It’s a milestone most middle distance runners dream about — and most fail to reach.
On Saturday afternoon, Riley Masters of the University of Maine joined some select company on the track.
The sophomore from Bangor became the first Black Bear ever to break the 4-minute barrier in the mile run as he won the event Saturday during the Valentine Invitational at Boston University.
Masters finished with a strong final 400 meters on his way to clocking a school-record time of 3 minutes, 59.97 seconds.
“It’s like pitching a no-hitter in baseball. It’s that thing that everybody wants to do, a goal that everyone strives for,” Masters said Sunday evening.
Masters eclipsed the UMaine mark of 4:04.33 set in 1997 by Dereck Treadwell of Milford. Treadwell is now the cross country coach at Hartwick College.
Masters’ time also qualifies him, provisionally, for the NCAA Championships.
Everything came together Saturday for Masters, who sat out the cross country season to recuperate from a knee injury and who has been conservative in his workouts and competitions during the indoor track season.
This time, with the America East Championships and New England Championships coming up in the next two weekends, coach Mark Lech encouraged Masters to push himself against a strong field of 205 competitors at the Valentine Invitational.
Masters, who went in as the No. 7 seed in the mile, benefited from the level of competition.
“My personal best before that was only 4:06,” he explained. “I just wanted to put myself in there and give myself a chance. It came down to 400 meters and I knew if I pushed through, I would have a chance.”
Masters spent the first 1,200 meters drafting off the leaders, but knew things were going well by virtue of seeing the split times. Finally, with three laps remaining, he made his move.
“I knew I had to go. I took off and hammered it home,” he said.
Masters wasn’t quite prepared for the feelings he would experience once he crossed the finish line under the 4-minute mark.
“Coming across the finish line and have the fans explode was something I’ll never forget,” Masters said. “People are kind of hoping they’ll see a sub-4 mile, so just to feel that energy was great. I’ve never been so excited.”
Masters said being well rested and healthy after the fall layoff was beneficial in his ability to run well in Boston — although he is confident his mark can be lowered.
“There’s a lot of things in the race that really didn’t go my way, so I think I could have run faster,” he said.
In the meantime, he’ll go back to work in practice to prepare for UMaine’s upcoming championship meets.
“Right now I’m trying not to get a swelled head,” Masters said. “I’m trying to keep myself grounded, but it’s a big confidence booster.”
“The last 24 hours have been great,” he added.
The Black Bears had other outstanding efforts at the Valentine Invitational.
Jesse Labreck of Oakland established a school record in the women’s 55-meter hurdles with a time of 7.82 seconds. It also provisionally qualified her for the NCAA Championships.
Jamie Ruginski of Buxton won the men’s long jump with a leap of 23 feet even.
Also, Shaniqua Burgess took fifth in the women’s 55 meters (7.22) and Cearha Miller was fifth in the 200 (24.65).