by Tom Utescher
Sarah Walker, a rising senior at Germantown Friends School who is one of the nation’s top scholastic 800 meter runners, shaved a little time off of her 2014 personal record time back on June 2, 2015, going from a figure of 2:06.62 the previous year to 2:06.43. On June 13 she won the 800 meter final at the Caribbean Scholastic Invitational in Havana, Cuba, once again improving her personal standard. Her new mark of 2:05.79, was then the fourth-best time logged by any scholastic competitor in the United States in 2015.
Later last month, she finished second in the New Balance ® Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, N.C. and then a very close third at the U.S. Track and Field Junior National Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore. At each gathering, the final race was not run at a particularly fast pace, and Walker’s time in Cuba remained her PR.
Overall, she was pleased with her efforts throughout the 2015 season (which included a victory in the Pa. Independent Schools championships that featured her third Pennsylvania number one time of the year), but not entirely satisfied.
Since starting her junior year back in September, she revealed, “A goal of mine all year had been to run 2:03. It was looking like it wasn’t going to happen this year.”
After a frustrating run in the finals in Oregon, where she missed second place and a spot on the U.S. Pan-Am Games team by one-hundredth of a second, she wasn’t quite ready for her 2015 campaign to end. She entered a meet much closer to home, one of the summertime All-Comers’ meets offered by Germantown Academy. It’s a relatively informal gathering that accommodates runners of all ages, but it does provide standard digital timing that is officially recognized in track and field circles.
She was seeded in the fastest section of the 800 meter event in the July 7 meet, and judging by the previous top times established by some of the entrants, it was clear that the pace would be quicker than in the all-female national high school contests back in June. Walker finished sixth, but her time of 2:03.70 was a new PR by two full seconds, and was the best time recorded by any high school girl in the U.S. this year.
In her section, she noted, “It was basically all boys except me, and the ages were 15 to 25, so there were some pretty old people, too. I think when they seeded our race, the fastest time was a 1:52 and the slowest was 2:10, so I fit right in there with my previous PR.”
When she ran the 2:05 down in Cuba, there had been nobody close to her over the last few hundred meters of the contest. In the major U.S. meets later in June, there would be a strong field of national-class runners, and Walker was hoping she would get more of a push from her rivals in those races. It didn’t exactly work out the way she’d hoped.
“I definitely benefit from going out fast,” she said. “I think I have a pretty good kick at the end, but I run a lot faster when the race is taken out around 60 [seconds for the first 400-meter lap].
“In the championship races,” she continued, “we went out pretty slow because no one wanted to really take it out. In those races people are competing for places instead of times, so if the race can go out slow and then they can win in the last 200, a lot of people will do that.”
After missing second place by one hundredth of a second out in Oregon, she said. “I was pretty sad. I got passed on the last curve when I was in lane one, and I slowed down and tried to pass right away on the outside. It took too much energy; I should have waited until later (on the final straight) to try and pass.”
She felt that it all worked out in the end, observing, “If I hadn’t been upset with my race out there, I might not have run in the GA meet and gotten the 2:03. Generally, I’m happy with the way things happened.”
She hadn’t wanted the Oregon race to be her last outing of the 2015 season.
She related, “After juniors, my coach [GFS mentor Rob Hewitt] and I were looking for a local meet I could run. He knows people at GA and he knew from past years that there probably would be at least one boy there who runs under two minutes.”
This time, the race went out the way she’d hoped, bringing her to the halfway point right about one minute on the nose. In the middle of the second lap her overall time was 1:31, and that set her up for her new PR and national number one time. Her mark eclipsed the figure of 2:04.56 recorded by Jordyn Colter, a 2015 graduate of a high school in suburban Denver who will run for the University of California at Berkeley.
Walker’s first PR of the year, the 2:06.43 on June 2, had come at the John Hay Memorial Distance Festival. At this same annual event in West Chester, Pa., she had established personal records in 2013 and 2014, and she aimed to do the same thing this year. With a list of major events on her agenda after that, she had to try to sustain her peak condition for more than a month. This wasn’t a problem.
“This spring I felt more fit than I’ve ever felt,” she revealed, “and I grew this year so that helped me get stronger.”
Now, at last, she’s taking a little time off. Before long she’ll be back at it, preparing for her final cross country season this fall at GFS.