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Bonner County Daily Bee – Regional Sports, Christmas trees, nosebleeds and handoffs: How four Sandpoint runners took down a 25-year-old record

After a quarter-century in the Sandpoint High School record book, the boys 4×800 record of 8:22.5 fell at the Christina Finney Relays on Thursday.

What follows is an oral history of the record-breaking 4×800 race, as told by Sloan Woodward, Nikolai Braedt, Jett Lucas, Seth Graham and Sandpoint head track and field coach Matt Brass — who ran the anchor leg on the record-setting team 25 years ago.

Before the season, Woodward and Graham knew they would be two of the four relay legs for the 4×800. Once the Christina Finney Relays rolled around, sophomores Nikolai Braedt and Jett Lucas became front-runners to fill out the team.

Braedt’s season-best of 4:34.22 in the 1600 proved he had the stamina and foot-speed to run the 800. Lucas, meanwhile, had speed in the 400 (56.36) and ran a 2:09 800 earlier in the season. Both were ideal candidates to round out the roster. But like all relays, the challenge would be having everyone firing on all cylinders come race time.

That would be easier said than done.

Sloan Woodward, first leg: The week leading up to Thursday was not ideal for any of us. We were talking about how we wanted to go for the record and how it was one of our only chances. We were like, “This is great, none of us are sick.” And then we had a speed workout on Tuesday. Seth’s hip flexor was bothering him, so he couldn’t finish the workout. On the cool-down after the workout, Jett jumped over a tree and twisted his ankle.

Jett Lucas, third leg: There was this Christmas tree in the middle of the sidewalk that someone had taken out of their house recently. So I saw it and thought, “Okay, that’s fine. I’ll jump over it if it’s in my way.” But the stump was angled just right, and I caught it with my right foot and kicked it hard. So I was sore from the workout and my ankle was screaming at me.

Seth Graham, anchor: I struggled with my confidence the whole week leading up [to the meet] because I had tendonitis in my foot and hurt my hip flexor on Tuesday. On the bus ride down, my nose was gushing blood and I was using anything I could to dry it up. So I was feeling pretty nauseous because of that.

As if the team’s physical ailments were concerning enough, the team witnessed a car accident happen several feet ahead of the team’s bus on the way to the site of the meet at Post Falls High school.

JL: I wasn’t in the right mindset because of my ankle, and having the car wreck happen on the way up to the race really threw me off.

SG: The car accident added some more bad feelings to everything. I was not ready at all.

SW: Because of the accident, were late to the meet and since [the 4×800] was the first event, we had a short amount of time to warm up.

JL: During the warm-up, I didn’t really feel that flow; I didn’t feel like I was in the zone.

SW: We were like, “[We] don’t know how this is going to go.” As we warmed up, I was feeling pretty tired from Tuesday’s workout and I was feeling nervous.

Nikolai Braedt, second leg: And the time on the board [near the start line] was three seconds off, which was a bit sketchy.

So with physical ailments and the whirlwind of the past few hours lingering, Woodward toed the start line of the 4×800 alongside four other teams: Post Falls, Timberlake and league opponents Lakeland and Moscow.

SW: The gun goes off, and I ran the 800 how I usually run it, except no one was there. It was the opposite of my previous race at Pasco [the largest invitational of Sandpoint’s season] — I was alone in the front. The first lap went exactly how I wanted to. I was feeling good at that point.

Matt Brass, Sandpoint head track coach: For the first 500 meters, there was someone behind Sloan, but then he broke it open.

SW: In the second lap, I put on a surge. When I was coming around the last corner, you could see the time up there, so I knew I was going to be right where I wanted. On our hand-off, [Nikolai] took off a little too fast, so it was a little shaky.

NB: I haven’t done a lot of relays, so I took off too fast. I had to like, slow down a little bit, then I had to grab the baton [near the end of the exchange zone]. But it worked out.

SW: But as soon as I handed off, I knew we had a shot at the record.

According to Brass’ timing, Woodward ran his leg in a 2:05. By this point in the race, the Bulldogs had already separated themselves from the field. This, however, was a gift and a curse: Braedt and Lucas didn’t have as much experience running the 800 as upperclassmen Woodward and Graham. Without people around them to compete with, the sophomores had to rely on their mental strength and their abilities to get through the grueling event.

NB: It’s tough doing the 800 for Jett and I, since it was our first and second times running it. I’m kind of new to the event, so figuring out how to run it by ourselves was a little bit of a struggle.

SW: They couldn’t pace off of anyone.

SG: It’s a lot easier to have a fast first lap and a decent second lap with people around you [in the 800].

NB: I went out the first lap a little fast — I was around a 59 — then the second lap I slowed down a bit. Being alone and being my first 800 of the year, it went well. Then I come around for the second lap, ready to give it to Jett, then Jett does the same thing as me.

JL: When I saw Nikolai coming around that corner, all of a sudden adrenaline hit me like nothing I’ve really experienced before.

NB: He took off too early. As I’m coming in, Jett had to slow way down.

JL: Matt [Brass] was in the corner, screaming at me to slow down.

NB: It was kind of awkward.

Awkward or not, Braedt ran his split in a 2:05, putting them on pace for an 8:20 one mile into the race. The Bulldogs, along with Brass, began believing that they would beat the record.

SW: I was laying in the infield grass cheering and once I saw Nikolai hand off to Jett, I realized we were just on pace or under pace. That’s when I knew it was going to happen.

MB: Once Nikolai handed off to Jett, they were at a 4:09 high. Then I thought, “alright, they’re gonna be close.”

JL: I got the hand-off and it was lonely. There wasn’t anyone until the second lap, when I could see one of the Timberlake kids ahead.

MB: A mile into the race, they started lapping other teams, which helped them on those lap because they could look ahead and try to gun down some of those people.

JL: The Timberlake kid gave me some incentive to keep up my pace. So I passed him and I hit a stone wall — there was nobody else in front of me. I was keeping my feet moving but I wasn’t really gaining a lot.

SG: When I went up to get ready to get the hand-off from Jett, I didn’t even know which direction to face. I was turning around in circles because I was so out of it.

JL: I handed off to Seth and the rest was history.

Like Braedt, Lucas’ 2:05 split was ran a personal-best. At 6:15, Graham had a 2:07 cushion between him and the school record. Adrenaline took over.

MB: Seth’s been running so well, so when he got the baton at around 6:15, I knew they were going to do it.

SW: Obviously, Seth can run a really fast 800 [Graham’s PR is a team-best 2:03.72] so when he got the baton, we knew it was going to happen.

MB: I think adrenaline got the most of him [in that first lap], so then his last hundred, he was struggling.

SG: My first lap was a little fast; I ran a 58. I didn’t really feel that bad after the first lap, but after 100 meters in there was nobody around me. I hit a wall and everything slowed down.

SW: Seth gave us a little bit of a scare.

SG: The first lap was alright, but the second lap was so much harder with nobody around.

SW: With 200 meters left, we knew it was going to be interesting.

Graham crossed the line in an 8:22 — or an 8:25, according to the defective clock at the track — setting off an emotional whirlwind fueled by post-race “runner’s highs”, elation from winning the race and uncertainty that stemmed from not knowing the last two digits from their official time.

SG: When I crossed the line, I knew I got a 22-something. Finishing that close to the record, I felt like I kind of blew it for us because I didn’t think we got it.

NB: I didn’t know how to feel. I didn’t know if I should feel excited yet or not. It was really weird.

JL: It was a roller coaster. But it wasn’t gradually up, then down — it was a serpentine.

SG: But Matt came over and was like, “The school record was an 8:22.5 and your official time was 8:22.45.”

SW: And then Seth could finally smile.

MB: I love coaching kids to break records. Angie [Brass, Matt’s wife and Sandpoint’s distance coach] and I had multiple school records when we left, but it’s really rewarding to see kids hit that level that you were at in school because you know what it took to get there.

Now that they have the school record, the team has one more opportunity to lower its time at the District 1 Meet of Champions on May 2. Fittingly, the Meet of Champions also takes place at Post Falls High School.

MB: Of the District 1 schools, there are some 800 runners that can compete, but no school has four runners that can run a 2:05 or under. It’ll be one of those things where they’ll have competition for one of two legs.

SG: We can definitely get a four-second PR next time we run it. But we’re not 100% sure if we’re going to run the event at the Meet of Champions.

NB: If we actually all have good races, like on our PRs, and clean up our hand-offs…

SG: We could’ve probably shaved off another two seconds on our hand-offs. We’re so used to our 4×400 hand-offs where we sprint and turn around [for the baton].

SW: If we do run it, I’d like to go under 8:15.

MB: If they run like they can, they should be out ahead of everyone.

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