Varsity Kansas

Track and field: 1600 relay remains a meet favorite

Kassidy Johnson is the anchor runner for Maize South’s 1600-meter relay team.
Kassidy Johnson is the anchor runner for Maize South’s 1600-meter relay team. The Wichita Eagle

There is a list of reasons why the 1600-meter relay is one of the most exciting races on the track.

It’s the final event at meets involving a team-oriented relay that could potentially decide the team titles. Whether athletes are participating or just watching, the event always is entertaining.

Here’s a look inside at what makes the race so special.

The respect

Many nominate the 400 as the most demanding race because of its rare blend of speed and endurance.

It not only takes physical tools like foot speed, strength, and endurance, but also the mental skills such as confidence and trust to carry out a race plan.

“We tell our runners to go out as fast as they can in the first 70 meters,” El Dorado coach Jordan Regehr said. “And then when they hit that straightaway, we tell them to relax. We want them relaxed, but also maintain that speed. How do you relax and maintain speed? That’s what makes it so tricky.”

Being a member of a 1600 relay team carries with it great significance. It’s an event that everyone on a track team, from sprinters to distance runners to jumpers to throwers, can respect.

“It’s such a gutsy race,” Southeast coach Mark Lamb said. “It definitely tests how much heart kids have because it’s such a hard race. I think that’s why it’s so exciting and everybody gets behind it.”

The chaos

During the race on the track, there is also a race going on inside of it.

Since it’s the last event of the meet, most teams are fully assembled down on the infield. That means a front-row spot next to the track is hard to come by, especially before the race.

“It’s pure chaos,” Newton thrower Josh Fulmer said. “Everyone is fighting for position right next to the track. It can get a little too pushy for my liking.”

It’s become an art form for some athletes to know when to turn and run to the other end of the track and catch the next glimpse of the race. Experienced chasers find a way to cheer on their runner in three parts of the oval.

For runners, the adrenaline rush that comes with running the final straightaway with screaming fans inches away on the inside of the track is unlike any other race.

“They’re so close to the track that they’re basically touching you when you’re running down the homestretch,” El Dorado’s Kylea McArdle said. “It’s so exciting, I don’t know how to explain it. All eyes are on you and everybody is going crazy, it’s such an awesome feeling.”

And when your team wins?

“Bragging rights,” Fulmer said. “That’s the coolest thing because that’s the only race that everyone is there for and it just happened right in front of everyone.”

The comebacks

When Maize South coach Brent Pfeifer is picking an anchor for his 1600 relay team, he doesn’t always go with his fastest runner.

“I want the kid who is going to compete the hardest,” Pfeifer said. “I want our most competitive athlete with the most heart on that last leg.”

He’s found an ideal anchor in junior Kassidy Johnson, who has anchored the Mavericks to one of the fastest 1600 relay times in Class 5A and the second-fastest 3200 relay time.

There may be runners who post similar times as Johnson, but she possess the mental makeup and competitive spirit that makes her a perfect fit for the final leg.

“She gets upset if anybody is in front of her at all,” Pfeifer said. “She’s probably run her best times when she’s had somebody in front of her because she just runs angry.”

El Dorado junior Sidney Howland is the same way.

“I’m just very, very competitive at whatever I’m doing,” Howland said. “We can’t play Monopoly anymore at home because me and my dad would go at it. I just have this super-competitive drive in me.”

That drive has earned Howland a reputation as the comeback queen the last three years in El Dorado. She’s erased deficits on the last leg that no one thought was possible and pulled out one improbable comeback after another.

Such as when she closed a 10-meter gap on the final 100 meters Monday at her home meet in El Dorado against Newton, one of the fastest relays in the state.

“We just knew,” said Kalyn Beel, who was on the relay with Kylea McArdle and also Jolie Howland that ran the second-fastest time in Class 4A (4:05:18) this season. “We knew the whole time that she was going to chase her down.”

Comebacks in the 1600 relay tend to resonate longer than ones in any other race. Not only do they send the crowd into a frenzy, but moments like that are what drive competitors such as Sidney Howland.

“That’s what makes the race so special,” she said. “There’s nothing better than winning as a team and having everyone in the stands going crazy. That’s such a great feeling and I love doing it for my team.”