Riley Masters Credit: John Clarke Russ | File

For Riley Masters, Tuesday’s USA Track and Field 1-mile road race championship in Des Moines, Iowa, involved a lot of determination and a little financial planning.

The 2008 Bangor High School graduate, who went on to earn All-America honors in distance running at both the University of Maine and the University of Oklahoma before turning professional, bested an elite field of 20 runners to win the early season national title in a time of 4 minutes, 3.12 seconds.

Masters, who has lived in Boulder, Colorado, for the last 18 months and has run for Nike since last May, used a strong late kick to surge past runner-up Eric Avila (4:03.90) and third-place Nick Harris (4:04.31) as they approached the finish line.

“It was fairly windy so I was sitting off the leaders just a bit,” said Masters. “There were a few guys who broke away early, and in the mile if guys start to break away you can be in trouble because it’s not a long enough distance where they’re going to come back to you.

“Fortunately I had a lot left in the tank with a couple hundred meters to go and I was able to run down a couple of guys and take the win. I think I took the lead with 20 to 30 meters to go.”

This marked Masters’ fourth appearance in this race, which is run in conjunction with the Drake (University) Relays track and field meet.

He finished fourth in his first attempt, then finished third and second, respectively, the last two years.

“Truthfully it’s just a good race for me to open up my season with,” said Masters. “Plus it’s the U.S. road mile championship and there’s a good payday that goes along with it, so it’s a nice race to show up to. I wanted to win, that’s for sure.”

Masters earned $5,000 for the victory, particularly significant given his pending wedding in Vail, Colorado, this September to Sara Sutherland, a fellow professional runner.

“That gave me a little extra motivation when I was finishing the race,” said Masters. “I was in second place with about 40 meters to go and thought, ‘If I win this it’s a lot more money for the wedding,’ so there was a little extra incentive there.”

The 28-year-old Masters will turn his immediate attention from the road to the track, in particular the USATF outdoor national championships scheduled for late June, also in Des Moines.

Masters will focus on the 5,000 meters beginning May 3 at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational meet on the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

“That’s what we’re moving toward now,” said Masters, who also plans to run some 1,500-meter races this year. “When I moved to Boulder and started training under (Colorado University head coach) Mark Wetmore, that was with the intention of being a 5,000-meter runner.”

Masters’ ultimate career target as he reaches the prime competitive age for middle-distance runners is the 5,000-meter run at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

He already has the experience of competing in two previous U.S. Olympic Trials. Masters was unable to advance out of the first round of the 1,500-meter trials as a 22-year-old college student in 2012, then finished a disappointing 16th in the 5,000-meter final in 2016.

“2020 is kind of my focus,” he said. “Obviously everyone in the running world’s focus is on trying to make the Olympic team. For me, I was a little heartbroken after 2016 and thought about retiring after the Trials didn’t go my way, but I figured I would stick it out and do one more Olympic cycle so we’ll see how this one goes.”

Masters hopes his championship debut in 2018 will provide a modest boost toward that goal.

“Especially at this level, wins come very rarely,” he said. “You just have to get that monkey off your back and win that first one, so hopefully this will become a trend for me for the rest of the year.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...