Track runners have a tendency to consider themselves either sprinters or distance runners. The 400-meter race falls somewhere in the middle, and isn’t a popular event.
But Pacheco High School’s Adam Perez, Miguel Cintora III, Mark Joseph and Maurice Harden have made the 4x400 relay theirs, and were the last athletes from the Los Banos area still in contention at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Track and Field Championships, which started with preliminaries on Thursday at Elk Grove High. Results were unavailable at press time.
“All of them, they have a very positive attitude. They all encourage each other, they feed off each other getting ready for the race,” Pacheco’s sprint coach Brittnie Cooksey said. “They push each other, they encourage one another. They know it’s a team. The one thing I see with these boys, they know it’s a team effort, and they all want to be here and they all want to do it. It’s rare, especially in high school, that you find teams that want to do this 4-by-4 and get out there and run, but they enjoy doing it.”
The team qualified with a third-place finish at the Division 4/5 championships May 22 at California State University, Stanislaus – running the race in 3 minutes, 25.78 seconds. In addition, Joseph qualified in the 400-meter race, placing fourth with a 50.22-second run.
“It’s easy to focus on both,” Joseph said. The 400 is “more competitive. You’re not relying on anybody else than yourself, and it’s at a faster pace.”
The relay starts with Perez, the only senior among the four (the rest are juniors). After his leg at the D4 finals, the Pacheco team was deep in the field.
“I knew I was falling behind when I got the baton,” said Cintora, the second leg. “And I knew where I was at when I got to the 200 mark, and I just kept the same pace where I was at until I got to the end, where I was passing all those guys up. I passed up two guys right at the end, and I got (Joseph) a lead.”
Joseph, the third leg, kept the pace, but ran into traffic when it came time to hand off to Harden, the anchor.
“Mark does good and he makes sure he gets me a lead, but sometimes other teams are like the same pace as us, so coming around the last hundred, everyone was stacked up, neck and neck, and so he has to weave through people to get me the baton,” Harden said. “So I’m running, making sure – we have to get fifth place, so I’m making sure I’m fifth place no matter what, so I’m passing people to make sure we’re fifth. In the last hundred, they started blocking me off, so I had to go out two lanes and finish in third.”
This week, the team worked on a variety of things – from pace to endurance to handoffs. On Wednesday, the three juniors (Perez was off preparing for grad night) ran 200-meter sprints, practicing stretching out their stride on the back 100 before moving on to handoffs.
“What I’m having them do is come out sprinting the turn,” Cooksey said. “On a 400 normally you’ll sprint the turn and then stride out on the back 100 and then sprint in the rest of the way, so that’s what I’m having them do right now, working on their sprint-outs to the end.”
How much of it is natural talent and how much is practiced skill? The coach couldn’t put a number on that.
“It does take skill to be able to push your body that hard,” she said. “Especially on the 400. That race is tough.”
So while many athletes shy away from the 400, these four Panthers take pride in it.
“We’re still representing Pacheco, going all these places,” Harden said. “And we’re the last ones with Pacheco on our shirts.”
Three Los Banos athletes competed in the D-4/5 finals, with Ifunanya “Osi” Okekge coming one spot away from qualifying for Masters in the 300-meter hurdles, clocking a run at 49.94, more than a second behind the fifth-place finisher Abena Boateng of Cosumnes Oaks (48.62). Melissa Fregoso finished 15th in the 1,600 at 5:54.32, and Kirsten Robertson placed 17th in the long jump at 14 feet, 0.5 inches.