Jackson High School runner Matthew Watkins’ record-breaking performance April 8 during the 3,200-meter run at the Arcadia Invitational in Arcadia, California, wasn’t necessarily a surprise to Watkins or his coaches. The senior’s offseason workout plan was meticulously tailored around a pursuit of a sub-nine-minute run at the prestigious event, which draws elite runners from all around the country.
After Watkins finished second at November’s Class 4A state cross country meet, he talked with Eric Hruschka, Jackson’s cross country and track and field coach, about his goals for the spring season.
“The way he improved so much in the fall, I said, ‘We need to train him to be sub-8 minutes, 50 seconds. That way, if the race goes kittywampus, he can still get sub-nine and the school record. We’ll target Arcadia as our first chance,’ ” Hruschka said. “You could feel momentum already beginning to build. We said, ‘Let’s gear the training for the winter time so that you’ll be ready a little bit early,’ because Arcadia is early in the season.”
Watkins qualified to compete at the Foot Locker National Championships in San Diego in December, then participated in two indoor events at the University of Washington in February. Those performances helped him to start the spring season in peak condition.
“We kind of molded my workouts to focus (on Arcadia), because we knew it was going to be the biggest race that I’d have this season until state,” Watkins said.
His time of 8:48.84 at Arcadia set a school record and was the fourth-fastest in the 3,200 by a high-school runner in Washington history.
“I started out pretty bad,” Watkins said. “I got shoved to the back and had to work my way up. Once I got up to the back of that front group, I just sat with them and felt relaxed a bit. I felt good where I was. The last two laps, the front pack picked it up, so I knew I needed to go with them if I was going to run something fast. I stayed with them and kicked as hard as I could.
“As soon as I looked up to the scoreboard, the first thing that really hit me was the time. I was just so happy. I finished ninth, so to have that many guys finish that fast, it was a pretty crazy race. We were all giving each other high-fives.”
“Literally, (his performance) took my breath away,” Hruschka said. “It was a magical moment. It came together on the right night.”
Watkins now turns his focus to other matters, including next month’s Class 4A state meet.
“In the mile I’d like to set the school record, so anything under 4:11,” he said. “I think I can do that if I work hard and put all my effort toward that in the next couple of weeks. Then I’ll ease off and get ready for state. I’d like to win the mile and two-mile (runs) there.”
Watkins has signed a letter of intent to join the Washington State University cross country and track and field teams this fall.
“His best strength is he is the fiercest, toughest competitor I’ve ever coached in almost 25 years of coaching,” Hruschka said. “After his freshman year, he said, ‘I want to be a serious runner. I want to run beyond high school. I want to see how far I can take this.’ He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s added weightlifting. He took yoga classes this year to work on his flexibility. He’s going out of his comfort zone to work on his weaknesses, and he’s not afraid to challenge himself that way.”