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Dave Griffin On Running: The Slowest Time in the Fastest Heat

Dave Griffin On Running
The Slowest Time in the Fastest Heat

Brian Leiter didn't dream of becoming a national champion, at least not when he first started running. Things like that were far beyond his comprehension back then. And yet, just days ago, with one lap left in the NCAA Division III mile, he was within striking distance.
When he was a high school freshman at Francis Scott Key, he fit in well with a talented team and improvement came quickly. As a sophomore, he qualified for the state meet at 800 meters, but arrived there to find himself in the uncomfortable position of having the slowest time in the fastest heat.
The leaders of that race went out fast, and Brian was running in last place after 400 meters. That's when exhausted runners began falling back toward him. Coming into the final straight, he had passed all but four, and he moved to the outside and opened up to a full sprint.
Just one minute and fifty eight seconds passed from the gun to the finish line, but in that time Brian earned a state title, and a realization of how much he was capable of achieving. He won the same title as a senior, and then moved on to Frostburg University hoping to explore even higher ground.
College involved more miles and harder workouts. While most of the people around him were immersed in college life, his focus was training, rest and nutrition. Sacrifice was a daily ritual.
He improved steadily, and the big payoff happened last spring when Brian finished fifth in the D-III Nationals at 800 meters. Now an All-American, he finally realized that a national title was within his reach, but this time his focus would be on the indoor mile. His training had new purpose, and he worked hard to further develop his racing tactics.
It all led exactly where he had hoped, running just off the lead as the racing began in the final lap at Nationals.
Imagine yourself in his fast shoes. Feel the magnitude of a moment when many years of dedication and effort have led to a place that you've dreamed about a thousand times.
There is fury in the last lap of a championship race. Runners, left without a single reason to hold back, aggressively search for something yet undiscovered within themselves. So it was as Brian sprinted through the final turn.
He probably remembers the very instant he realized he wouldn't win. Every runner was wide open, and he strained to hold off the man beside him to finish forth, earning All-American status for a second time.
It's easy to be impressed by Brian's accomplishments, but I don't think he's running to impress you and me. And, while he can look back knowing he's climbed to an elite level, he moves on with a thirst not yet satisfied.
We all need to be affirmed in our own heart. In our quest, we will find ourselves at crossroads, where the path ahead seems nearly impossible. It's there that we decide if we will turn to find an easier way, or press on and live with the risk of falling short.
As his final college track season begins, I know which path Brian Leiter will choose.

Dave Griffin writes a bi-weekly running column and offers coaching to both beginning and experienced distance runners. Contact Dave at

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