That the Congress Avenue Mile is the fastest (only?) high school mile is inarguable. The lightning quick, downhill drag strip from the steps of the Texas State Capitol to the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge is where high school PRs are made.
But there’s one other element that sometimes goes unnoticed in the Congress Mile—experience. And that was never more evident that on the 21st running of Congress Avenue on Saturday morning where both the boys and girls winner—Craig Nowak and Katie Jensen—used their racing smarts on Congress Avenue to win the race for the first time.
First, the girls. Jensen, a junior from College Park HS in The Woodlands, burst from the pack of 44 girls to lead through the quarter (61 seconds) and at halfway (2:13) outside the Paramount. Although she would extend her lead to 10 meters, Jensen was being stalked by Arin Rice and Rachel Jones who both have vaunted kicks.
Jensen, who finished eighth last year at Congress Avenue, had a better plan for this year’s race. “My coach told me to go through the quarter in 67 seconds,” said Jensen who has a 4:53 PR, “and then go through the half in about 2:20.”
Oops. “I was a little fast,” said Jensen, “but honestly I just felt good and relaxed in the lead. But I knew the bridge was coming up.”
“The bridge” is of course the Congress Bridge and though it may seem flat on a normal day of running, after the free fall down Congress, hitting the bridge sometimes feels like hitting a wall.
“I felt going into the race,” said Jensen, “that the race might come down to who is the fastest on the bridge. I was worried whether I could hold it.”
Good thinking. It almost always does come down to who can hold onto the faster-than-normal pace the longest in the final 400 meters on the bridge.
With 800-meter state record holder (2:09) Arin Rice in close pursuit and closing, it appeared she just might catch Jensen. But not this year.
Although Rice, who is from Canyon HS in Amarillo and was second in the state 800 meter final (she set the record in a prelim) and won the mile in 4:55, made it interesting, she couldn’t quite catch Jensen who won in 4:44.54. Rice was second in 4:46.45 and Rachel Jones was third in 4:48.22. Courtney Kriegshauser was fourth in 4:49.83 and Madi McLellen, who many pegged as the pre-race favorite, rounded out the top five in 4:51.73.
“Running here last year definitely helped,” said Jensen who ran fairly even splits. “I knew not to go out too fast or I would never have been able to hold off Arin.”
The experience of holding back in the first insanely fast quarter also proved decisive in the boys race.
Nate Moore, the senior from Lockhart HS who is ticketed for UT in the fall, has run Congress Avenue before and should have known better but he rocketed into the lead before the pack had even left the Capitol grounds. Moore scorched the first quarter in 59 seconds to forge a solid lead, but by halfway (2:04) the pack gobbled him up.
Meanwhile, biding his time in the pack, were the two kingpins of Texas distance runners: Craig Nowak, who won the mile (4:067) and two-mile (8:59) on the same day last weekend at states and Justin Brinkley, the defending Congress Ave champ, who was fourth in states in 4:11.
Nowak had been to this rodeo before and finished third last year at Congress Avenue so knew what was up.
“I wanted to go out at my own pace and not worry about anyone else,” said Nowak, who is from Cypress Woods HS near Houston and won the Triple Crown of Texas prep distance running as he is also won the Class 5A cross-country title in the fall to go along with his two track victories at state.
Nowak assumed the lead as he and Brinkley reached the Congress Bridge and though Brinkley came back on him to make it competitive, Nowak was simply too tough this time. Nowak, who is bound for Oklahoma State, won in 4:08:33 and Brinkley, who is from Kingswood, held onto second in 4:09.85.
“I wanted to go out somewhat even,” said Brinkley, who will attend distance mecca Stanford University in the fall,” but Craig was too tough.”
He was that. “I felt good coming through the half,” said Nowak, “but that last quarter was very long and hard. I was just trying to hang on and hold Justin off.”
He accomplished that. Finishing third was Michael Lindberg in 4:12.21 with Robert Domanic fourth in 4:12.59 and Trevor Gilley fifth in 4:13.08.