Dan Curts always has considered himself a cautious distance runner, but a deviation from that approach last weekend yielded one of the most impressive performances of his career and another state record.
The Ellsworth senior became the first Maine high school runner to post a sub-9 minute clocking for 3,200 meters, burying the long-held personal goal at the invitation-only Glenn D. Loucks Memorial Games in White Plains, New York, with a race-winning time of 8 minutes, 51.24 seconds.
Curts also established a meet record, surpassing the 8:56.02 by Chad Noelle of Greene, New York, in 2011, and he was one of four runners in the elite field to finish in under 8:55.
“Being from Maine, you only get the chance to run one or two big meets a year,” said Curts, who is headed to Iowa State on an athletic scholarship this fall. “I saw this as a chance for a real competitive two-mile, and I really wanted to break 9 minutes.
“I put some pressure on myself. I kind of felt like this was my one shot to get sub-9 minutes before I graduate, so there was a little urgency there.”
That urgency revealed itself immediately as Curts went out just behind early leader Alex Ostberg of Darien, Connecticut, a junior who had finished 11th at the Foot Locker cross country nationals last December — a race at which Curts placed 19th.
“My first lap was about 64 seconds, which was a 4:16 mile pace,” he said. “It was pretty quick, and it made me a little nervous.”
The duo completed the first 800 meters in 2:12 and reached the midway point at 4:27.67.
“I wanted to race more aggressively and not just get in there and run because there were a lot of good guys in the race,” said Curts. “I decided I just had to deal with it and take the chance of going out fast versus staying relaxed. I certainly hadn’t gone out that quick before.”
Curts took the lead with 600 meters remaining, and despite the faster-than-usual early pace, he still had plenty left.
Curts ran a 61.5-second final 400 — his fastest lap of the race — to top Ostberg by 1.4 seconds and easily surpass the previous Maine high school best for 3,200 meters of 9:00.70 set by Eric Giddings of South Portland in 2005.
“That was a good experience for me,” said Curts, the defending Class B state champion in the event with a previous best of 9:15 for 3,200 outdoors, though he did run a state-record 9:07.24 indoors last winter.
“At Foot Locker nationals and some other big races, I seemed to be less aggressive than I should have been. Confidence is something I’ve always struggled with, but having done this is good for me mentally because now I know I don’t have to always make up a bunch of time in the last four laps against a strong field. I can just go out and focus on racing.”
Curts is one of the more decorated distance runners in Maine high school history. He’s the two-time defending Class B state champion in cross country, has won three state championships in the 3,200 indoors and is the reigning Class B winner of that event outdoors among his eight first-place finishes overall at state track meets.
He also is the Class B record holder outdoors at 1,600 meters with his time of 4:14.02 at the 2013 state championships.
But he says the 3,200 has been his distance of emphasis since his sophomore year, which made his most recent record-breaking run among the more satisfying competitive moments of his career to date.
“It’s pretty up there,” he said.