Riley Masters would have preferred a better finish at last weekend’s USA Track & Field National Championships.
But faced with a star-studded 12-man field for the event’s 1,500-meter final led by 2012 Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano and given his relative lack of experience compared with most of his rivals — the Bangor native is just completing his first year as a professional distance runner — a seventh-place finish offered both reason for optimism and a source of motivation.
“There’s some mixed feelings,” said the 24-year-old Masters, the former University of Maine and University of Oklahoma All-American who competes for the Brooks Beasts Track Club based in Seattle.
“I would have liked to finish better than seventh, but as a first-year professional, that’s a pretty good performance. I would have liked to get a little more out of it, but it’s hard to be disappointed.”
Manzano ran the final 400 meters in a blistering 52.64 seconds to edge second-place Pat Casey — a former teammate of Masters at Oklahoma — by 0.31 seconds with a time of 3 minutes, 38.63 seconds.
Two-time U.S. Olympian Lopez Lomong was third in 3:39.11, while Masters was less than two seconds out of first place in 3:40.05.
“The time in championship races is fairly irrelevant,” said Masters. “It’s all about the place.”
Masters was buoyed by having one of the faster final laps in the race, as developing late-race speed has been an emphasis of his training efforts.
“It’s been a different year for me,” said the 2008 Bangor High School graduate. “In college I was more of a strength runner, but now I’m working on closing speed, and it felt good to have the third- or fourth-fastest final lap time. I haven’t had that in the past, but it’s something I’ve needed to develop because it’s hard to be successful at this level if you can’t close out a race.
“I’m just working to develop a few more weapons for my racing arsenal,” he added.
That work has been sparked by Masters’ association with Brooks Beasts TC head coach Danny Mackey, as well as with fellow distance runner Garrett Heath, a former nine-time All-American at Stanford who joined the Brooks club in January.
Heath led most of the men’s 1,500 at the USA nationals before fading to ninth place in 3:40.29.
“I was struggling early in the season, but once I started training with Garrett things really turned around,” said Masters. “He’s got a good head on his shoulders, he’s a beast in workouts, and he’s a good friend.”
Evidence of that turnaround came in April when Masters set a meet record in the 1,500 at the Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford University, posting a 3:38.42.
“To run a 3:38 in my first 1,500 of the year was a nice way to open the season,” said Masters. “You go into that race with the primary goal just to shake the rust off, but running the second-fastest time of my career was a very big confidence booster.”
Masters also ran personal bests in the 800 (1:49,84) and the 5,000 (13:39.47) in races leading up to the nationals.
“I ran some different distances to make sure I didn’t get lethargic just running 1,500s, and the 800 is a good way to develop that speed and to get more comfortable running a little quicker,” he said.
Masters will leave this weekend for Europe, where he plans to compete in “three or four” races during the following 15 to 16 days. He’ll start with two events in Ireland, then race in either Belgium or Finland.
“Running a fast time is more the goal there,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting over to Europe and running some fast times to capitalize on a good year of training.”