CHENEY – Sierra Speiker runs with such precision, you could calibrate a metronome to her pace. And despite a ruthless drive to achieve sometimes unattainable goals, she has carried herself with such grace that often her vanquished competitors are as excited as Speiker after the Oroville senior leaves them quickly receding in the rear view mirror.
That was certainly the case last weekend at the WIAA State 2B track and field championships, after Speiker capped her high school career with three medals, two state titles, one state record broken and a near-miss on another.
Speiker had her goals heading into the state finals and achieved most of them. Longer distances play to her advantage, but she was so completely dominant in both the 3200-meter run and the 1600 that it worked against her.
“Sierra attacked both races and went wire to wire without any competition to push her,” said Oroville coach Harold Jensen. “She did it all on her own.”
She wanted Shelly Smathers’ (Morton) 1989 state 2B record and took an aggressive approach, nearly matching her open 800 personal best by running the first two laps in 2:33 and dropping her competitors behind her for good within the first 100 meters.
So, it was Speiker vs. the clock, which may be the only opponent more relentless than Speiker herself. She hit the mile mark at 5:15, four seconds better than her open 1600 PR, but running virtually alone began to take its toll.
“I was feeling really good after that first mile,” Speiker said. “Those next two laps, though I really needed to push through.”
When she set her personal record of 10:49 earlier this year, she’d had Cascade’s Erin Mullins to help keep the pace up, but not today; Mullins was warming up to run the Class 1A final as soon as Speiker was done, winning that state title for herself. So Speiker was on her own, battling the clock.
On this day, it was the runner that won. Speiker, straining on the last lap as she hasn’t had to on too many occasions, crossed the finish line at 10:50.9, claiming the state record by a solid five seconds.
“That last lap was a struggle,” she said as opposing runners lined up to congratulate her. “It was a big time struggle.”
And she was already looking ahead.
“If I don’t at least run 5:15 in the mile (1600) tomorrow,” she said, referring to her first mile split in the race she’d just run, “I’ll be so mad. So mad. I always feel dead in that race. It shouldn’t be that way; but my first goal (the state record) is down.”
The 1600 wouldn’t be run until Saturday; but a couple of hours after Speiker’s record-breaking 3200, she was set to run in the preliminary heat of the 800. For distance runners, that’s almost a sprint, and not Speiker’s strength; in fact, she’d never before cracked into the championship heat of that race, and needed a personal best run to do so.
Well, kind of. She’d already run the 800 time she needed in the opening two laps of the 3200.
It’s also run at the kind of pace where it helps to have a strong finishing kick. Speiker’s strength – keeping a fast pace throughout the race – usually doesn’t lend itself to having much left at the end of the race for a strong kick.
But this time, she found an extra gear over the final 200 meters of the race, not only qualifying for the final heat but coming from behind to take second place in her prelim with a sprint to the finish that seemed even to surprise her. It was a run (2:27.07) that cut nearly six full seconds off her best previous 800 time.
She nearly matched that time again on Saturday in the final (2:27.27), good for fifth place, her first state medal in that event.
“I was just happy to get to the finals and make it on the podium,” she said. “I had a great first lap, but then I hit the wall and was completely dead. The other girls had really good finishing kicks for the last 300, which I didn’t have.”
That race came after the 1600, which Speiker had figured would be a challenge to win. That challenged, she hoped, would help in her pursuit of the state 2B record of 5:09, set by Barb Richardson of Waterville-Mansfield in 1990.
Speiker had been under 5:20 just once this season (though had run that 5:15 split the previous day), and though she recorded the fastest Class 2B time in the state for the year, only ran the eighth-best time during state qualifying the previous week.
“I thought it would be one tough race to get,” she said. “I thought I would have to just go out and gut it out that last lap.”
To her surprise, less than halfway through the race, she left the field behind, and once again it was runner vs. clock.
This time, the clock won, at least as far as state records go. Speiker cruised past her personal best by more than eight seconds, but her 5:11.25 was two seconds shy of the record book.
Three medals, two state championships, one record, and still not quite satisfied.
“I was really looking forward to being pushed,” Speiker said. “When I came around the last corner and looked at the clock I sprinted in but was just seconds off the record. It’s extremely disappointing. I was not nearly as tired as I was for the mile when I was done like I was for the two mile.
“I wish I would have kicked it in that last lap a little more.”
Speiker’s final tally included three state cross country championships, two 3200-meter titles, and this year’s 1600 championship.
She won’t have to worry about not being “pushed” by her competition after this year. She’ll be taking her talents (both athletically and academically; she’s Oroville’s class valedictorian) to Moscow, ID, where she’ll continue her dogged pursuit of all times faster as an NCAA Division 1 runner at the University of Idaho.
“I’m happy I was able to finish off strong,” she said. “I’m very much looking forward to running next year. I really want to thank my family and coaches (Doug) Kee and Jensen for supporting me.”