exhaustion.

As if those reactions didn’t say it all, the first competition of Saturday’s track and field meet at Waterville’s Drummond Field was easily the day’s most tiresome. A Waterville Invitational specialty, the 5,000-meter run pushes five runners harder than any others they’ve had this year.

“It’s an event we only do for this meet,” said Mooney, a Cony junior. “It’s a tough test to see what you’ve got. You’ve just got to keep going and keep pushing.”

Yes, the 5,000 requires that extra bit of endurance to get runners across the finish line. It’s good preparation, though, for what lies ahead with the mental and physical challenges of the race testing runners’ mettle ahead of championship season.

In a normal track meet, the 3,200-meter is the longest distance that high school runners in Maine have to tackle. That 2-mile run is tough enough for competitors, and the weather that can bring rain in the early meets and wind or stifling heat later in the season only adds to the challenge.

Running an extra 1,800, then, takes an extra bit of stamina. Pacing and consistency become even more important with runners looking to avoid tiring too early. For Erskine Academy’s Choate, head coach Scott Rollins said, focusing on splits is the way of achieving an optimal time.


“I’m hanging out here around the turn, and I’m reading Nick his splits,” Rollins said. “He’s big on knowing splits, so I’ll be reading them, and we’ll have another athlete at the other turn reading them. You can tell him if he’s going faster or slower, and he can adjust his pace a little bit.”

Choate won the race with a time of 17:04.31 to beat out Winslow’s Braden Rioux (17:32.24). Mooney took third with a time of 18:29.23, and Erskine’s Will Choate and Waterville’s Joaquin Withers rounded out the field with times of 21:33.56 and 21:59.84, respectively. No girls race was held due to a lack of participants.

For Choate, the race came less than a day after competing in and winning the 2-mile run in a meet at Oxford Hills. Exhausted as he was after a second grueling run in as many days, it didn’t show in the results as he finished a full minute better than he expected.

“I was expecting an 18, so to run a 17 was amazing,” Choate said. “I think being on the track helps. My PR in cross-country is something like 17:45, and that was on a course that was really flat.”

Choate was one of four of five runners competing in Saturday’s race also who also competes in cross-country, in which the courses are of similar lengths. Being familiar with running such a distance was a boon to those runners in terms of time and pacing.

“The distance is the exact-same (as cross-country), so you’re used to that part of it,” Mooney said. “You’re just running around on the track instead of going up and down hills and into the woods.”

Beginning the day’s track events with the 5,000 is the ideal way to start the meet. For one, competing early gives athletes ample time to rest up ahead of their other events. It’s also an intriguing draw, one that brings in an audience that might not normally be in attendance.

“Normally, in your regular season meets, you’ll have the 4-by-8 relay before the hurdles,” Rollins said. “It’s kind of neat because they want to draw in people that normally wouldn’t be coming for the 5,000. It really draws in a lot of the cross-country type folks.” 

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