Jackson’s Jeff Helmer may have been one of the youngest runners in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races at last weekend’s Star Track XII, but he sure ran like a wily veteran.
In a pair of races dominated by upperclassmen, the Jackson sophomore took fifth place in both events and staked his claim as one of the top distance runners at the Class 4A state track and field championships.
Mead’s Evan Garber swept both races, finishing Friday’s 3,200 race in 9:13.41 and Saturday’s 1,600 in 4:10.72. All four runners who finished ahead of Helmer in both races were seniors.
Helmer clocked in with a 9:19.80 in the 3,200 and a 4:18.89 in the 1,600.
While he was pleased with his two fifth-place finishes, Helmer was a little disappointed with the 3,200 and the way the race unfolded.
“Nobody really took control of the race. It was a really slow pace,” Helmer said. “I was hoping to run a lot faster … I figured some of the upperclassmen would take charge. Nobody really got after it until there was about 800 meters to go.
“I wanted to run a fast time and PR big. Just the way (they) went out made it pretty hard to get a PR.”
Garber and Inglemoor’s David Kinsella, who took second in both events, ran very strategic races because both of their teams were battling for the team championship.
“Both guys were running very cautious races,” said Jackson coach Eric Hruschka, noting that Garber and Kinsella wanted to score as many points for their teams as possible. “They were dictating the type of race it was going to be … we weren’t in the driver’s seat. We had to run the best race for us.”
Inglemoor ended up winning the team title with a total of 55 points, while Mead finished second with 41.
The windy conditions also had an impact on the slowing of the pace.
“It was so windy nobody really wanted to take the lead,” Helmer said. “It came down to a kicker’s race.”
Helmer admitted he wasn’t as experienced as the other runners in the pack.
“I didn’t really know how to handle myself,” said Helmer. “It was kind of nice to run behind Garber … we’re pretty good friends.”
Following the disappointment in the 3,200, Helmer was determined to run a better race in the 1,600. But for a time, Helmer wasn’t sure if that was going to be possible because his back started to bother him a little bit.
But when the gun sounded at the start of the race, the discomfort went away.
Helmer was pleased with the way the 1,600 unfolded.
“I think I was in seventh place coming into the last lap,” Helmer said. “I passed two guys on the last lap. The 1,600 was better than the two-mile. I just wanted to get fifth or better.”
His time in the 1,600 was as good as could be expected under the conditions and should have been a little faster.
Helmer’s relative inexperience surfaced again.
“I was happy with the time,” Helmer said. “I just felt I could have taken more of a chance. I was kind of worried the more experienced guys might pass me up if I started my kick too early.
“I (held) back on my kick. My last lap was not as fast as I had been running in past weeks.”
Helmer estimated he could have cut his time by about two seconds and run a 4:16 if he had went out faster in the final lap.
Of the 16 runners in the 3,200, Helmer is one of only two sophomores and he was the lone sophomore in the 1,600 among a slew of juniors and seniors.
“He had a very good sophomore state meet,” Hruschka said. “He is the No. 1 returner. (The future) should be exciting.”