Breaking the 4-minute barrier in the mile was a dream come true for University of Maine sophomore Riley Masters.
But doing it for the second time resulted in an even bigger reward for the Bangor native: A trip to the NCAA indoor track and field national championships.
Masters, who was clocked in 3 minutes, 59.07 seconds at the Columbia Last Chance meet in New York over the weekend, will be seeded ninth out of 16 competitors in the mile at this weekend’s NCAA meet at the University of Arkansas.
Masters, the lone UMaine athlete to qualify, will run at 4:55 p.m. Friday in a preliminary heat, with the top eight combined times from the two prelims advancing to Saturday’s 6:15 p.m. final.
Heading into the Columbia meet, Masters was ranked No. 15 in the nation. He figured he’d have to run closer to the automatic standard of 3:59-flat to assure a spot in the field.
“The mile is pretty [loaded] this year. I knew I had to be close to the auto-standard,” Masters said. “I kind of went out and really pushed to run a fast time.”
Masters finished third at Columbia, but both he and coach Mark Lech knew that it wasn’t a perfect race.
“The thing that impressed me was the fact he could still run 3:59.07 and still make mistakes,” Lech said. “There’s still a few mistakes that he made in there that kind of hurt his momentum.”
Among them were getting too close to the inside railing and getting caught up behind slower runners, which can hamper his stride.
“At Columbia I stayed on the rail quite a bit of the race. Friday, I’m going to have to be in good position by the end of the race,” Masters said.
Tactics will likely be the name of the game in the prelim rounds, with most runners not wanting to put down any Herculean efforts prior to finals.
“The trials are notorious for tactics and pedestrian pace. Nobody wants to take the pace out and get used or sacrifice themselves,” Lech said. “Even in the final that happens a lot of times, too.”
While one of Masters’ goals as a Black Bear was to perform on this stage, he didn’t expect to check it off his list as a sophomore.
“I was envisioning going to nationals and running sub-4, but I really wasn’t expecting it this season, I guess,” he said.
His coach could see the potential for it happening.
“As of last springtime, I knew what he could do. Just from some of the workouts that we were doing, it was quite feasible,” Lech said. “A couple workouts [into] this indoor season, I had that in mind. I was hoping to have that happen. The first few workouts were geared towards that.”
Masters has broken UMaine’s record in the mile three times this winter, and his rest during cross country while recuperating from an injury is paying huge dividends.
“That was a good decision that we made, because I don’t know if he had tried to hammer through the fall [if] that would’ve been a good thing,” Lech said.
Masters is hoping to use his big-meet experience — such as last spring’s Junior National championships at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field, considered to be the Lambeau Field and Fenway Park of track and field — to his advantage.
“I know what I’ve done, now I know what I need to do,” he said. “I have a job to do so I’ve got to go down there and get the job done.
“I think I have the big-meet experience under my belt. I’m just going to go out there and not let the pressure get to me.”
The top seed, Lee Emanuel of New Mexico, has run 3:57.62 while Masters will also see two familiar faces in Kyle Merber of Columbia and Erik van Ingen of Binghamton.
The races will be televised on the Web at ESPN360.com and ncaa.com.